Here we go again. A new Italy Coach after a major tournament, debuting with a friendly defeat. Indeed, the only CT to have won their first game since the turn of the millennium was Antonio Conte two years ago, so Giampiero Ventura finds himself in esteemed company alongside the ilk of Dino Zoff, Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi. However, none of them lost 3-1 to France as the former Torino boss did on Thursday in Bari.
In Ventura’s defence, the result came after just three days of him working with the squad, who themselves have only recently returned to competitive football. Naturally, the Coach preferred to keep the crux of the side that reached the Euro 2016 quarter-finals – and were cruelly beaten on penalties by Germany – and that also meant he stuck with his predecessor’s 3-5-2 system, Davide Astori and Giacomo Bonaventura the only new faces from the outset.
The first impressions given by Ventura’s Italy were a team not much different to that managed by Conte. Torino scored eight goals from corners last season – only Milan and Juventus netted more – and his troops should’ve taken the lead in just the second minute, when Graziano Pelle met the first of 10 deliveries at Steve Mandanda’s near post first time but couldn’t hit the ball on target.
Indeed, the veteran put great emphasis on the wings, demonstrated by Italy’s 35 crosses – some 25 more than what France could muster – and Pelle’s fine finish as he turned and shot past Mandanda from Eder’s low cross. Aside from that, Conte’s possession-based style and high pressing was maintained, which saw the country complete almost 200 more passes than their opponents, plus make more interceptions and recoveries.
However, the defensive organisation that embodied Conte’s reign was severely lacking. Granted, Leonardo Bonucci was missing in action, but Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini did not enjoy their finest hours on the international stage. The latter was particularly poor as he was at fault for France’s first two goals, his misjudgement gifting Anthony Martial the opener and failure to pick up Olivier Giroud resulting in the striker volleying past Gianluigi Buffon.
Barzagli and Chiellini are now well beyond the wrong side of 30, and questions have unsurprisingly been asked about their future in the Italy set-up, given the emergence of Daniele Rugani and Alessio Romagnoli. Yet through no fault of their own, the pair are not afforded the same level of midfield protection by their country as they do Juventus, making the contributions of Marco Parolo and Daniele De Rossi all the more important.
Normally known for their industry and tactical awareness, Parolo and De Rossi were sluggish on the night, while Bonaventura was largely ineffective before he was replaced by Milan clubmate Riccardo Montolivo. The Rossoneri captain cuts a much-maligned figure but was more influential in his half-hour on the pitch, although he was guilty of slowing play down too much on occasions. A proactive midfield is crucial for Ventura’s adventurous plans to bear fruit.
Nonetheless, there are more reasons to be optimistic than pessimistic. Gianluigi Donnarumma became Italy’s youngest-ever international at just 17 years old, and while he shouldn’t have conceded Layvin Kurzawa’s clincher at his near post, he is destined to replace Buffon for years to come. Ventura has also revealed since his PR blunder that he may adopt a 4-2-4 formation, opening the door for the Azzurri’s best attacking talent to flourish. It will be a bumpy ride to Russia but an exciting one.