There is always debate in Italy when it comes to the national team as there is so much coverage all over the peninsula. This has certainly changed since Giampiero Ventura’s failed attempt to reach the World Cup, which led the Gazzetta dello Sport to capture the public mood with the headline ‘Apocalypse’. The conversations are now often based on whether Italy have the quality, but things are changing. Now, with the European Championship on the horizon, questions like ‘who should start as the main striker?’ are becoming more normal again.
Roberto Mancini himself seems to be having this debate. In recent games, Ciro Immobile, Andrea Belotti and Fabio Quagliarella have all had turns in leading the line. There are certainly plenty of options and, with Mancini’s favourite Mario Balotelli now back in Italy, we’re still no nearer to the identity of the Azzurri’s definitive No 9. The 4-3-3 is certainly the preferred system as it allows Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa (or the many other wide options) to also act as second strikers or counterattacking wingers. The question therefore remains - who will play through the middle?
As Immobile netted two against Bologna this weekend, he yet again showed why an argument for him as the default centre-forward is so tempting. He is the current top goalscorer in Serie A with seven goals, plus he has two assists and is averaging a goal every 74 minutes. His movement is excellent, he has pace and he’s also direct and strong. He has formed a good partnership with Luis Alberto and Joaquim Correra this season and, if he has chemistry with a player, he brings out the best in them.
Torino’s Andrea Belotti is perhaps the other main contender. He has netted five times this term for a Granata side who have shown two sides of themselves. Not only is he a predator, but he’s also capable of the spectacular. He is one for the future too, at four yours younger than Ciro, and against Armenia he showed that even when Italy were struggling, he could still be deadly (he scored a brace). ‘Il Gallo’ seems continually overlooked and seriously underrated, yet he has provided at least 10 Serie A goals every season since 2015 and his best tally stands at in impressive 26, making him a man with a legitimate case to start.
Perhaps the question Mancini should be asking himself is, rather than which striker to pick, why not play both together? Admittedly he’d be perhaps sacrificing an element in his midfield, but every Coach needs a Plan B and Immobile, for his part, is supportive of a front two.
Indeed, during the Azzurri’s ill-fated qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup, Immobile spoke to the Press about a potential partnership. He said that he felt he and Belotti could form an effective pairing for the national team as they had the right chemistry. He explained they had a good connection, were good friends and that there was no rivalry between them. With both forwards in good form for their current clubs, Mancini could take this opportunity to pair them up.
They have played together for Italy before and there’s a strong argument that this should be the way forward for Mancini’s team to play. If they can strike up an understanding then La Nazionale could end up with one of the rarest things in modern football - a proper striking partnership. This is something that could prove critical as a second option for the next European Championship.