It’s fair to say that it hasn’t been the easiest of years for Antonio Candreva. After having the best season of his career in 2014-15, storm clouds rolled into what had seemed to be a sunny future for the Roman club and their talismanic winger.
Candreva was the fan’s choice as the next captain, but was overlooked as the club handed Lucas Biglia the armband in a desperate attempt to keep the Argentine in Rome. The Aquile were then dumped out of the Champions League in the play-offs before beginning a hugely anti-climactic campaign in which Stefano Pioli was sacked and Candreva has struggled to rediscover his best form.
Looking at the numbers, it may appear that the 29-year-old has again been a standout performer for the Biancocelesti this season. With nine goals in Serie A, Candreva is Lazio’s top scorer. However, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Six of those strikes have been from the penalty spot and a total of four assists so far is a dramatic drop from the 13 he managed last term.
Despite that, the winger has not been the only player to struggle for form in the blue shirt this season and he still deserves to be one of the first men to board the flight to France this summer. There is even an argument to be made that his woes in Rome this season will give Candreva extra motivation at Euro 2016. With a summer exit looking more than likely, the tournament gives him the perfect opportunity to find a front and centre spot in the shop window.
The argument for naming Candreva in the Italy squad is based on three major factors: his experience, his versatility and his technical ability. With the likes of Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo unlikely to make the cut and Riccardo Montolivo looking uncertain of a starting spot, the Azzurri midfield suddenly seems short of leaders.
While Candreva may not have the same depth of experience as the aforementioned trio, his 36 Italy caps and previous tournament experience (he was particularly impressive against England at the 2014 World Cup) mean he’s unlikely to be overawed by the occasion of an opening day date with world number ones Belgium.
The Rome native’s versatility is one of his most undervalued qualities. While he’s most comfortable on the right flank, Pioli deployed Candreva all the way across the attacking line, on both wings and as a number 10, the position he began his career operating in. He’s even dropped further back to play in a midfield three under Conte before and it’s his all-round footballing ability that makes this possible.
Although the rainbow flicks and 40-yard screamers might make the YouTube compilations, Candreva is more than a box of tricks. He has an excellent passing range, superb close control and can create and score goals. With 44 strikes and 45 assists for Lazio since joining in January 2012, he’s been a crucial attacking outlet for the club.
An added feather in Candreva’s cap not to be overlooked is his deadliness from 12 yards. With six penalties scored this season, the winger is calm and composed from the spot and would be the perfect man to call on if the Azzurri need a shootout to progress during the tournament.
Many Azzurri fans will understandably be calling for exciting young talents such as Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne, Roma’s Stephan El Shaarawy or Fiorentina’s Federico Bernardeschi to start ahead of Candreva. While they all have admirable quality, the Lazio man’s goal threat, composure and flexibility offers Conte a most valuable asset for his squad.
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