Patience Needed With Current Crop of Azzurrini

The U-21 European Championships are unlike any other tournament in world football. Typically, most rosters feature a blend of established talents, your Dani Ceballos’ and Federico Chiesas of the world, mixed with players eager to make a name for themselves on the world stage. What this tournament inevitably leads to, unfortunately for most, is the exaggeration of their talents. While their ability isn’t in question as most of them are, without a doubt, the best their age group has to offer, it’s rare to see an U-21 international push on and live up to the hype, bar a select few. This is no different with the current group of Azzurrini.

While many of them will go on to become established internationals, a majority of them will fizzle out and eventually fade into the background of the hype machine that once proclaimed them to be world beaters. Currently, Azzurrini boss Luigi Di Biagio has one of the most talented group of players at his disposal, yet, it would still be wise to exhibit patience. After all, most of these players are yet to establish themselves as regulars at their respective clubs, for one reason or another.

Take Federico Chiesa, for example. After breaking out onto the scene at Fiorentina, the winger is now seen as the future of Italian football. His electric performances against Spain and Poland have pushed him further into the limelight of the nation, and have now burdened him with immense expectations. Recently, it’s been reported that the new Fiorentina brass have slapped an 100 million euro price-tag on the young man. Remember, he’s just 21, and has only just come of his first full season as a regular starter in Tuscany.

For some, this newfound responsibility acts as the catalyst for their progression, while for others, it slowly eats away at them until their talent becomes a thing of the past and they become average, middling professionals. Look at Mattia De Sciglio, who was once dubbed the ‘Next Maldini’. Today, the defender is a reliable fullback, but is the furthest thing from a world beater.

Luckily for Italian football, it appears Chiesa thrives with this pressure on his shoulders and spurs him on to become a better player. You would expect no less from the son of Enrico Chiesa, if we’re being honest. But not every player is like the Fiorentina man. Looking at Di Biagio’s roster, a number of players stick out from the rest: Moise Kean, Nicolo Zaniolo, Alex Meret and Nicolo Barella among others. These players, at one point or another, demonstrated the potential to become world beaters. While getting lost in their hype, it’s easy to forget they’re still teenagers with the world at their feet.

If the past is anything to go by, heaping immense expectations on these teens inevitably leads to failure. For every Alessandro Del Piero that has emerged from the Azzurrini, there is a Domenico Berardi. Italian media loves to sensationalize the current crop of talents, but they would be wise to exhibit caution, and allow these players to become their own men.

Like in anything in life, we must learn from the past and our mistakes not to repeat them. Despite these warnings, and there have been many, Italian football seems dead-set on proclaiming this generation as calcio’s saving grace.

Perhaps it stems from a burning desire to reach former heights, or perhaps there’s something larger at play here; a cultural aspect, of sorts. The need to keep the memories of former greats alive or, on the other side of the spectrum, the need for something new; something better than what we already have. Regardless, Italians are playing dangerous game forcing their talents to skip crucial steps in their progression and expect them to become great overnight. Eventually, it may come back to haunt the current iteration of Azzurrini, as it has so often occurred in years past. As always, only time will tell.

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Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 27

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Juventus: Miralem Pjanic and Joao Cancelo are suspended, while Douglas Costa (quad, calf), Sami Khedira (heart) and Juan Cuadrado (knee) remain sidelined. Mattia De Sciglio has been ruled out late due a thigh problem.

Napoli: Alex Meret is disqualified and Raul Albiol is recovering from a clean-up knee surgery.

Milan: Ricardo Rodriguez is banned. Hakan Calhanoglu might not play as he flew to Germany for the birth of his child eariler this week . Mattia Caldara is expected to be back in the squad list, while Cristian Zapata is more likely to return next week.   Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Napoli vs Juventus

 

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A very entertaining Serie A round was capped off by the seminal encounter between Napoli and Juventus, which, by all accounts, was one of the strangest matches of the season. The Partenopei approached the game trying to cut into the Bianconeri’s sizeable lead and to maintain their impeccable home record, while the Old Lady was looking to put any residual comeback hopes to sleep.

Carlo Ancelotti confirmed the defensive formula he has been using lately, which features Kevin Malcuit and Elseid Hysaj as fullbacks and Nikola Maksimovic filling in for the injured Raul Albiol. Continue reading

Serie A Club of the Round – Napoli

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Milan and Napoli were the most impressive teams in this round and the Partenopei, who scored more goals and did it on the road against a better opponent, get the coveted weekly award.

The Azzurri had very uncharacteristically failed to score in three of the previous four games, all ending in a nil-nil tie, so their offence had something to prove on Sunday and they certainly succeeded there as the Parma match was never in doubt and they bagged four goals. Continue reading

Serie A Club of the Round – Napoli

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In a round full of ties, only Napoli and Bologna brought home the full loot and the Partenopei, which rag dolled a worthy opponent, were quite clearly the best team in this week-end. The Azzurri came into the game looking to wash out the bitter taste of an underwhelming two-game trip to San Siro against Milan, where they were held to a nil-nil tie in Serie A play and eliminated from Coppa Italia due to a paltry performance.

Carlo Ancelotti was a little more cautious versus Sampdoria and picked Arkadiusz Milik and Lorenzo Insigne up front, with José Callejon and Piotr Zielinski manning the flanks, rather than fielding his three strikers together. Elseid Hysaj and Alex Meret made their return to the starting XI, while Raul Albiol was spared due to a nagging ailment. Continue reading

Serie A Match of the Round – Napoli vs Bologna

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Heading into the round, it looked like Napoli could have an easy time against Bologna, which had not scored in the previous three games and had never won on the road, however it turned out to be a very entertaining game and the Azzurri had to resort to more late-game heroics to come away with the W.

The Campania side came into the game looking to avenge Wednesday’s tough loss against Inter, where they were pipped due to a Lautaro Martinez goal after Kwadwo Asamoah had a goal-line clearance on Piotr Zielinski. The Felsinei have not won in ages, since September 30th, but salvaged some draws here and there. Continue reading

Serie A Team of the Week – Round 17

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Alex Meret (7 points): five clean sheets this week, with some fine goalkeeping too. Napoli had to sweat against SPAL, but the youngster answered the bell with two solid saves to protect the result late.

Raul Albiol (9 points): the Azzurri attack came up shot on Saturday, but the Spanish defender steered the game in their direction with a wicked header that turned out to be the game-winner.

Mattia De Sciglio (7 points): Juventus’ back-line did not crack under pressure versus Roma and the fullback played a major role in the deciding goal with a sharp cross to set up Mario Mandzukic. Continue reading

Serie A Injury Report – Round 17

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Juventus: Sami Khedira should be back to the squad list after missing time with an ankle sprain. Joao Cancelo, Juan Cuadrado (knee) and Andrea Barzagli are not expected to return in 2018.

Napoli: Simone Verdi is likely to be called up as he has been working with the rest of the team for a week now. Mario Rui missed the last game due to muscle fatigue and has been excluded from the squad list again. Alex Meret has a sore shoulder that needs to be monitored. Allan has been ruled out due to back pain.

Inter: Kwadwo Asamoah is suspended. Matias Vecino (thigh) and Dalbert (calf) have been on the sidelines for the last few games, but they will be available. Joao Miranda is fatigued and is very likely to miss the game. Continue reading

Serie A Club of the Round – Napoli

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An easy call for club of the week this time around, as Napoli quickly disposed of Frosinone on Saturday. As he often does, Carlo Ancelotti looked ahead, at the decisive Champions League clash with Liverpool coming on Tuesday, and spared some of his best men: Raul Albiol, José Callejon, Fabian Ruiz and Dries Mertens. Sebastiano Luperto, Adam Ounas and Arkadiusz Milik drew the start.

It was an evening of debuts and returns, as Alex Meret was between the sticks for the first time after being sidelined by an early forearm fracture, Faouzi Ghoulam got the first start in over a year and Amin Younes played his first minutes with the Azzurri after recovering from an Achilles tear. Continue reading

Serie A Injury Report – Round 15

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Juventus: Emre Can made the squad list, approximately two months after suffering the thyroid issue. Rodrigo Bentancur is dealing with a back problem, but he was called up. Alex Sandro (thigh) and Sami Khedira (ankle) have been ruled out, same for Andrea Barzagli, who is rumoured to have suffered a severe quad injury, and Moise Kean, who has some muscle fatigue.

Napoli: Simone Verdi will remain on the mend because of an ankle sprain, while Adam Ounas missed the last game with a minor muscular ailment. Alex Meret should be ready to start. Continue reading