Italy moved one step closer to booking their place in Euro 2020 thanks to a 3-1 victory over Armenia that highlighted the importance of Andrea Belotti in Roberto Mancini’s puzzle.
The Torino man was influential and impactful, as he led the line for the Azzurri on a night that wasn’t as straightforward as many would have thought.
Regardless, Belotti stepped up and showed his quality and he was joined by Emerson Palmieri, who is quickly becoming a key contributor in Italy’s cause after rediscovering his form at Chelsea.
Belotti impact felt beyond his goal(s)
Two goals (though his second may be changed to an own-goal, but nevertheless) for the Torino man, who was easily the best Italy player on Thursday night.
With the likes of Federico Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa seemingly off beat, it was Belotti who took control and spearheaded the attack thanks to his movement, presence and participation in the Azzurri build-up play.
Italy’s biggest problem for quite some time has been who should play as the central striker in Mancini’s 4-3-3 formation, and this match may have finally given the tactician the answer he’s been looking for.
The Torino man simply offers more guarantees than the likes of Ciro Immobile, Kevin Lasagna, Simone Zaza, Patrick Cutrone and Moise Kean and will be in Italy’s plans for longer than Fabio Quagliarella and the now-injured Leonardo Pavoletti.
Thus it isn’t a stretch to say that as Il Gallo goes, so may Italy’s chances of making their mark at Euro 2020.
Barella and Chiesa take a step back
The duo are two of Italy’s best young talents, but Thursday was a match neither will likely remember fondly.
Barella has so far failed to leave his mark at new club Inter, with Antonio Conte acknowledging the former Cagliari man hasn’t settled in as quickly as new teammate Stefano Sensi.
His lack of form was evident against Armenia, as the 22-year-old was slow off the ball and short of ideas on it. It’s no surprise he, along with Chiesa, were both called off as they were the reason why the home side opened the scoring.
The Fiorentina winger is coming off a turbulent summer that saw him stay with La Viola, though he would have been off to Juventus had things gone how he wanted them to.
It’s no surprise then that Chiesa has struggled for his club so far, and given his lack of form on Thursday, you have to think he would have started from the bench had Lorenzo Insigne not pulled out of the squad due to injury.
Emerson emerging from the shadows
The Chelsea full-back put in a complete performance, as he played a key part in Italy’s opening goal and kept things tight at the back when called upon.
Emerson remains a bit of a mysterious figure to many Azzurri fans, as the most anyone has seen him play was in 2016/17 for Roma. That year he featured in 36 matches, and it helped him earn a move to Chelsea in January 2018.
It’s taken him time to settle in at Stamford Bridge but he’s now a starter under Frank Lampard, and you have to think he’ll feature regularly for Italy moving forward given his performance on Thursday.
An applause for Mancini
The struggles Italy went through at the start of his tenure seem like ages ago, as the team finally have an identity under the 54-year-old.
It wasn’t pretty against Armenia, but Mancini has led the Azzurri to six consecutive victories – their best run in over 10 years.
Five of those wins have been in Euro 2020 qualifying, all but securing Italy of a place in next summer’s competition – something we shouldn’t take for granted given how complicated things were under Gian Piero Ventura just a few years ago.