With the final rounds of 2018 World Cup qualification approaching, Italy coach Giampiero Ventura has focused on selecting experienced players who are familiar with the rigours and demands of international football.
The Azzurri will face Spain on Saturday September 2 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid and then play Israel at the Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia on Tuesday September 5, but it is the away clash against La Furia Roja that will be decisive.
Both teams are level in Group G with 16 points each after six games but Spain sit on top of the standings due to their superior goal difference and Italy must win to stand a chance of avoiding the play-offs as well as secure automatic qualification at the expense of the Spaniards.
Ventura’s selection of goalkeepers is of little surprise with Gianluigi Buffon and Gianluigi Donnarumma being the main choices and Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin is back in the squad after missing the second half of the 2016-17 season with a knee injury.
AC Milan defender Leonardo Bonucci will be reunited with former Juventus teammates Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini but it remains to be seen if they can form a formidable wall once again.
After playing in the Bianconeri’s 4-1 defeat in the Champions League Final against Real Madrid in June, surely they are not able to thwart opposition attacks like they did in their prime. Another experienced centre-back in the Azzurri squad is Davide Astori from Fiorentina, but he has never starred for the national team.
Despite the emphasis on experience in central defence, Ventura has gone for more youthful options in the full-back roles like Milan’s Andrea Conti and Leonardo Spinazzola from Atalanta. Both players have the pace, energy, and attacking nature to peg Spain’s wide players back, as they demonstrated for La Dea last term
If there is one position where the Italians look thin in depth, it is in central midfield. Again Ventura has selected veterans Riccardo Montolivo and Marco Parolo for these internationals despite not possessing the most impressive records on international duty.
Great pressure will be placed on Daniele De Rossi and Marco Verratti to break-up and then create play against a midfield like Spain’s so it is paramount that those two stay fit. Despite the presence of veterans, Roma starlet Lorenzo Pellegrini has been selected after impressing for the Azzurrini at the Under-21 Euros.
Ventura perhaps got his selections right with his choices of wingers and forwards, finding the right blend of youth and experience. Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne is one of the standout choices while Antonio Candreva is an established player who is still a fast and hard-working football at 30 years of age.
Up front Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile will likely lead the attack once again while Eder is still trusted in the Azzurri set-up despite limited appearances at club level.
After granting more starlets playing time in the previous international break, Ventura has opted for more proven players in the Italian squad.
Some of the veterans featuring for Italy have not been outstanding for the Azzurri but in a crucial qualifier, the Italian tactician has shown a preference for familiarity with his selections and does not look eager to take too many risks against a formidable opponent like Spain.
Squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan), Mattia Perin (Genoa).
Defenders: Davide Astori (Fiorentina), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (AC Milan), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Andrea Conti (AC Milan), Danilo D’Ambrosio (Inter), Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Daniele Rugani (Juventus), Leonardo Spinazzola (Atalanta).
Midfielders: Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Riccardo Montolivo (AC Milan), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain).
Forwards: Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Antonio Candreva (Inter), Stephan El Shaarawy (Roma), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Andrea Belotti (Torino), Eder (Inter), Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton), Ciro Immobile (Lazio).