After what felt like an interminable 10-month wait, Italy finally return to action against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday evening in Florence for the Nations League.
The Azzurri racked up a record 11 consecutive victories before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the international football calendar, and they will be eager to pick up where they left off at the Artemio Franchi. The visitors are not to be taken lightly, but Roberto Mancini’s men have the requisite attacking weapons to start their Nations League campaign on the right foot.
Although there is a certain familiarity between these sides after their meetings in Euro 2020 qualifying Group J, much has changed for Bosnia since November 2019. Former head coach Robert Prosinecki has been replaced by Dusan Bajevic, who, for all his experience, has not prowled a touchline since he left Greek outfit Atromitos in December 2012. Bajevic has favoured a 4-4-1-1 or 4-5-1 formation at various points in his career, and it would be no surprise if he went with a pragmatic approach in his first match as National Team boss.
Regardless of how the new manager chooses to set up, talismanic captain Edin Dzeko promises to be a key component of his plans. Bosnia’s hopes of troubling an organized Azzurri backline hinges on the Roma striker’s ability to hold the ball up and bring his teammates into play. With Juve reportedly interested in his signature, Dzeko will have plenty of motivation to put in a performance that helps seal a move to Turin.
Dzeko’s presence is a huge boost for Bosnia, but the absence of former Serie A star Miralem Pjanic is a hammer blow to their chances of getting a result. Without the newly minted Barcelona creator, The Dragons will have a difficult time holding onto the ball. Furthermore, Bosnia’s attack will be sorely lacking Pjanic’s capacity to drift in between the opposing midfield and defence.
Jorginho is a Mancini favourite for his ball-playing ability, but the Azzurri will always be susceptible against teams who can exploit the Chelsea man’s defensive deficiencies. That weakness could come back to haunt Italy at a later date, but their offensive virtues should overwhelm the brittle Bosnians.
There are a host of Italian attackers in fine form heading into Friday’s contest. Ciro Immobile is at the peak of his powers after capturing his third Capocannoniere and the European Golden Shoe. Out wide, Nicolò Zaniolo and Federico Chiesa both ended the season strongly.
The exploits of Zaniolo, who made a triumphant comeback from a cruciate ligament tear suffered in January against Juventus, were particularly inspiring. Although Mancini could accommodate both players by fielding one at the tip of a midfield triangle, the two young flyers will likely fight it out for a spot on the right.
That area of the pitch could prove crucial, as Bosnia left-back Sead Kolasinac is far more adept going forward than he is tracking back. The Arsenal powerhouse can often be caught too high up the pitch and is prone to lapses in concentration. If either Zaniolo or Chiesa can provide quality service to the red-hot Immobile, Italy should run out comfortable winners.