It all started so well for the CT, with Antonio Candreva poking home an early goal following Simon Mignolet’s parried shot from Graziano Pelle. The constant questions regarding Conte’s squad choices ahead of the match, and his starting XI were almost obliterated after just three minutes.
The cracks began to show however, and the main source of the problem, other than a torrid showing from Leonardo Bonucci that led to the Azzurri squandering the early lead, was the midfield.
Italy lined up in a standard 4-4-2 formation, a rather old school and arguably obsolete tactic in modern day football, especially at international level. Belgium, on the other hand, lined up in a 4-3-3, and despite what may appear as the Azzurri having more bodies in the centre of the park was far from the truth.
Claudio Marchisio attempted to fill the void of Andrea Pirlo, and looked assured of himself going forward and picking decisive passes. Yet, the space that the latter has left to be filled appears too vast for just one player to take up the reins. Marco Parolo, the 30-year-old from Lazio, ended up being bypassed for much of the game and was rightly substituted for Roberto Soriano. The change made little to no difference for Italy, who went on to lose 3-1.
With Marco Verratti and Daniele De Rossi out injured for this one, it’s clear to see exactly how much Conte and Italy as a whole need them. This should been an experimental game for the Azzurri, but instead, it only highlighted the shortage of options that could lead the midfield in Euro 2016. Should the two aforementioned players somehow miss the competition in France next summer, who can grab that midfield by the scruff of its neck and push Italy forward?
Many felt Napoli’s Jorginho, who has had an excellent season thus far, would feature in the squad for the upcoming matches, but the likes of Riccardo Montolivo were picked instead.
Montolivo is an experienced player, especially on the international stage and his performances for AC Milan of late have been some of his best, but it all feels too clunky. Too rigid even. The same names have been picked time and time again.
It appeared some headway was being made following a good showing from Alessandro Florenzi as a winger, but was then taken off in the middle of his stride for Stephan El Shaarawy. The latter has scored exactly zero goals and created seven chances for Monaco so far, Florenzi on the other hand has netted twice and made 14 chances.
It showed during the match, with El Shaarawy resorting to long balls and hopeful balls into the box alongside his other midfield compatriots, returning the same monotonous football that has occurred under Conte.
Like Belgium, Italy need to explore the use of a packed midfield that can make direct short passes and push forward with full-backs to bomb down the wing. If it means pushing Florenzi back in replace of Mattia De Sciglio then so be it. In mention of the right-back from Milan as well, it is also hard to understand how he earned his place in the side following his recent showings for the Rossoneri.
Come Euro 2016, many will hope to see a midfield of De Rossi, Verratti and Marchisio with Candreva, Eder and Dominico Berardi up top in a 4-3-3. It’s up to Mr Conte however, and we must wait for the answers to come.