Conor Clancy Date: 19th November 2020 at 3:22pm
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It might have come as a surprise to the wider world that Italy’s impressive win away to Bosnia on Wednesday evening was inspired by players plying their trade with Sassuolo and Torino, but Manuel Locatelli, Domenico Berardi and Andrea Belotti showed that there is a lot of good outside of the traditional ‘big’ sides in Serie A.

No side had more players represented in the Azzurri XI than Sassuolo. Inter and Chelsea had as many as the Neroverdi, with Alessandro Bastoni and Nicolo Barella representing the Nerazzurri, with Emerson Palmieri and Jorginho both on the books at Stamford Bridge.

While not-so-regular viewers of Serie A might have been surprised to see two Sassuolo players in Alberico Evani’s XI, those familiar with the Italian game know that the Neroverdi could have had three of their own in the side. Ciccio Caputo, unfortunately, had to miss the call this time due to a hamstring injury.

Berardi and co. showed, and have shown for a while now, that there is hope outside of the European participants. Roberto Mancini, to his credit, hasn’t been shy of casting an eye down the Serie A table when selecting his Azzurri squads, although questions should still be asked of the inclusion of Kevin Lasagna.

Torino’s Salvatore Sirigu was on the bench, joined by Atalanta’s Matteo Pessina – who built his reputation at Hellas Verona before returning to Bergamo this past summer – and Bologna pair Roberto Soriano and Riccardo Orsolini.

It’s not hard to see that this current Azzurri squad enjoy one another’s company, and that might be helped by the absence of traditional leaders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, who very much represent the old guard and, perhaps, a time that the side have finally moved on from.

With Alessandro Bastoni and Francesco Acerbi starting in a back four, leaving Alessio Romagnoli to watch on from the bench, there’s a case to be made that the veteran defenders are now surplus to requirements for the national team, however valuable their Juventus experience together might have once been.

The Italy squad are having fun together on the pitch. They’re playing a style of football that suits the players available to them, and their most promising players are playing in their natural positions, rather than being forced to operate in roles that they’re not used to.

Belotti as the No.9 makes perfect sense given his role for Torino. Both Il Gallo and Caputo could argue that they are more deserving of leading the line for Italy in this 4-3-3 setup than 2019/20 capocannoniere and European Golden Shoe Ciro Immobile, who does his best work in a front two.

Whoever starts, though, most fans of the team would be relatively happy and trusting that they could find the net when presented with an opportunity.

Club pairings could be beneficial

Familiarity isn’t always achievable in international football, but Berardi’s goal on Wednesday was a perfect example of what perks can come from playing players together who know each other’s game.

Locatelli put his club teammate through with a perfectly lobbed ball over Bosnia’s backline, having read the forward’s run excellently. Ciccio Caputo’s return for the March internationals could help that even further, particularly given how well he combines with Berardi in Reggio Emilia.

Vicente Del Bosque liked having sections of his all-conquering Spain XI to carry that same club cohesion, with Real Madrid and Barcelona players often being chosen in the same areas of the pitch as their club teammates.

There’s a long way to go between these November fixtures and the European Championship, whenever that may be, but there are already a lot of positive signs for Mancini’s Azzurri.