Almost all the football clubs in Europe have young players matching strides with their seniors. So much so that by the age of 23, they are established first choices players at their respective clubs.
The Italian national team also known as Azzurri have a rich footballing heritage. They have won the World Cup on as many as four occasions. Yet the team seems to be in a bit of a rut, failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. But with an exciting array of talent coming through, the future looks bright again for the Italians.
Here we look at a U23 Italian XI that can return the national team to its former heights.
Goalkeeper and Defence
The goalkeeper in this XI is Gianluigi Donnarumma. The AC Milan shot-stopper is widely regarded as one of the best young keepers in the world. Still aged only 21, Donnarumma has more than 150 appearances for his club. He's also the first choice goalkeeper for his national team. He beats Napoli's Alex Meret for a place in this XI.
The center backs in this team are Inter Milan's Alessandro Bastoni and AS Roma's Gianluca Mancini. 21-year-old Bastoni has had a breakout season, even relegating new signing Diego Godin to the bench. Mancini, on the other hand, has formed a solid defensive partnership with Chris Smalling for Roma. These two youngsters have shown a lot of promise but whether they can carry forward the legacies of their legendary predecessors remains to be seen.
Milan's Davide Calabria is the right back in this XI. He was a part of the Italian U21 Euros team last season and has played regularly this season. On the left-hand side of the defence, we have, Luca Pellegrini. He's contracted to Juventus but is on loan at Cagliari. He has provided 4 assists in 19 starts in the Serie A this season.
At the holding midfield position, we have, Brescia's Sandro Tonali. Only 19, technically brilliant and sporting long hair, it's no wonder that he has been likened to Italian legend Andrea Pirlo. He's so adept at controlling the game that sometimes his tenacity goes under the radar. In fact, he himself thinks that he's more similar to the gutsy Gennaro Gattuso than the more artistic Pirlo.
AS Roma's Lorenzo Pellegrini also finds a place as the box-to-box midfielder of the team. A graduate from Roma's academy, he has provided 9 assists in the Serie A this season. Although he's only 23, this is his sixth season in the top flight. Pellegrini, like most others in this team, also frequently plays for Italy's senior team.
The attacking midfielder in this team is Inter Milan's, Nicolo Barella. He was a star for Cagliari before Inter bought him in the summer. Alongside Stefano Sensi, Marcelo Brozovic and new arrival Christian Eriksen, Barella has helped in driving Inter into the race for their first Scudetto in years. He has scored 3 goals in 12 appearances for the Italian national team.
On the left of the front three is Fiorentina's Federico Chiesa. The son of Italian football legend Enrico, Chiesa is one of the most consistent wingers in Serie A and has formed an interesting pairing with Franck Ribery this season. He made his international debut in 2018 and has played 17 times for his country. Linked with Europe's finest, we might see Chiesa move sooner than later.
Playing as the striker in this XI is Moise Kean who plays for Premier League side, Everton. Kean rose to prominence last season proving effective as a second choice striker at Juventus aged only 19. However, his summer move to Everton has not worked out. Struggling for game time, Kean even got substituted once just a few minutes after coming on as a substitute. However, he has age and massive talent on his side. He gets into this side ahead of Fiorentina's Patrick Cutrone and Bologna's Riccardo Orsolini.
On the right is the crown jewel of this young side, Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo. The 20-year old's creativity and desire shine through every time you watch him and he will almost certainly be one of the best players in the league within the next 5 years. It still remains to be seen whether he will leave Roma or stay there for the duration of his career like Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi did. At this moment, Zaniolo is out with an ACL injury and we wish him a speedy recovery.