Almost exactly 365 days from the start of Euro 2020, Italy appear to have righted the ship and have been playing their best football since Antonio Conte’s departure in 2016. Roberto Mancini has given a clear identity to the side, as well as a certain level of enthusiasm around the national team that was unthinkable just a year ago, after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
A reasonably successful Nations League group stage saw the Azzurri avoid relegation and only just miss out on qualification for the semifinal, losing to eventual champions Portugal.
With the passing months, the team’s performances continued to improve as the squad got acclimatised with Mancini’s system, and this past week Italy were tasked with facing the two sides that – on paper – represented their most dangerous competitors in Euro 2020 qualification.
The Italians breezed past a disorganised Greece in a 3-0 win, with all goals coming in the first 35 minutes. Bosnia proved to be more of a challenge, but Italy were able to recover from a dire first half – in which Dzeko put Bosnia ahead – with a goal from each of the two former Pescara starlets: Lorenzo Insigne and Marco Verratti.
With four wins in four matches played, Euro 2020 qualification could not have started better for Mancini’s boys. Finland and Armenia have emerged as possible contenders for a qualification position, but Italy remain firmly in the lead of the group. The Azzurri’s next matches will be against those two sides in early September.
Mancini’s style of play relies greatly on controlling possession. The midfield of Nicolo Barella-Jorginho- Verratti has been used steadfastly since Mancini took over.
The trio has been extremely successful against weaker teams, but questions have to be raised on how effective it will be against opposition that will take the onus of possession. In particular, Jorginho offers very little on the defensive end, which becomes even more apparent when he’s not partnered with a real midfield destroyer (à la N’Golo Kante or Allan).
Barella was easily Italy’s best performer in this pair of matches, scoring a goal against Greece and just generally playing at a higher intensity than anyone else on the pitch. The 22-year-old looks set for a move to Inter, but he’ll be focused on the Euro U21 tournament at the moment which he’ll feature in starting this Sunday.
The backline didn’t look tremendously solid, with Gianluca Mancini struggling significantly in the first half against Bosnia, but statistically speaking the Italian boss has to be satisfied.
The Azzurri have only conceded one goal in the past seven matches played. Emerson Palmieri’s stock will have gained value after these two outings. He performed well in both matches, and will be battling with Leonardo Spinazzola and Cristiano Biraghi for that left-back position.
Perhaps the greatest positive to take from these games is the fact that Insigne was able to find the net twice in two matches, which is a steep improvement considering that prior to that he’d scored a meagre four goals in 32 national team appearances.
Up top, Andrea Belotti definitely gave a significant boost to his chances of starting for the Azzurri in the future. He didn’t score, but he did provide a splendid assist, and his work-ethic and general impact was invaluable in both matches.
After his 17 seasonal goals, Belotti appears to be in contention with Fabio Quagliarella and Moise Kean for that starting number nine role, with Ciro Immobile starting to be pushed out of the picture.
It’s still a long journey to take Italy back to where they belong, but Mancini has rapidly built a base that the Azzurri can continue to build on in the future.