The recent two matches against Poland and Portugal certainly didn’t do much to inspire hope that the Azzurri can rapidly turn things around failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
But the start of the Serie A season has given even a cynical person like myself at least some reasons to believe Roberto Mancini (or whoever could potentially replace him after the Euro) will be able to field a competent squad in Qatar should the Azzurri make it that far.
There have been some Italian players young enough to be in their prime in four years who have been able to shine in the first few weeks of the season including…
Nicolo’ Barella the 21 year old Cagliari midfielder was the man of the match in the recent showdown against Milan. The Sardinian native has shown his versatility so far this season, he packs a strong punch with his shot to go with good positioning and above average tacking ability. Barella has all the tools to slot nicely next to Jorginho, a player who so far has struggled to shine on the Azzurri the same he does at the club, likely because the system isn’t set up for him to shine and also because the drop off in talent when he plays for the Italian national team is significant to what he experienced at Napoli and now at Chelsea. Barella’s teammate Alessio Cragno has continued to build on the strong performances from last season, and could become Donnarumma’s backup on the Azzurri (or main competitor) should Mattia Perin continue to struggle to find playing time at Juventus.
Speaking of Juventus, Federico Bernardeschi has been arguably Allegri’s best player so far this season. During the summer there was talk the former Fiorentina player would move to the midfield to help overcome the lack of depth after Claudio Marchisio’s departure and because he wasn’t expected to play much in an attack featuring players like Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic. But so far Bernardeschi has shown the maturity that he lacked during his time in Tuscany and in the process made it really hard to bench him.
While Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are still certainly well above average players at their positions, it’s hard to imagine that either of them will be still viable options during the next World Cup. But luckily Italy will be able to count on Alessio Romagnoli, who recently inherited Milan’s captain’s arm band- the former Roma defender is in the verge of becoming an elite player at the international level after shining in Serie A. Romagnoli’s teammate Davide Calabria still hasn’t convinced most of his critics, but considering his young age and experience in Serie A and with Italy’s Under 21 where he appeared in 15 matches, there’s reason to believe he’ll at least be a potential backup wing back on the Azzurri.
Mancini must have have told himself “if you want something done right, you might as well do it yourself“ when he recently selected Nicolo’ Zaniolo to the Azzurri’s senior squad right after complaining Serie A teams weren’t fielding enough young Italians. Mancini’s bold decision inspired Eusebio Di Francesco to give Zaniolo his debut for Roma at the Santiago Bernabeu, the former Inter youth team player was a key member of Italy’s Under 19 that made it to the European finals and could single handedly change the way the Nainggolan deal has been evaluated.
Just like in Barella’s case, there’s no doubt that Federico Chiesa will benefit from at least another full season at his current club in a system where he’s comfortable. The Fiorentina winger is going from being rated as one of the beta prospects in Serie A to being considered one of the league’s best players outright with his performances to start the season.
Chiesa’s teammate, Marco Benassi is entering his prime now and his first few matches were so convincing that Mancini selected him for the two recent matches. Benassi has appeared in 27 matches with the Azzurri’s Under 21 team where he also scored six goals.