After a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Euro 2020 is all set to begin on June 11th. While France, Germany, England and defending champions Portugal are the favourites, Italy have remained under the radar.
The Azzurri, who failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup (in 2018) for the first time in 60 years, are coming into Euro 2020 off some solid recent performances. Let us analyse if Italy have it in them to go all the way in the tournament.
Italy's imperious Euro 2020 qualification campaign
After a disastrous 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign, Italian football almost hit its nadir. Senior players like Daniele de Rossi and Gianluigi Buffon retired from national duties, marking the end of a glorious era in Italian football.
Roberto Mancini was appointed the new head coach of the national team. His appointment shook things up in the national setup, kickstarting Italy's preparations for Euro 2020.
Under his tutelage, 62 different players donned the Italian jersey in three years, the most under any Italian manager. Old legs were replaced with new blood, such as Alessio Romagnoli, Manuel Locatelli and Alessandro Bastoni.
The infusion of youth had an immediate impact on Gli Azzurri's performances. The team that failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup romped into Euro 2020 with three games in hand.
Slotted in Group J, the Azzurri won all their qualifying games. Along the way, Italy registered some thumping victories, including a 5-0 win over Liechtenstein, a 3-0 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina and a ruthless 9-1 rout of Armenia at home.
The Il Mancio effect on Italy
Ever since his appointment as the Italy manager, Il Mancio, as Roberto Mancini is fondly referred to as has made a strong impression. The Azzurri have moved on from their traditional catenaccio to a more progressive brand of football. Mancini has shown his inclination for a 4-3-3 system, which makes the most of his ball-playing defenders, hard-working midfielders and hungry forwards.
With the players he has used in the past three years, it is clear Mancini has placed an emphasis on possession-based football. Players like Manuel Locatelli and Marco Verratti have been difficult to dispossess and have often operated as Carrilero and Mezzala respectively. Nicolo Barella is the engine of the Italy midfield, with Jorginho setting the tempo of the game.
Mancini’s wingers tend to cut inside and make their presence in the final third. Federico Chiesa has become a key player in Mancini’s set-up and is often complemented by Lorenzo Insigne on the other flank. Lazio’s goal machine, Ciro Immobile, has scored a chunk of goals for Italy and is likely to do so at Euro 2020 as well.
The Italian defence, though, has seen the most transformation. It was always going to be difficult to fill the shoes of the legendary Gianluigi Buffon. But in his namesake Donnarumma, Italy have found a keeper who is seemingly destined for superstardom. Only 22, Donnarumma has already amassed 251 club games and 25 for Italy in his career so far.
Veteran Andrea Barzagli is someone who is difficult to replace in the national team set-up. But in Alessandro Bastoni, Mancini has found a player who is carving a reputation for himself with his ball-playing ability, aerial prowess and decision making skills.
Considering his eye for young talent, Roberto Mancini has effectively 'replaced' the old stalwarts Daniele de Rossi, Buffon and Barzagli. He has unearthed new players who can hold themselves up and weather the toughest of challenges.
Italy's admirable squad depth
While the squad depth of Spain, Germany, France and England is often talked about, Italy’s bench strength has largely gone unnoticed. The 60+ players Mancini has tried and tested so far in his tenure should stand Italy in good stead in Euro 2020.
One common attribute the Euro 2020-bound Italian squad possess is versatility. Most of the players are adept in playing in multiple positions. The likes of Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Federico Chiesa can play anywhere up front. That allows a constant shuffling of Italy's attacking line, which keeps opponent teams guessing.
Italy also have an embarrassment of riches in midfield. Jorginho operates at a different level while playing for Italy. Marco Verratti and Niccolo Barella are the preferred midfielders alongside Jorginho. But if need be, Locatelli can replace Verratti, while Lorenzo Pellegrini can step in for Barella to make sure the intensity in midfield remains relentless.
Every midfielder in the Italy squad is capable of playing in a box-to-box role. Depending on the match situation, they can be relied upon to step up in an advanced role or fall back to augment the defence.
Italy's preferred formation suggests Mancini has identified players cut out for specific match situations that his team may face at Euro 2020. The squad has the right blend of youth and experience. If they perform to their potential, Forza Azzurri may well take Euro 2020 by storm and bring home the coveted trophy they last held aloft more than five decades ago (1968).
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