Mancini would be mad not to start Immobile in World Cup play-off

Alasdair Mackenzie Date:15th March 2022 at 7:46pm
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STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome) – Ciro Immobile is running out of records to break at Lazio. On Monday night, he scored the winning penalty against Venezia to mark his 144th Serie A goal, taking him beyond legendary 1938 World Cup winner Silvio Piola to become the Roman club’s all-time top scorer in the competition.

He was already the Biancocelesti’s top scorer in all competitions, and he’s level with his former boss Simone Inzaghi as the club’s top scorer in Europe.

We’ve all become accustomed to the 32-year-old’s astonishing level of consistency with the Aquile. It has become ordinary, but in truth it’s utterly extraordinary.

Since joining the club in 2016, only Lionel Messi (164 goals) and Robert Lewandowski (185) have scored more in the top-five leagues.

Immobile currently sits top of the Serie A scoring charts with 21 in 24 games as he chases a fourth capocannoniere title – an achievement only AC Milan’s legend of the 1950s Gunnar Nordahl has bettered, with five top scorer awards.

Despite Immobile’s staggering list of achievements, he remains widely derided outside of the capital for underachieving with the national team.

His record of 15 goals in 54 caps reflects that the striker hasn’t been able to replicate his Lazio form at international level.

But he remains Roberto Mancini’s best option up front for next week’s World Cup play-off against North Macedonia in Palermo.

There will undoubtedly be calls for Andrea Belotti, Gianluca Scamacca, Giacomo Raspadori, or even Mario Balotelli to start in his place.

But Immobile remains the smartest choice, particularly after nine months of working with Maurizio Sarri.

The Azzurri striker has had to adapt his game under the new coach. He no longer has a partner-in-crime like Joaquin Correa or Felipe Caicedo to play off in attack.

Now he has to link up with wingers either side of him in a system that isn’t dissimilar to the one used by Mancini’s Italy.

The midfield has a similar set-up, featuring a holding player (Lucas Leiva/Jorginho), a playmaker (Luis Alberto/Marco Verratti), and a runner who attacks the box (Sergej Milinkovic-Savic/Nicolo Barella).

Felipe Anderson, Pedro, and Mattia Zaccagni all like to cut inside, just like the Azzurri wingers, and Immobile’s rapid adaptation from Inzaghi’s direct 3-5-2 system to Sarri’s possession-heavy 4-3-3 has gone somewhat under the radar.

There’s nothing unusual about Immobile scoring a bucket load of goals, so few people have stopped to applaud him for tweaking the way he plays to spearhead an attacking trident.

This is the perfect time for him to get back into the Italy fold, with fewer matches in his legs now that Lazio are out of Europe, but enough time under Sarri by now that he’s fully acclimatised to a new role that’s similar to the one he has for the Azzurri.

He may not be as prolific for Italy as he is for Lazio, but he brings the best out in others.

It’s no coincidence that Pedro is on course for his highest-scoring season since 2013/14, Zaccagni is having the joint-most prolific season of his career and Anderson has his best goal tally since joining West Ham in 2018/19.

Immobile will often miss several chances before he takes one, but his ability to continually find the next opportunity is remarkable and his tireless, selfless work off the ball to open up space for teammates shouldn’t be underestimated.

His selection might not be the fashionable choice, especially with a youngster like Scamacca pulling up trees at Sassuolo, but it’s the obvious choice.

Italy don’t have another striker as consistent and experienced as Immobile and now isn’t the time for an experiment. The stakes are too high.

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