Italy still seeking an identity

Almost a year since Roberto Mancini took over, Anthony Barbagallo believes the Azzurri are playing more attractive football, but still lack cohesion.

After the Giampiero Ventura fiasco and the realisation that Italy wouldn’t compete at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, several Italian Coaches – including Carlo Ancelotti – declined the Azzurri’s job offer. Instead, the Nazionale appointed Roberto Mancini – a modern tactician who has won numerous trophies in the English Premier League, Serie A and in Turkey.

With an experienced background in managing elite sides and boasting quite an impressive resume, many supporters felt sceptical about this move. Did Mancini have the ability to reconstruct a deteriorating footballing juggernaut?

Reforming the four-time World champions was never going to be a quick and straightforward task. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so rebuilding the Italian national football team wasn’t going to happen overnight. Steering the Azzurri back on the right path needed a patient captain – a virtue that Mancini holds.

After almost a year at the helm, Mancini’s Italy is slowly starting to play a more attacking brand of Calcio. The former Manchester City boss has nearly succeeded in eradicating the outdated and pragmatic style of football the Azzurri had played for the bulk of their existence on the international stage.

The 54-year-old CT’s message is clear: getting his young Italian team to play in a proactive 4-3-3 formation and to entertain the tifosi right from the first whistle, as well as achieving decent results with this style.

So far during Mancini’s reign, we have seen an influx of new faces join the Azzurri squad for friendlies, UEFA Nations League and the beginning of the Euro 2020 qualifiers. The high turnover of players and the number of experiments have at times affected the team’s cohesion, especially in those Nation League fixtures.

The lack of understanding between the players upfront has made it increasingly difficult for the Italians to score – it feels like an eternity since we’ve seen an Italian striker grab a brace or score a hat-trick. You can check the odds for Kean or even Fabio Quagliarella to achieve that this evening on

The recent 2-0 win over Finland was arguably one of Italy’s best performances under Mancini and since the Euro 2016 display under Antonio Conte. The intense and high pressing right from the first minute proved that the Azzurri are trying to establish an attacking identity.

Yet despite the positive display against a persistent Finnish side and the intentions to play captivating calcio, Italy is only showing glimpses of this new attacking identity they are trying so desperately to achieve. The six-time World Cup finalists definitely boast the right personnel to turn the performances up by a notch or two.

There are still some holes in this current Italian side that need filling, particularly in the wing-back and attacking positions. With Leonardo Spinazzola back to full fitness, the 26-year-old could offer more dynamism on the left flank.

Another ongoing issue that has affected the Azzurri’s results is the complicated build-up in the attack. Federico Bernardeschi – one of Italy’s most creative and promising wingers – has at times been guilty of complicating the play in the final third. The 25-year-old has been brave for taking on his opponents through some silky dribbling skills, but he can often hold the ball too long – losing it in potential goalscoring opportunities.  

While Italy still like to dominate the bulk of possession, the midfielders and defenders sometimes revert to the old ways – passing the ball back to the goalkeeper, hence ruining a potential dangerous counter-attack. And as we witnessed the Azzurri take a 1-0 lead against the Finns, the Italians took their foot off the accelerator in the latter stages of the first half and the early moments of the second – showing the dull and pragmatic elements still present in their game.  

After going blank in his last 10 games in an Azzurri shirt, Ciro Immobile might have run out of chances to convince the Italian fans that he can lead the frontline. However, the promising emergence of Moise Kean might have solved some of Mancini’s worries upfront.

The 19-year-old has recently proven to be a deadly finisher in front of goal for Juventus – meaning the ability is there for him to emulate this form on the international stage. Although, the Juve starlet needs to shift to his more preferred centre-forward role. It will be interesting to see how the likes of Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne and Matteo Politano would combine with Kean in the forward line.  

Expect to see several attacking changes to the Azzurri line-up for the game against Liechtenstein. This match will be another ideal opportunity for Mancini to showcase some of Italian football’s other promising youngsters. For this current Italy side to show more of an attacking identity, the players will need to step up their game and take more risks against their next opponents.

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