Thursday October 10 2019
Italy's midfield renaissance

Italy can rely on an array of Azzurri alternatives in midfield and build a team around these talents, explains Kaustubh Pandey.

The future of the Nazionale will be built around the extraordinary new crop of emerging midfield talent, as young faces combine with the not exactly old guard to give Roberto Mancini an array of options.

It isn’t reminiscent of the old Italian midfield, which had Andrea Pirlo, Rino Gattuso and Claudio Marchisio in it, but it is now ready to carve out a reputation of its own. There also seems to be a balance and quality of depth to it.

While Lorenzo Pellegrini recently suffered a broken foot and is out till December, the Roma man has been a key player for the Giallorossi this season. He has racked up a tally of four assists and has been used in an advanced position by Mancini in the last couple of games, reflecting his role with Paulo Fonseca. The former Sassuolo man would add some attacking dexterity to a midfield that already has players who sit in and operate deeper.

Stefano Sensi, who has been one of the best players in Serie A this season, has already established himself in the national side. Sensi has now found a new role at Inter under Antonio Conte. He’s the farthest man forward in midfield and has been tasked with a mezz’ala role that he has performed to perfection, despite originally being a defensive midfielder.

Sensi also has Nicolò Barella as his Inter teammate and they are forming a partnership that could work for Italy too. The former Cagliari man complements Sensi exceptionally and adds so much bite and venom to the Inter midfield by winning the ball back and circulating it forward. Barella’s ability to do this would ease up the defensive load on Pellegrini and Sensi (if they are played slightly further forward in the long run).

The last few games have given the impression that Mancini sees Barella and Chelsea’s Jorginho as the regulars, with the latter sitting deeper and playing piercing passes to the forward players and Barella acting like the engine in the heart of the park.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti has been a part of the side for a long time now and his performances for PSG over the last few months have shown a different side to him. With Marquinhos operating as the defensive midfielder and Idrissa Gueye playing as the box-to-box player, Verratti is playing further forward.

It is easy to forget Sandro Tonali too, but the Brescia youngster has probably been the best player for the club so far this season. He binds the newly-promoted side together, acting as a hybrid of a No 6 and a No 8. He too, like Sensi and Verratti, brings a lot of versatility to the midfield. Pellegrini can also play a slightly deeper role when asked.

Then there’s Pellegrini’s Giallorossi teammate Bryan Cristante. The 24-year-old isn’t exactly as good or consistent as the other options in that area, but he isn’t expected to be a regular starter either. He hasn’t had the best of seasons so far, as there have been some average performances against Atalanta, Lecce and Bologna. But on paper, six midfield players are enough to rotate around.

That depth is a trademark of this Azzurri midfield and Mancini has constantly tinkered to find the right spokes for the wheel. Pellegrini played on the left of a 4-3-3 against Finland and while that isn’t exactly a sign of things to come, but he would be used in attacking positions. That will help Mancini to play Sensi or Verratti as the third midfielder alongside Barella and Jorginho.

As for Tonali, the Juventus and Inter target can easily play in either of the two positions that Barella or Jorginho might occupy. Once Italy seal qualification for the Euros, Tonali will probably be given regular runs out in the first team to solidify his position in that packed and highly talented midfield. Rushing him in before sealing qualification represents a risk that Mancini won’t be too keen on taking.

All things considered, this midfield provides Italy the platform to go on to achieve big things in the international arena. Mancini seems to have a plan and idea for how to take this midfield forward and he is slowly laying down the ideas we’ll see at Euro 2020.

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Have your say...
Really.Barella overated ?
If you really believe that , then you know nothing about football.
Stick to rugby
on the 13th October, 2019 at 12:43pm
Madrdagora & Gagliardini are Trash Locatelli, Cataldi, Benassi are not world class. and Barella is overrated.
on the 11th October, 2019 at 7:12pm
How can you bash Inzaghi? since his retire or in fact in the last 10 years Italian Strikers have struggles to score even in Europa League let alone Champion League
on the 11th October, 2019 at 7:09pm
In addition to Zaniolo and Castrovilli, there is also Madrdagora, Gagliardini, Locatelli, Cataldi, Benassi, and maybe a few more.

Italy have a few more options in midfield which can provide more competition and depth.

This is hope for a great midfield, but the growth which started after the WC2018 failure needs to continue, or else our hopes are all folly.
on the 11th October, 2019 at 3:46pm
I'm not happy with this Inzaghi bashing! He was a great striker who scored in Champion's League finals and was way past his best in 2006 and still managed to net. Toni was a flash-in-the-pan but got a move to Bayern where he played alongside the likes of Ribery at his height. Totti was awesome considering he was just back from a bad injury. The current crop can barely score in a Europa League qualification game! There's no comparison!
on the 11th October, 2019 at 12:32pm
on the 11th October, 2019 at 12:29pm
Azzurri might not have prolific strikers at WC 2006 BUT don't forget that EVERY Azzurri striker/forward at WC 2006 scored at least a goal (except for Toni with 2 goals) from Totti, Del Piero, Inzaghi, Gilardino to Iaquinta.
Lippi clearly prioritized & focused on teamwork, didn't only depend on one striker.
on the 11th October, 2019 at 12:07pm
@GF Toni was a solid dependable striker. Inzaghi was probably the weak link, but don't forget 06 squad also had Totti and Del Piero
on the 11th October, 2019 at 2:57am
With a spine of Donnarumma Chiellini / Bonucci / Romagnoli, plus the abundance of midfielders flanked by Chiesa / Insigne / Bernadeschi that's enough to win a major tournament, defence and keeper are as good as any and no midfield is better. Wingbacks - Emerson, Spinazzola, Di Lorenzo, Florenzi are solid too. Immobile is awful for Italy sure (it doesn't matter how many he scores at Lazio) BUT Balotelli (on his day is a top striker) and Belotti is younger and way more consistent than Immobile.
on the 11th October, 2019 at 1:35am
Italy has one of the best midfields in its time. We can talk about the lack of firepower up front but we didn't really have that in 2006, either (Luca Toni? Inzaghi?, not world class by any means). We win based on our defence and midfield and I like the looks of this team going into this summer's Euros.
on the 11th October, 2019 at 12:36am
Inter now has become more Italian than Juventus. Surprise, surprise !
@worthless 2 cents : Zaniolo can be moved up front as winger
on the 10th October, 2019 at 9:29pm
This article forgot about Zaniolo and Castrovilli!
on the 10th October, 2019 at 9:00pm
How does Zaniolo fit in this already crowded field?
on the 10th October, 2019 at 5:35pm
Great midfield but what about the goals! We are toothless in attack and unless we find a solid, consistent striker from somewhere we can have all the possession in the world and Pirlo, Donadoni, Antognoni and Rivera in midfield but it still won't make a lick of difference. Sure, we'll do well in the qualifiers, but come the competition, it'll be the same sad story from recent times.
on the 10th October, 2019 at 1:54pm
RM has done a great job.At first I wasn't too keen but he has proved me wrong.I love the way he is making them play.Contrary to Ventura,you can see from a mile away that the players like him and respect him.I just hope he remains at the helm for a few more years.We now have some very good midfielders and also the defence is getting better.The main problem is the attack as we need to be more cynical when we do have the chances.This will come.The future is bright,the future is Azzurro.
on the 10th October, 2019 at 1:40pm

Also when we had Pirlo bar 2006 Spain's midfield was always rated better because of their strength in depth and that wasn't to say Pirlo wasn't the number one in the world but our midfield whilst amazing was considered second best to Spain's (whether we agree with that or not). BUT no one can argue any national team has a better inter-changeable midfield than we do now and for the foreseeable future.

Nice if Martinelli chooses Italy because then we may have a future striker to match.
on the 10th October, 2019 at 12:51pm
Hard to compare old and new because the current midfield has a deeper talent pool and are starting from a much younger age or at least under peak age, Pirlo for example was only really unleashed at age 27 and that would make him our oldest midfielder right now but obviously he was a genius and would get into any Italian all time 11. Gattuso likewise was a bull.

BUT the current crop of Veratti, Jorginho, Sensi, Barella, Pellegrini, Zaniolo, Tonali on paper is the best midfield in the world.
on the 10th October, 2019 at 12:42pm
I've never seen it so good since I started following the Azzurri. For a long time, most of our midfielders were industrious, not technical: Berti, Conte, Dino Baggio, Di Biagio, Tomassi, Ambrosini . Albertini was good, not great. Then we were blessed with Pirlo & De Rossi & Gattuso. Marchisio & Montolivo never performed consistently for Italy. Now though, we have all the names that were mentioned in this piece + Zaniolo, Castrovilli, Locatelli. Any more & we'll have to do a Spain & field 6 CM's.
on the 10th October, 2019 at 12:20pm

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