Italy wrapped up their latest set of Euro 2020 Group J qualifiers with a 2-1 victory Sunday evening over second-place Finland, with Ciro Immobile putting away his first goal for the Azzurri since September 2017 and Jorginho converting the decisive match-winner from the penalty spot.
With wins over Armenia and Finland, Roberto Mancini’s men maintained their perfect record in the qualifying phase with 6 victories and have moved closer to securing a spot in next summer’s competition.
Here are five takeaways from Italy’s latest matches.
Centre-back conundrum for Roberto Mancini - Juventus weren’t the only one to feel the impact from the loss of Giorgio Chiellini who went under the knife to repair a ruptured ACL, keeping him on the shelf for six months as Italy will have to navigate the next handful of qualifiers without their main stopper in the back. As we saw versus Armenia, Leonardo Bonucci and Alessio Romagnoli struggled to defend with confidence and harmony, ultimately forcing Mancini to swap out the Milan captain for Lazio veteran Francesco Acerbi last night vs Finland. Though this decision was initially met with mixed views, the 31-year old stepped up with an inspiring performance, showing compatibility to be the physical presence that allowed Bonucci to be his more technical, ball-playing self. Mancini has a month of pondering until Greece and Liechtenstein to establish which partnership works best.
Andrea Belotti’s revival - 2016/17 was the breakout campaign for Belotti every single Azzurri fan got behind, with his 26 league goals lending credence to a striker ready to take charge for his country and instill hope in a fanbase longing for the next big number nine to lead a generation. Since then however, ‘il Gallo’ had regressed instead of taking the next step forward, leading some to believe perhaps he was not cut out for the job as Italy’s first choice up front. However, off the back of a strong finish to the 2018/19 season, the 25-year old’s hot start for Torino out of the gate has carried over to ‘La Nazionale’, scoring twice vs Armenia and winning back those followers who had jumped off the bandwagon.
Stefano Sensi’s coming of age - Tipped at a young as ‘the new Verratti’ before Marco himself could even reach his own sky-high potential, Sensi finally began to show glimpses of why he was deserving of such praise as a youngster in Serie B with Cesena after a solid 2018/19 Serie A term at Sassuolo. Inter showed great intent to beat rivals Milan for the 24-year old metronome’s signature this summer, securing him on a loan + option deal equating to an estimated €25m in total, and it is quickly proving to be some of the best business around Europe already. In addition, Sensi has taken no time to prove his worth by bringing the same set of skills and punctuating performances for the Nerazzurri to the national team’s midfield where it is needed the most.
Finally, Italy has midfield depth - As the old adage goes, patience is a virtue, and that surely applies to the Azzurri’s newly retooled midfield corps. Between Marco Verratti, Jorginho, Nicolò Barella and Stefano Sensi, Italy fans can finally delight in a group that provides a balanced blend of technical ability, bite, versatility and the class qualified to stand in the ring with Europe’s elite. Albeit young and inexperienced on the grandest stages of international football, there is plenty to be excited about in the ‘centrocampo’ which has not been the case for a very long time.
Performances must begin to match results - As mentioned earlier, Italy have won 6 out of 6 in their Euro 2020 qualification phase, which looks extremely impressive on the surface. From optics, however, Italy must turn in more complete performances as a group and not leave anything to chance, which is what we saw these past two matches vs Armenia and Finland. There is no disputing Mancini’s impact to forge an identity with this current group, and the improvement has certainly been palpable, but we would be remiss to think this Italy has “returned” to the adult’s table nearly two years removed from the disastrous failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. There is still much left to be done before Italy can be taken seriously through the lens of global football viewers, which is why the performances must start to match the results if Italy are to truly show the world they are back.
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