The biggest talking point in Italy camp this international break is, ahead of two Euro 2020 qualifiers, how a berth can be achieved in this round, and with two matches to spare.
Since day 1 on the job for CT Roberto Mancini after the sacking of Gian Piero Ventura, clinching a spot in this tournament was deemed the first step in the Azzurri’s restoration project towards a revival to reclaim what was once theirs – a seat at the adult table with the world’s powers.
Sitting comfortable and cozy atop the Group J table with a perfect 6-0 record, the Italians have been elevated all over the pitch through some impressive performances, though it would be remiss to not hone in on the special happenings which lie in the midfield.
Due in large part to Mancini‘s youth implementation, the expansion of his project has opened the door for exciting promise and development in the ‘centrocampo’ to serve as the locomotive pulling this Italy squad in a positive direction. Meshing a healthy blend of young and old, ‘La Nazionale’ finally have a bevy of options for supporters to show faith and renewed hope in, which means the 54-year old coach is spoiled for choice.
Mancini’s preferred three-man midfield means there will be plenty of competition within the squad to pick up minutes, though based on his previous selections over the course of Euro 2020 qualifying, it seems quite clear who the coach will lean on the most.
Marco Verratti, Jorginho and Nicolò Barella have started together in 4 of Italy’s 6 qualifiers, with the Chelsea man sitting deepest and making up for the lost opportunities he was never given under Ventura in the failed 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. With this trio, Mancini has proper balance, technical ability and relatively diverse skill sets which makes for a difficult task to combat for the oppositions.
Jorginho‘s rise under Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli as the side’s tempo-setter and distributor of short to intermediate passes casts him as the primary ‘regista’, with some press resistance to his game that only supports Italy’s plan to play a quicker, more progressive style.
In Verratti, you have an experienced player who does not shy away from taking responsibility with the ball, executing both the long and short passes while also being one of the world’s toughest to dispossess with a diminutive, robust frame. Questionable disciplinary record aside, the 26-year old has re-emerged back into the conversation as one of the games best, with the potential to grow even further if he can stay healthy and curb his temper.
Then, you have Barella, one of Inter’s luxury signings of the past summer who, at 22, can fill in just about anywhere Mancini requires due to his versatility, but also in part to the fact he matured early by carrying an extremely heavy burden at a young age for Cagliari.
Barella’s new Nerazzurri teammate Stefano Sensi, although the 4th choice for Mancini, is possibly the most in form at the moment even if he isn’t expected to feature this break due to injury.
In the former Sassuolo breakthrough star of 2018/19, you have another short statured lightweight midfielder similar to Verratti, only Sensi packs quite a bit of punch as a rapidly improving offensive contributor. His vision, intelligence and mobility to freely cover on both ends has drawn high praise from his boss. But, perhaps what impresses most is this newfound influence in the final third as both a goal scorer and supply man, a secretive tool Antonio Conte has been able to unveil through seven Serie A matches in charge of the San Siro club.
The 24-year old can also serve as a holding midfielder, though he continues to be given much more freedom to plunge forward and lend a hand with Italy’s end product – which speaks further to just how balanced this unit is at the moment.
Beyond these four though, you have a wealth of reinforcements; within them and their competition to make it on Mancini’s roster next summer is the opportunity to breed excellence.
Lorenzo Pellegrini, Federico Bernardeschi, Bryan Cristante, Nicolò Zaniolo and Brescia’s U-21 hotshot Sandro Tonali bring, along with fresh legs, a fresh start to what hopes to be a successful generation of midfield players to take Italy into the future.
The Italians will play Greece on Saturday followed by Liechtenstein next Tuesday. If everything goes smoothly and according to plan, they could book their ticket to Euro 2020 next summer off the work of a midfield contingent with identity.
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