BLOG ITALIA
Saturday November 16 2019
Azzurri built around quality

Italy finally have an identity built around a group of quality midfielders, writes Emmet Gates, but concerns remain in defence.

Roberto Mancini made history. Following Italy’s fluid 3-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Bilino Polje stadium in Zenica. This was Mancini’s 10th consecutive win with the Azzurri, surpassing the legendary Vittorio Pozzo’s record in the late 1930s. It was also a sixth consecutive away win, another first.

Mancini now stands alone in the pantheon of Italy CTs, yet the former Inter and Man City manager has always been a canny operator. He knows that if Italy flop next summer at Euro 2020, their brilliance in qualifying for the tournament won’t be remembered. The success of an Azzurri manager is always measured on tournament progress.

Yet for the here and the now, Mancini is building the most exciting Italy team in years, since the early days of the Cesare Prandelli era. Last night’s encounter against Bosnia felt nothing more than a formality; Italy controlled the game from start to finish, and could’ve easily won by more.

With the horrors of the Giampiero Ventura aberration still unfortunately burned into people’s minds, Mancini’s men played with panache and with a vibrancy that’s refreshing to see. That being said, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

On the occasion that Bosnia attacked with verve, Italy’s defensive pairing of Leonardo Bonucci and Francesco Acerbi looked uncomfortable. For his club, Bonucci has looked a lot more assured this season than last, but you still get the feeling that he needs his hand held by another experienced defender.

Bonucci’s defensive frailties are badly exposed when Giorgio Chiellini isn’t around to mask them. Acerbi, with the greatest of respect, isn’t as good as the Juve captain, even if he did prove that he’s got a better foot than most centre-backs.

Mancini, admirably, wants his team to play out from the back, the in-vogue tactical style. However, it should be implemented when coaches have the players available that can comfortably execute the demand. At times the Azzurri back line ultimately invited undue pressure from Edin Dzeko and other Bosnian players due to their inability to circulate the ball around correctly.

Gigio Donnarumma, especially, is not good with the ball at his feet, at one stage in the first half kicking the ball straight to a Bosnian player on the edge of his own box. You suspect more accomplished sides in the future will punish Italy for being so haphazard.

Where Italy did look very comfortable was in the middle of the pitch. Aside from the 3-0 score line, 612 passes was the statistic that caught the eye. After half a decade of mourning since the retirement of Andrea Pirlo, they finally have players who are comfortable with the ball at their feet. It is not surprising that Jorginho was the midfield fulcrum making everything tick over.

Sandro Tonali was also impressive, playing to the left of Jorginho, shuttling up and down the field and putting himself about, whilst Tonali does indeed bear a striking semblance to a pre-bearded Pirlo, he doesn’t resemble Pirlo the player. And with Marco Verratti still to return, Stefano Sensi sure to get a call up for Euro 2020 and Nicolò Barella a capable passer with two assists in Zenica, Italy are suddenly overflowing with midfielders with the ability to maintain possession.

Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, both of whom can fluctuate between brilliance and maddening exasperation in a single game, remained consistently good throughout. Bernardeschi, especially, caused havoc down Bosnia’s left-hand side, getting in behind time and again. However, as is the case with the former Fiorentina player at Juventus, his end product can let him down. Insigne’s game was simpler, not trying anything flash, yet his goal killed the game off.

Andrea Belotti led the line superbly. Whilst it would be foolish to make grand proclamations, his performance brought back memories of a peak Bobo Vieri at the turn of the century. Ciro Immobile might be Italy’s most lethal marksman at club level, but Belotti tends to perform better for the Azzurri, and you suspect that going into Euro 2020, Mancini will stick with the Torino man.

Mancini has, at long last, brought a footballing identity to the national side. After years of tailoring formations based upon available players, this CT picked a system very early in his tenure, a 4-3-3, and stuck to it.  It also helps that many of the top sides in Serie A now function with a 4-3-3, easing his workload. Whilst it’s also imperative to have a Plan B, it’s refreshing to see the Azzurri head into a major tournament with an ethos in place.

A win against Armenia on Monday would see Mancini complete his 100% record in Group J. Confidence is rising, and whilst tougher challengers lie ahead in 2020, out of the wreckage of the disastrous Ventura years, Mancini has emerged to restore national pride. When considering where Italy was as a team two years ago, that is remarkable. 

Have your say...
Well my defence selection fo euro 2020. Chiellini, Izzo, Romagnoli, Rugani the last mentel piece then you can have ogbonna a strong back up. Its Italy defence you talking about.. Bonucci and Acerbi are bit behind than others..
on the 18th November, 2019 at 6:36am
Its great to see that our midfielders are potential and living up to the expectation. Mancini really need to get his 3 man MF right for Euro. i would rather have Romagnoli with Bonucci IF Cheillini is injured but we need to give Romagnoli game time as his the future CB for Italy. As for strikers, Belotti is the man! his work rate and desire to score is good enuff for the Euro. I have doubts on Donna. i dont think his our No.1 GF. i would go for Sirigu
on the 18th November, 2019 at 1:54am
Wilk you fools stop moaning
We havve a wonderful midfield !
And for the love of god stop mentioning that buffoon balofloppi.
Please learn about football
He is extremely average
We have a class striker
Hus name is BELOTTI
It riles me to read ignorance!
on the 18th November, 2019 at 12:50am
I'd agree. It's the most promising n exciting Italy team since the early CP era! More importantly Italy are producing top young talent again!
Any 23 from Donnarumma,Meret,Sirigu,Florenzi,Di Lorenzo,Bonucci,Romagnoli,Chiellini,Biraghi, Spinazzola,Acerbi,Mancini,Barella, Jorginho,Verratti,Tonali,Sensi,Zaniolo, Castrovilli,Pellegrini,Chiesa,Insigne,Kean,Belotti,Immobile looks strong.
There is still time for a break-out ⭐ as well such as Esposito,Lu Pellegrini or even if Balotelli hits form.
on the 18th November, 2019 at 12:45am
Acerbi is performing more reliably than either Bonnuci, Chielini, and Romagnoli. I don't get the hate. Zero mistakes. And he opened the game with a goal. Wow just wow!
on the 17th November, 2019 at 10:01pm
Speaking of balotelli..... mario knows if he ever giong to get a chance with national team it can happen only with mancini. Who understand him and value him as well. But my opinion is ITALY has suffered most by the forward line. So needs to prove a lot anybody who wants to be our focal point. Immobile for me proved that starter or sub or reserve he is going to be in the cockpit chamber of plane that going to flight for WC2022!. So its have to be one belotti and other kean or whose next???!!
on the 17th November, 2019 at 9:13am
Pete Rossi, I've been watching this team since 78. In those 40+ years, even the best Italian teams (which included many legends as we all know) seemed to lose focus and come up with duds like 1-1 draws with the likes of Malta or Faroe Islands...

At least this team puts in a 100% effort every game and plays with poise and skill and determination..

Having said that, I do have some concerns especially with regards to that back line.. I think they can generate enough offense now. Bonucci? Hmm..
on the 17th November, 2019 at 2:37am
As I already mentioned on another blog, the only way Mancini can prove that this Italian team is not overachieving, and actually has substance and class, is by reaching at least the semifinals of Euro 2020.

If he manages a final in the finals (like what Prandelli managed) - which I doubt, despite being a true blue Azzurri fan - then it'd be a real shot in the arm...

Anything less than a top 4 would make all this rubbish "10 victories" and "better record than Vittorio Pozzo" irrelevant...
on the 16th November, 2019 at 6:55pm
Forza Azzurri!!!!
on the 16th November, 2019 at 6:28pm
As for upfront balotelli may have all the natural ability in the world i admit in terms of pure ability belotti and immobile are inferior players however that means nothing without professionalism which he simply doesn't have. The player i really lament over is g rossi he didn't suffer those injuries he would have been italy no1 striker as it stands he will probably retire after a year without a club. As it stand immobile and belotti are the best italy has to offer up front they deserve to play.
on the 16th November, 2019 at 2:50pm
The midfield isn't without issues there is a lack of leadership i don't see jorginho or verratti as real leaders they are the senior players. In addition they is a lack of creativity with zaniolo or sensi or tonali and these guys aren't real proper deep lying play makers. But is a midfield which is competitive enough to keep the likes of cristante, pellegrini, benassi, baselli,bonnaventura out of the team and there is more players worth mentioning.
on the 16th November, 2019 at 2:44pm
I agree with Pete on Balotelli & Kean both have big game mentality, give either a chance in a big game / final they would take it - doesn't mean they have to start but both are better subs (as long as their form for the remainder of the season proves it) than Immobile.

Belotti deserves to start - he is starting to resemble Vieri.

Acerbi over Romagnoli is odd. We need Chellini back.

Zaniolo should play as a winger with Chiesa, would like to see Berardi when fit.

Donnarumma is our number one!
on the 16th November, 2019 at 2:40pm
Pete - England couldn't cope with us, they always lose their matches in midfield and ours is arguably the best trio in the world and has the most depth than any other National team.

Belotti is good enough, he works tirelessly and has a huge uplift given he has yet to make a big club move (albeit because of his injury post being top scorer in seria a).

Immobile is rubbish, he can score 50 for Lazio BUT he goes missing in big moments / big games and that's exactly not what we need from our CF.
on the 16th November, 2019 at 2:35pm
I think Italy is playing really good right now and much like the other Italian fans here I’m delighted over that. But I think where we are excelling at the moment is in the middle of the pitch. I think our midfielders are very reliable. Barella, Jorginho, Verratti, Sensi and Zaniolo seem very strong. They seem to be able to keep possession and are skillful with the ball at their feet. What do you guys think of our midfield?
on the 16th November, 2019 at 2:32pm
Pete Rossi.....get over it. Balotelli isn't that good and he's not going to the Euro's unless someone gets hurt. He's a shadow of his 2012 heights. Belotti is clearly Italy's best striker at the moment. I'm not sure how anyone can debate this at this point. The man works his socks off every game and has the technical ability to score goals like yesterday. This team is built around our midfield, and Belotti is the best compliment to what Mancini is building.
on the 16th November, 2019 at 1:24pm
Mancini should stick with Zaniolo and Chiesa as Belotti's foil. Insigne is inconsistent and Bernardeschi is in dreadful form. I'd also give Izzo or Romagnoli as much experience as they can because Bonucci simply shouldn't start anymore, at least not beside Acerbi. Sirigu also deserves to start over Donnarumma.
on the 16th November, 2019 at 12:52pm
Pete Rossi, Balotelli cannot be relied upon. He performs only when he wants to, and even then his work rate and movement is the antithesis of what Mancini wants with his team.

Kean has been abysmal for Everton. Not only that, he is already showing signs of being unprofessional with his tardiness.

Belotti is a fine player. If he isn't scoring, he is always contributing to the team. With a move away from Torino and a better supporting cast, he can make the jump to being a world class player.
on the 16th November, 2019 at 12:24pm
why a player should be given chance until he proves himself?? why a player of another country being credible to play for your country?? Why player dont get modelled by their preferred position because of different opinion of a ct to his club manager? For example sandro is a promising youngster who can grow regularly in his prefered dm position. Either use him in right position or dont use him at all. Because it unsettle the whole formation and the players who got replaced from their prefered po.
on the 16th November, 2019 at 12:09pm
Armenia, Bosnia and Greece and we are getting way ahead of ourselves here. They are not Germany, France, England or Holland. Italy's "out and out" striker choice is average at best and the latest squad for me isn't exciting enough. Two most gifted strikers we have get left behind yet again and lets hope they are for the euros. Tougher tests lie ahead than the likes of Armenia.
on the 16th November, 2019 at 11:38am
I am a huge mancini and italy fan and agree about their midfield being world class but we havent faced one world class team in qualifying for the euros yet and I also don't believe that our "out in out strikers" are anywhere near world class either. Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti are hardly world beaters. I genuinely hope Kean and Balotelli get playing to their potential because they can be world beaters and we will need class of that ilk upfront if we are to go far in the Euros.
on the 16th November, 2019 at 11:34am

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