The Italian national team has appeared to have had a dip in quality since the UEFA European Football Championship 2012, where they made a shocking run to the final. Hindsight proved that the team was actually one of the better squads in the tournament and had every right to be there.
As a national squad, they have been up and down since then. Italy couldn’t get out of the group stages at the World Cup 2014, made it to the quarter-finals at Euro 2016, but embarrassingly failed to qualify for the World Cup 2018, for the first time since 1958.
Nevertheless, since Roberto Mancini has taken the reins, they have been in scintillating form and typically impervious at the back. Could they rekindle the magic that saw them reach the final nine years ago?
The Mancini Effect
The catalyst for the re-ascent of the Italy squad has been the introduction of Roberto Mancini as manager. The classy Italian – noted for his adaptability and squad management – has shifted the team to counteract their opponents.
However, this isn’t to say he is adjusting formation, quite the opposite as he has settled on a 4-3-3 but the personnel frequently changes. He has used over 65 players and is giving youth a chance compared to previous regimes. His run has seen an unbeaten streak of over 20 games, dating back to October 2018.
That form would suggest that Italy would be one of the favourites going into the tournament, although there doesn’t appear to be as much around them as other nations. England is the favourite at 9/2, with France closely following them at 5/1. However, odds for Euro 2021 do have Italy in with a strong chance at 8/1. Considering the turnaround Mancini has implemented, they stand a good chance of winning for the first time since 1968.
As previously mentioned, Mancini has implemented a consistent formation of 4-3-3. It is also relevant to look at the way the players have responded and are deployed in that system.
The Italy squad has moved away from its traditional defensive stout and gone for more of an attacking flair. They take more shots, have more touches in the opponent’s box, have more possession and have interchangeable players. The likes of Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne can lead the line upfront, but there is a plethora of options. Deciding on the front three may be a challenge.
Even with the emphasis on attacking prowess, Italy still has a sturdy defence anchored by the immortal Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, who have conceded fewer shots under Mancini. They also have maestros Marco Verratti and Jorginho in midfield for a new comprehensive squad.
The Italians are a proud footballing nation who have won four World Cups. In truth, they have less success at the Euros but usually advance far in the competition. What is significant is their recent history of bouncing back after flopping at a major tournament. Euro 2012 saw them reach the final after failing to get out of their group at the 2010 World Cup. It was significant as they won the previous World Cup in 2006. After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, it is possible history repeats itself, and the Italians make a run in this summer’s competition.
It feels like many pundits and footballing people aren’t talking about Italy as much as other nations to win the competition, which is a favourable position for a country that seems to flourish as a dark horse.