Euro 2016: What are Italy's chances without Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti?
The Italian national team is one of the most successful teams in the history of football. Their title-winning pedigree is well acknowledged throughout the world and their attention to detail and tactics reverberates in their domestic league as well. Italy have won the World Cup a staggering 4 times, having reached the final twice more. They have also won the European Championship in 1968, appearing in two other finals, most recently in the last Euros in 2012.
Given their illustrious history and winning mentality, you’ll always hear of them as being one of the favourites going into any international tournament. Their steely defence is always acknowledged but what’s not given enough credit is the sheer quality the Italians have consistently produced in midfield and attack. Think of Gianni Rivera and Andrea Pirlo, Christian Vieri and Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti and Paolo Rossi and the list goes on and on.
Italy have almost always have had a fantasia heading into an international tournament and a consistent goal scorer, but they have neither now. The No.10 shirt has always been reserved for something with a unique vision and flair and the fact that it was given to Thiago Motta for the current tournament caused much anguish in the peninsula. Not that Thiago Motta isn’t an extremely accomplished player, but it was considered a travesty that a player of his attributes was given a number usually considered so sacred.
A lack of quality attacking talent
To say that the current Italy squad is underwhelming would be an understatement. Italy don’t seem to be producing the striking talent they’ve been so consistently churning out over the years in recent times.
Graziano Pelle and Simone Zaza are pretty decent strikers but none of them would make it to the starting 11 of any other world class team. Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi, once such promising young players have failed to make the most of their careers and find themselves out of the squad.
But even though Italy had seemingly made peace with what was going to be the lack of a world class forward going into Euro 2016, the injuries to Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti have been absolutely shattering blows.
The midfield was one area along with the defence that was considered full of excellent players for Italy and the injuries to the Juve and PSG midfielders, two players amongst the best in their position in the world has been a huge setback to deal with.
Consider that Antonio Conte has left home Jorginho, Bonaventura and Franco Vazquez, what would have been three good alternatives to provide a spark in midfield and you begin to realise what a lack of quality Italy now have in the middle of the park. It must be mentioned that all three of the above players have had great seasons in Serie A and why Conte has left all of them behind, only he really knows.
Strong in defence, yet again
We move onto the defence now, and that is really the only cheerful reading for Azzurri fans as the Juve block of Buffon in goal and Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini in defence is one of the best defensive setups in the Euros if not the best. That the four have so much experience playing together is also a huge asset and they all need to be at their best if Italy are to have any real chance of being taken as serious contenders.
What Conte will deliver is putting players out on the field who will really bleed for their colours. From the lineups he’s been putting out in the friendlies it seems like he’ll setup with a 3-5-2 with the Juve block in defence, one of Thiago Motta and Daniele De Rossi in the centre alongside Florenzi and Giaccherini, two industrious players full of running.
Two out of Candreva, Darmian and El Shaarawy will probably play as the Wing Backs and Simone Zaza and Graziano Pelle should be the favourites to start up front.
It’s hard to predict if Conte’s strategy of creating an industrious Italy, solid in defence and full of endeavor will really work in France although he might have to alternate with a 3-4-3 (though this system lacks balance unless playing with two hugely dynamic central midfielders, something Italy don’t have) or a 4-3-3 to give them more attacking impetus and allow for Lorenzo Insigne and El Shaarawy to both use their skill on the wing.
All in all, Italy go into the Euros with minimal expectations, late injuries to extremely key players and a lack of real quality in attack. Conte’s work rate and ability to get the maximum out his players (even though he’s left some of the best players at home) will be a huge plus as will be the Juve block in defence.
They do have quality on the wing and solid experienced players in Motta and De Rossi in the centre of the park. Zaza and Florenzi could yet have a surprisingly good tournament but it’s hard to see Italy progressing beyond the quarter-finals. But as always, the Italians could turn on their historically impressive siege mentality, attention to tactical detail and surprise us all.