It almost didn’t feel right in 2018, with Italy, one of the world’s most successful footballing nations, omitted from the biggest stage of them all, the World Cup — the first time since 1958.
Come 2021 and Italy are back with a bang. Under the helm of the infinitely stylish Roberto Mancini since the summer of 2018, the Azzurri have regrouped and prepared for the Euros, with an extra year of prep for good measure. The bookies have them as high as 8/1 to win Euro 2020 — a feat they have only managed once previously, in 1968.
Without actually having the opportunity for major success, Mancini’s tenure with the national side has been nothing short of outstanding, surpassing the legendary Vitorio Pozzo’s unbeaten record from the 1930’s, with a span of 11 games. Mancini also has the highest win percentage of any Italy manager to take charge of more than 10 games (71%), again just ahead of Pozzo.
In part 7 of our Euro 2020 preview series we’ll dive into this Italy side, and take a look at how good they can actually be. We’ll delve into all the usual stuff before pulling some key odds regarding the Azzurri.
Euro 2020 Qualifying: WWWWWWWWWW
As already briefly mentioned, Italy breezed through qualifying with consummate ease, swatting aside Finland, Greece, Bosnia, Liechtenstein and Armenia with 10 wins from 10. They hit 37 (3.7 per game) goals in the process whilst conceding just four times.
A qualification process as simple as a walk through the tranquil streets of Venice, Mancini’s side smashed nine past Armenia, six past Liechtenstein, and only looked like dropping any points away to Finland — that is until Jorginho slotted home a 79th minute penalty to make it 2–1.
More broadly speaking, it looks just as, if not more, promising for the Azzurri, who have already taken control of their World Cup qualifying group with wins over Northern Ireland, Bulgaria and Lithuania.
Italy have suffered historically, relative to their four World Cups, in the European Championships with just the single aforementioned triumph in 1968. Apart from that, they have been losing finalists twice, in 2000 and 2012, and losing semi-finalists twice, in 1980 and 1988. Most recently they were knocked out in the quarters, to the Germans, on penalties, obviously.
Throughout Mancini’s incredible campaign as Italy manager he’s stayed relatively loyal to the same 4–3–3 formation and playing style, opting more for player rotation to mix things up over any tactical switches.
The main point of rotation will come through the front three, in which Mancini will deploy the same template and rotate personnel. Essentially, one of either Ciro Immobile or Andrea Belotti will act as the focal point for two electric wingers to play-off (two of Domenico Berardi, Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi).
In midfield, Italy boast potentially the best trio in the tournament in Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella, providing a perfect balance of classy playmaking, attacking energy output and defensive grit. This trio will have more than enough ability to control games throughout, passing opposition midfields into the ground.
A centre-back pairing for the ages, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci seem to improve as the years pass like a fine Italian wine, with a strong body of traditional Italian stopper and not-so-subtle hints of progressive, modern centre-half. They will likely be flanked by the energetic, attack-minded Alessandro Florenzi and Emerson Palmieri, with the seemingly omnipresent — despite being only 22 years old.
With a fine balance of experience and energy, not to mention the most scintilating form of all sides at the Euros, expect Italy to come flying out the blocks. The Azzurri have the potential to dominate, with solid, experienced defenders, silky, intelligent midfielders and and electric front line. One common problem, however, has been Italy’s focal point, whilst both Immobile and Belotti have shone at club level for Lazio and Torino respectively, neither have fully made their mark on the international stage. The whole of Italy will be praying that they can step up to the mark this summer.
Leonardo Bonucci: In a time of transition for Mancini and Italy, in which the ‘old-guard’ are being phased out and new, young talent emerges, Leonardo Bonucci just keeps getting better. Now 31 years old, and with 101 caps to his name, the Juventus veteran, alongside the dwindling but still brilliant Chiellini, seems to grow in stature with each season.
His influence on the younger generation of Italians (Alessandro Bastoni, Federico Chiesa, Manuel Locatelli) will likely prove just as pivotal to his side's success as his qualities on the pitch.
Bonucci embodies the Italian, warrior-like spirit that is associated so fondly with the most successful sides, whilst growing equally into a classy, modern centre-half. They don’t make them like him anymore.
Nico Barella: After playing a pivotal role in Inter Milan’s first scudetto since 2009–10 (the year they won the treble under Jose Mourinho), Nico Barella looks set to play an equally important role in his first major tournament in the blue of Italy.
Fitting for an Italian, Barella perfectly encompasses the role of the ‘Mezzala’ — roughly translated as ‘half-winger’ a Mezzala usually plays as an attacking number eight, and has a tendency to drift into wide half-spaces. Think Paul Pogba in Antonio Conte’s Juve.
Under that man Conte this season, Barella has bagged himself three goals whilst notching up seven assists for il Nerazzurri. Moreover, he is in the top ten percent across all midfielders in Europe’s major leagues for assists per 90 (0.21), passes into the penalty area per 90 (2.10), progressive passes per 90 (7.03) and ball carries into the final third per 90 (2.26).
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