Just two years after missing out on the World Cup, that passionate spirit has been reignited among many Italian fans. It felt like an eternity since we last saw the players and fans with smiles etched across their faces. With the Italian flags and shirts absent in Russia last year, the Azzurri supporters can now take these items out of their closets and put them on display at next year’s monumental Euro 2020.
Even though the mood has brightened around the Nazionale, CT Roberto Mancini realises how much work still needs to be done before the Azzurri battle it out with other European giants. The four-time World Cup winners finally have a vibrant and creative midfield line, so that department only needs extra depth. But the striker dilemma, the defensive combination and the winger uncertainties will need to be addressed in these last couple of Euro qualifying fixtures and next year’s friendlies.
Since the days of an in-form Mario Balotelli at Euro 2012, Italy has struggled to find a clinical goalscorer. Apart from the dominant display against Liechtenstein, the majority of Italy’s goals in this Euro qualifying campaign have derived from midfielders – highlighting the shortage of clinical strikers Mancini has at his disposal.
The likes of Ciro Immobile and Kevin Lasagna have been in great form for their respective clubs. However, both lacked in confidence as soon as they put on the blue shirt. Andrea Belotti is the only striker so far who has performed with that extra grit and higher work rate, but he too is still trying find the right balance in this side.
With Balotelli’s return to Serie A, all eyes will be on the 29-year-old’s goalscoring form with newly-promoted Brescia. In the last couple of Serie A rounds, the Palermo-born striker has looked lively, especially in the game against Napoli at the San Paolo. Due to his age, this season seems like Balotelli’s last chance to get back into the Italian national team. When he is in form, Balotelli’s aerial threat and other goalscoring abilities make him Italy’s most lethal striker.
Alfredo Donnarumma, another Brescia striker, should be given a chance to play up front for the Azzurri. The Neapolitan forward was last season’s top goalscorer in Serie B with an impressive 25 goals. With many critics questioning his ability before the 2019-20 Serie A season got underway, Donnarumma has proved those doubters wrong after having bagged four goals in seven games – a remarkable start for a footballer playing in Italy’s top-flight for the first time.
Many would argue that Moise Kean should also receive a chance to get some more game time in the senior Italian national team. The 19-year-old forward burst to life in the latter stages of last season – scoring several goals for Juventus and transmitting that form into Italy’s opening Euro qualifiers.
However, after receiving a red card in the recent Italy U21 game against Ireland, it is evident that Kean’s form so far this season has been nothing but frustrating. After a slow start in the English Premier League with Everton, Mancini might wait until the Italian starlet starts showing signs of consistency and concentration.
The wide areas have been another hot and cold department at times for Mancini's men. There is no denying the talent of Lorenzo Insigne and Fiorentina youngster Federico Chiesa, but both players sometimes struggle for consistency and substance in their style of play. Federico Bernardeschi’s exceptional performance in Italy’s 2-0 win against Greece was a positive sign, although the Juventus winger also goes missing in many fixtures.
Vincenzo Grifo is an underrated winger Mancini can use as a reinforcement in the wide areas. Born in Germany to Italian immigrant parents, Grifo plies his trade in the Bundesliga with SC Freiburg. His crisp passing, accurate crossing and set-piece delivery could benefit the Azzurri’s new style of Calcio. Grifo is the type of player who can make an instant impact off the bench for Chiesa or Insigne.
Mancini could also give Domenico Berardi – who has five goals in five appearances for Sassuolo – a chance to play in the attacking/wide areas of the midfield.
With Giorgio Chiellini picking up a severe knee injury at the beginning of this season, it is unlikely that the 35-year-old will take part at Euro 2020. So this means Mancini will need to reshuffle the defensive line.
Lazio’s centre-back Francesco Acerbi has proven to work well alongside Bonucci. However, Armando Izzo is a defender who deserves to get some playing time in the Azzurri’s build-up to next summer’s tournament. The Torino star boasts the versatility to play as a centre-back and also a full-back. His exceptional offensive and defensive contributions have made the 27-year-old currently one of the most consistent defenders in Serie A.
Napoli’s Giovanni Di Lorenzo is another defender Mancini must take into consideration from now on. The 26-year-old right-back has impressed with the Partenopei so far this season – showing his ability to defend with composure and quickly transition into the attacking build-up plays. Italy are limited in the full-back positions, so it would be interesting to see how well Di Lorenzo would integrate into the Azzurri team if given the chance.
Gaetano Castrovilli and Sandro Tonali are some other in-form Italian starlets who should also get a crack at playing with this attacking-minded Azzurri side. If these two talented midfielders can continue producing decent performances for their respective clubs, there is no reason why they can’t be excellent midfield reinforcements.
Mancini has undoubtedly revived the Italian national team with his 4-3-3 attacking formation, but now the hard work begins. Now is the time to experiment with some new faces in the areas Italy are struggling in, especially in the centre-forward position.