Alberto and the Striped Hearts Apparel: the story with a good cause behind it

At www.eurofantasyleague.com (EFL) we put emphasis on not only providing professional, prompt and quality customer service, but also trying to spread word, promote and contribute to beneficial projects to society. One such good cause has been initiated by Alberto who can be reached @AllJuveCast and who has previously discussed in brief some of his project’s key themes with Rami Soufi. Previously, Alberto participated in an engaging and interesting Q&A back in April which you can check out here.

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The cause is linked to Italian giants Juventus and is the fruit of Alberto’s love, labor and ideas. While this may sound like a straightforward purchase of shirts having various Bianconeri legends on them, the reality says otherwise. It is a much more involved process with Alberto involving Juve supporters in picking which designs go to production and become the beloved shirts now being proudly worn by many Juventini.

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The biggest positive though is the greater good behind this project. Not only does Alberto show his love and support for his favorite club by creating and promoting designs displaying legends of the Bianconeri but he also donates the proceeds to charities of his choosing.

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Again, we cannot speak high enough about Alberto’s objective and efforts. Simply visit Striped Hearts Apparel and contact him to pick the designs you like. For a moment, this appears as if it works almost exclusively for Juve fans yet maybe some of the Azzurri fans would like to see their heroes such as Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo as well as some of the other legends who represented both Juve and Italy.

A big salute to Alberto! We encourage similar projects with a good cause and a positive framework. Keep going Alberto because those with the right attitude and noble objectives will most likely end up with the desired outcome. Forza Alberto!

Fan Zone: Elio on Nedved, Pirlo, Marchisio and of course Del Piero!

In the latest Q&A, Elio Salerno- a football writer and contributor- discusses his love affair with Italy’s Old Lady, Juventus. Elio talks in detail about legends such as Alessandro Del Piero and Pavel Nedved as well as current stars like fan favorite Paulo Dybala.

Some of his answers may surprise you but Elio methodically proceeds to explain why he made certain choices- particularly that of Blaise Matuidi. Below is the first part of the Q&A:

1) Name your 3 all-time favorite Juve players, and why?

Alessandro Del Piero – This is the obvious answer for me. Del Piero is probably the name the majority of Juve fans would choose. Watching him when I was a young boy inspired me. He is the reason I support Juve. The person and the player were truly iconic and one of a kind. Obviously, the career he had also speaks for itself.

Gianluigi Buffon – This was a close call between Giorgio Chiellini and Buffon. I really cannot separate them. However, Buffon’s longevity and ability to play through different eras of the game while staying in the conversation as one of the world’s best goalkeepers sets him apart. It is an incredible achievement. He has brought so many qualities to the club over the years on and off the pitch. He has collected a large number of trophies and showed unquestionable loyalty even during the darkest of times.

Pavel Nedved – What a player! The level of intensity and ferocity at which Nedved played were admirable. He was a winner and a fighter but also had boundless quality with not one but both feet. A creator and scorer of wonderful goals, he is a timeless player & would be at home in the modern game. The Bianconeri could do with a player of his versatility now.

2) From the current squad, name your favorite Juve player by position (DEF/MID/ATT).

DEF: Chiellini – The captain, the leader and the squad’s foundation. It is a pleasure to watch the passion he defends with. The enjoyment he takes out of thwarting attacks puts a smile on your face. As a fan, he is the example you want at the top of your squad. I say enjoy him before he retires.

MID:  Blaise Matuidi – It is not easy to pick a midfield player out of the current group but, and surprisingly so, I am going with Blaise Matuidi. I am sure very, very few fans would pick him. On face value, Blaise isn’t the type of player I’d enjoy watching. I would not even choose to have him on my team but you cannot belittle what he does and what he brings to the table. Yes he has the obvious flaws but he is arguably the only Juve midfielder who offers consistency- he isn’t going to let you down and at the moment it is undeniable that Juve are better when he is in the starting lineup.

ATT: Paulo Dybala – La Joya has been a favorite of mine from the day he arrived. Yes he has had his problems in recent seasons but his love for Juve is apparent and it is a trait we all want from our number 10. Dybala’s name in the Starting XI always bring joy to my heart. The way he controls the ball so smoothly and can change the course of a game in one magical moment is the reason why we watch football. I hope Juve can build a more complete team because Dybala has more to bring.

3) Name Juve’s most important moment in your lifetime, and why?

It has to be the first Scudetto of the current historic run- it came under Antonio Conte. After everything that happened and everything that has followed this was a pivotal moment and a welcome, much needed success. It felt like the beginning of something special and it has turned out to be the case.

4) Pick your favorite Juve match, and why?

The return leg of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid in 2003. Everything about that night was perfectly scripted except for the Nedved yellow card!!! Where to start? The Delle Alpi was on fire. That Juve team, the Del Piero & Nedved goals and of course the Buffon penalty save on Luis Figo’s attempt. The game had it all.

5) Pick two from Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, and Vidal for your midfield, and why?

It has to be Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio. Pirlo is unique, there won’t be another Pirlo. To watch him in full flight is football poetry. As for Marchisio, aside from what he means to Juventus and the fans, he was an underrated and superb midfield player. He was the glue in almost any midfield set-up, his versatility and ability to adapt allowed for others to shine and he was a huge asset to the coaches and the team.

6) What are Juve’s weaknesses? Is it the right-back position or the midfield which is under constant scrutiny? 

The glaring weakness is in midfield and it has been since 2015. It is the primary area that needs addressing and needs an injection of youth and energy. Juve need midfielders who have a more complete game combined with strong physical characteristics.

Beyond that, do the full back areas need an upgrade? Yes but it isn’t a significant problem and there aren’t many great or available full backs in Europe so I would not waste time in that area unless it is to sell one who is already in the squad.

I also would add that Sarri must decide what formation he will be using going forward. Since it is obvious Sarri favors 4-3-3, I would say a creative attacker/wide player would be a welcome & important addition. A fit Douglas Costa is that player, but we all know his injury problems.

Juve must also sign a versatile striker to replace Gonzalo Higuain- someone such as Timo Werner who can play wide or centrally. Werner would allow room for Ronaldo to be Ronaldo.

7) Who is in your opinion the best player to ever wear the Juve shirt?

It is really tough for me not to say Del Piero. I can only comment on players that I have been fortunate enough to watch in my lifetime & Del Piero succeeded in every way. He has the trophies and the stats to back this up. He was a complete forward, scoring & creating goals, able to link up the game and take on defenders with a sharp turn or a piece of skill. Del Piero was strong physically and difficult to dispossess and he gave you a chance to win whenever he was on the pitch.

8) Who is the one player you would sign from Erling Haaland (STR), Arthur (MID) and Achraf Hakimi (DEF)?

That’s a tough choice. I don’t particularly have a strong feeling towards any of the three names. I would favor Haaland for the simple reason he is a player set to take Europe by storm. He has everything you would want from a modern center-forward and more importantly he knows how to find the net.

9) Juve built a strong reputation signing free agents. Who will be Juve’s next bargain signing?

I feel this is something Juve should move away from unless it really is a deal they cannot afford to pass up. These free players come with a heavy wage, older age and are not always a big enough improvement to really help the team. I would like to see Juve invest more in Italian youngsters but keep them, perhaps even allow room for players currently at the club such as Hans Caviglia, Nicolo Fagioli and Manolo Portanova.

10) What do you make of Mauro Icardi? His stats are decent despite being mostly used as a substitute. Would you sign Icardi, Gabriel Jesus or Harry Kane

I would go with Gabriel Jesus, for the reason I mentioned earlier with regards to versatility, a player that is not a typical 9 and can allow for Ronaldo to express himself. Harry Kane is a fantastic player, arguably the best in his role but similar to Icardi. I don’t see them at Juve whilst CR7 is still on the books- it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Fan Zone: Gregory on Nedved, Buffon, Dybala & more Juve talk

Gregory Caltabanis is an established writer and reporter who covers extensively European football, but what matters for the purposes of this Q&A is Gregory’s unfaltering allegiance to Italian giants Juventus.

Gregory is part of the @FantaCalcioGame team as well! They run the most popular Fantasy Serie A Game, but for now let’s go straight to the Q&A with Gregory offering lots of interesting takes on legends such as Pavel Nedved and Gianluigi Buffon.

1) Who are your 3 all-time favorite Juve players (ranked by preference) and why?

Pavel Nedved: My all-time favorite Juve player is undoubtedly Nedved. One of the first games I saw as a kid was Juve against Milan in 2005 and all I remember seeing was a player with blonde locks run effortlessly down the left wing. Of course, it was Nedved. From that point forward, I always watched Juve and became a fan. The rest is history.

Gianluigi Buffon: After Nedved, I would have to say it’s Buffon. Buffon has been with the team since I’ve followed them and is the main reason I’m a goalkeeper to this day. Beyond saving countless goals, he’s a class act both on and off the field. I’ll never forget his save on Zidane’s header in 2006.

Paulo Dybala: The last one is a bit difficult, but I have to go with Dybala. I know he’s not up there yet with Alessandro Del Piero and other legends, but Dybala is one of the reasons I’m still passionate about the team today. He’s always respected the shirt and is arguably the first worthy number 10 we’ve had since Del Piero. I hope he stays with Juve for the long haul.

2) From active players, pick your favorite Juve player by position: one each from defense, midfield and attack. And why did you pick each one of them?

DEF: My favorite defender is 100% Merih Demiral (Gregory says it emphatically!). Since he’s joined, I always thought he would be very important for our success. It’s a shame the serious injury halted his progress, but I’m confident he’ll come back stronger. Demiral embodies everything that Juve should seek in a player. He’s confident, plays with an edge and has that fighting spirit. I’ll be ordering my Demiral jersey very soon.

MID: It has to be Rodrigo Bentancur. I’ve had my doubts about him over the years, but he’s stepped up this season and looks to be evolving into an important player for us. Like Demiral, he plays with an edge to his game which I feel we lack sometimes. I’m looking forward to seeing him make further progress when play hopefully resumes.

STR: It’s an obvious one- Paulo Dybala. You really get the sense that he loves Juve and fights for the shirt every time he steps onto the pitch. It goes without saying, but his left foot is incredible. It’s just amazing to watch him play. Now, if only Fabio Paratici shared the same opinion, we’d be better off.

3) Your pick for most important Juve victory in your lifetime? Why?

Without a doubt, when we knocked out Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate in 2015. While the win against Inter in 2018 was huge, for me the Real result announced Juve’s return on the world stage and showed the rest of Europe “we are back.” After all, we just took out Real Madrid. The final didn’t go our way, but I can’t recall a win I’ve celebrated more.

4) Your all-time favorite Juve match? Why?

Against Inter and on their home turf just over two years ago. At times, it felt like the game and the title were slipping away but as soon as Dybala stepped onto the pitch, it changed everything. I’ll never forget Gonzalo Higuain’s goal to complete the comeback. Made it that much sweeter that it was against Inter at the San Siro.

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5) Where do you rank Sarri among the current generation of Italian coaches? How about among coaches worldwide?

I’d put him in the top five, but I wouldn’t rank him in the top tier of Italian managers at the moment. Conte is in a class of his own, in my opinion. Other than last year, I’d put Allegri in the same tier as Conte. Beyond them, I rate Gasperini highly but it would be interesting to see how he does outside of Atalanta.

Worldwide, I think he’s a top ten manager. If I had to rank them, I’d say this is my top ten: Klopp, Guardiola, Simeone, Conte, Zidane, Allegri, Nagelsmann, Sarri, Tuchel, Gasperini.

6) What’s Juve’s objective for this season? Is it Serie A, the Champions League, or both?

Definitely both. When you have Cristiano Ronaldo on your team, the objective always has to be the Champions League. While I don’t think the team is well equipped for a deep European run, a player like Ronaldo can make the difference in a big game. It would be a waste of his final years if Juve didn’t push for European glory.

7) Perhaps a tough one here but pick two from Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, and Vidal for your midfield, and why?

I love Marchisio and it’ll be hard to leave him out, but I have to go with Pirlo and Vidal. Pirlo is the ultimate Regista and is needed to dictate play. Obviously, it helps he can score a free-kick from just about any angle. As for Vidal, he’s your classic box-to-box midfielder and is not afraid to jump into tackles. Few midfielders impressed me more than prime Vidal and let’s not forget, he could score, too. Juve’s current midfield is really lacking his type of profile.

8) Where are Juve’s weaknesses? Some say right-back, others say left-back, or many mention the midfield. Your take?

It has to be the midfield. This may anger some, but Miralem Pjanic is a complete liability both in and out of possession. Juve can do much better in his position and I think they’ll look to replace him this summer. Blaise Matuidi is necessary to press and offer defensive support, but ultimately he’s far too limited. Remember his turnover against Napoli?

I think this Juve side needs at least two signings in the middle of the park and should arguably offload two or three guys (Sami Khedira, Pjanic and perhaps Adrien Rabiot) As I said before, this midfield lacks fight and demonstrates zero Grinta.

Of course, our depth at full-back is worrisome particularly with Alex Sandro slowing down, but for now, I think Sandro and Juan Cuadrado can manage the situation. Hopefully, Pellegrini comes back in the summer and competes for the left-back position.

9) In your opinion who is the best player (not necessarily your favorite) to ever wear the Juve shirt?

It has to be Del Piero. Record goalscorer and record appearance holder, few match Del Piero’s resume with the club. He’s won it all with us and has inspired many to support Juve over the years. At the height of Italian football, he was one of the best and led Juve to many trophies.

Del Piero set the standard for our number ten jersey and raised the bar for everyone after him. Perhaps Buffon is in it with a shout, but I have to give this one to Pinturicchio.

On the Rise: Sandro Tonali

Initially likened to a certain Andrea Pirlo because of his appearance and position, Brescia’s Sandro Tonali has since taken Serie A by storm. Playing at the base Eugenio Corini’s midfield trio in a traditional regista role, the U-21 international has taken to the top flight like a fish to water and has dictated proceedings.

Alongside the veteran presences of Daniele Dessena and Dimitri Bisoli, the 19-year-old is given the license to drive forward with and without the ball. After watching him play, it’s easy to forget he hasn’t even hit 20 years old yet. His most recent performances have attracted interest from Serie A’s elite as Juventus, Napoli, Inter, and Milan are all said to be keeping tabs on the player.

Fiorentina have also shown interest in the player and have sent scouts to watch him. In addition to having the pick of the litter in Italy, Tonali is being monitored by English giants Manchester United as well as Paris Saint-Germain.

Despite the uncanny resemblance to Pirlo and the fact that they both emerged from Brescia, comparing the two is lazy. They may play the same position, but do so very differently. While Tonali boasts an impressive range of passing, he’s more eager to drive with the ball at his feet than the legendary Milan midfielder. In his seven appearances this season, he’s already averaging 1.6 completed dribbles per game and has emerged as Brescia’s most important ball progressor with the ball at his feet.

Outside of possession, Tonali is like a bulldog. Always eager to win the ball back, the Brescia man is regularly nipping at the heels of the opposition. Due to his aggressive nature, Tonali’s play off the ball has drawn comparisons to a certain Gennaro Gattuso. High praise, indeed.

Beyond his energetic presence in the middle of the park, Tonali has demonstrated he can play the killer pass. Often times, younger players display promise but lack in end-product. This is not the case for Tonali. Having already registered two assists on the season, the Brescia midfield is unlucky not to have more. As his 2.3 key passes per game suggest, Tonali is regularly finding teammates in dangerous positions.

Whether it’s from open play or from a whipped in cross from a set-piece, Tonali’s right boot poses a considerable threat to opposition defences. As he gets more top flight action, expect Tonali’s assist and chances created tallies to keep increasing.

With every big club in Italy practically on his tail, it’s now time Tonali makes the right decision and join a side where he can play regularly. After all, he’s just 19 years of age and can’t afford to have his development stifled. From this perspective, Fiorentina is an ideal landing spot, provided they are capable of giving him regular minutes.

Milan, Inter and Napoli could be interesting options for Tonali, as well, but the 19-year-old should request guarantees before joining. The last thing he needs is cameo appearances off the bench at this stage in his career.

Regardless of his next move, one thing is clear: Tonali is Italy’s best midfield prospect and is the real deal. The Pirlo comparisons will only continue as his career goes on, yet the 19-year-old has shown he’s ready to carve out his own path. The ball’s now in his court.

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Marotta and Conte Propelling Inter Forward With A Clear Vision

When Giuseppe Marotta was appointed as Inter’s sporting director after an abrupt departure from Juventus, the nerazzurri sent a clear message of intent to the rest of the league.

Rather than being satisfied with vying for a place in the top four, Inter wanted to emerge as contenders once more. Gone are the days of Pazza Inter and they have since been replaced with stability and a particular focus on the team rather than the individual. Marotta’s track record is impressive within Italy, and he played a major role in Juventus’ ascent back to the top of Italian and European football.

However, much of this success couldn’t have been achieved without the initial groundwork laid down by Antonio Conte in 2011. In the tactician’s first season, Juve’s roster was nowhere near what it is today, and frankly was inferior to Massimiliano Allegri’s Milan that they were up against. Instilling this belief of ‘us v them’ and bringing back a sense of accountability to the side, Juventus won their first Scudetto in years against all the odds.

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To this day, It remains a mystery how the bianconeri would finish that season undefeated with the likes of Alessandro Matri and Mirko Vucinic leading the line and Paolo De Ceglie featuring regularly. At the same time, however, Juve’s success with limited resources was a testament to Conte’s great work.

Now reunited with Marotta at Inter, expect no less from the veteran tactician. The duo have been together in Milan for a mere couple of months and have already banished notorious bad apples, Mauro Icardi and Radja Nainggolan from the club.

As per Bleacher Report, Marotta proclaimed neither player had a spot in Conte’s team. “Talent can win you games, but the squad wins you the league, which is the main objective we are setting out for,” said Marotta. “They are not part of our project, with all due respect.”

While both Icardi and Nainggolan have been among Inter’s top performers and are a major reason behind their recent Champions League qualification, their exclusions show that Conte and Marotta are ready to build a true team rather than a collection of talented individuals; something that the Inter brass have struggled with in the past. If the nerazzurri’s summer activity is anything to go by, you can already see the duo’s work slowly being put into place.

Much like it was the case at Juventus, Marotta turned to a free transfer to shore up a squad need, and brought in Diego Godin from Atletico Madrid. The Uruguayan is among the best defenders in the world and will fit like a glove in Conte’s back three alongside Milan Skriniar and Stefan de Vrij. In many ways, this is Inter’s version of Juventus’ BBC, albeit with way more to prove.

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Outside of defence, Inter have secured Italian internationals Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi for their midfield. Both players are the archetypal Conte midfielders and possess the qualities the former Chelsea tactician demands. Determined, technical and team-oriented. In Inter’s new-look midfield, Barella will act as a mezz’ala (#8) making late runs into the box much like Marchisio did at Juve while Sensi will be used as the side’s regista. In this role, the former Sassuolo man will be able to make the most of his range of passing and in many ways, will be a poor man’s Andrea Pirlo for Conte.

Realizing that centre midfield wasn’t their only need, Marotta quickly concluded a deal for Valentino Lazaro. At just 23 years old, the fullback has demonstrated he’s a hard worker and is the prototypical two-way player. Lazaro will be a much welcomed addition down the right-hand side; think Stephan Lichtsteiner but with more upside and end-product.

To round off Conte’s 3-5-2, he has requested Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku. While the Belgian has blown hot and cold for the Red Devils, finding the back of the net has never been an issue for the former Chelsea man. With his towering physique and keen eye for goal, expect the 26-year-old to slot in wonderfully alongside Lautaro Martinez. Martinez and Lukaku are the typical, hard-working, ‘small-big’ partnership Conte has turned to in the past. Think Vucinic-Giovinco, Tevez-Llorente, Eder-Pelle, and so on and so forth. Inter are reportedly tabling their first bid for the striker shortly and have prioritized the Belgian.

With both Conte and Marotta leaving Juventus on poor terms in their own way, the duo have now reconnected at their fiercest rivals and are well on their way at creating a Juventus 2.0, but this time, in Milano. Banishing drama-kings Icardi and Nainggolan was the first step, followed by the acquisitions of prototypical Conte players. It may not end the same way as the league is much stronger than it was in years past, but one thing’s for sure: Linking up Conte and Marotta is Inter’s best bet at silverware in nearly a decade.

How well do you know Italian football? Do you want to battle the best Serie A Fantasy Managers? Playwww.fantasyseriea.com now!

 

 

 

Benatia opens up on Juventus exit and Pirlo news

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Medhi Benatia reflected on his departure from Juventus in an interview with Sky Sport: “In December, I was on vacation in Dubai, I talked with my wife and my kids were asking me all the time why I was not playing. I was burning inside and I was unhappy for that. I left a team full of friends I am very attached to, but I would have liked to give my contribution on the pitch.”

“When Leonardo Bonucci came back, I talked to Massimiliano Allegri, who told me that he needed me and that I would have found some room. However, things changed after that, but I do not have any problem with him, I do not look back at what could have been and was not. I played my last game against Milan in San Siro, which was a tough one because I had to guard Gonzalo Higuain. I played well but I stayed out the following fixtures.” Continue reading

Juventus Need To Splash For Sandro Tonali

Six years ago, a 20-year-old Marco Verratti was on the market after a stellar first season with high-flying Pescara in Serie B. After what seemed like an eternity of negotiations, Juventus eventually deemed their 12 million euros price-tag too high, and pulled out of the deal, allowing Paris Saint-Germain to snap up the diminutive playmaker. Today, Verratti is still dominating the middle of the park in Ligue Un, and is easily worth four times the price. Juventus have since signed Miralem Pjanic, but missing out on Verratti is a decision the bianconeri still rue today.

The Juventus brass may still be licking their wounds, but they now have the opportunity to learn from their past lapse in judgement and make things right by splashing on Brescia midfielder and Italy international Sandro Tonali. Similar to Verratti, Tonali has had a phenomenal season in Italy’s second division and is attracting interest from all over. As a result, Brescia have slapped a 20 million euro price tag on their prized possession and are unwilling to budge on their valuation. While it may be a bit steep for an unproven midfielder, it’s time for Juventus to stop fretting over the price and secure Tonali before other suitors join the race. After all, they know all too well how quickly others will pull the trigger and bank on potential.

Tonali, while likened to Andrea Pirlo due to his position and silky hair, is more of a modern regista himself. Equally capable of splitting open a defence as he is at making a tackle, the 18-year-old makes for a long-term solution to Juventus’ ongoing midfield conundrum.

Continue reading

Conte right not to call MLS pair

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Antonio Conte on Monday released his preliminary 30-man Italy squad for Euro 2016 and it raised eyebrows across continents. Aside from forced absentees Claudio Marchisio, Marco Verratti and Mattia Perin, the lack of Domenico Berardi, Leonardo Pavoletti, Andrea Pirlo and Sebastian Giovinco sparked debates.

The Serie A pair, at Sassuolo and Genoa respectively, missed out despite impressive campaigns. Berardi starred as the Neroverdi qualified for Europe. It wasn’t as prolific a campaign as previously, but Berardi has continually shown why big clubs are linked with a move. Grifoni striker Pavoletti was Serie A’s highest scoring Italian, with 14 goals.

In North America the other absences were protested. Pirlo’s quality cannot be debated. While his New York City form has been below that of his recent Juventus days, it was thought midfield injuries would re-open the door. Giovinco has been in stunning form across two seasons at Toronto. He scored 22 goals in 33 games last term and has started the new campaign in equally blistering fashion, with eight goals in 12. His goals have enthralled audiences. But Conte chose to overlook the pair.

Those calling for Giovinco’s inclusion wondered how his goals could be overlooked, especially since Ciro Immobile and Eder haven’t set Serie A alight. There was a big problem for Conte, which put simply is the competition. MLS is not up to the standard of Serie A, nor what the Azzurri will face when they go to France.

Speaking last week, Pirlo remained hopeful of his inclusion, but knew he faced difficulties. “When someone makes the decision to come to the USA, he knows what he’s getting into.”

The boss knows both players from their time at Juventus. But he couldn’t look back at that. Pirlo has struggled this term and Conte cannot continue to rely on the veteran. Giovinco only began to shine when he moved to Canada. Before that his record in Turin was average at best, so too with the national team. He also showed little in the Champions League.

The selected Azzurri strikers have struggled for goals, but Giovinco – with one in 23 appearances – isn’t exactly a tonic. Not facing a high level of competition for 18 months was too big a risk for Conte. Instead, he has called Stephan El Shaarawy and Lorenzo Insigne to offer the creativity needed in attack.

It looks like an uphill climb for Italy this June. They will not be one of the favourites in France and the midfield injuries have only compounded that. However, selecting the MLS pair would not have solved the dilemma.

Conte hampered by wounded Italy

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It has been a difficult month for Antonio Conte. He first saw Claudio Marchisio clutching his knee when Juventus met Palermo. It was later revealed Marco Verratti would undergo surgery to correct a sports hernia problem and will miss the tournament. And on the weekend, Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian was stretchered off in the match against Norwich.

The defender should be fine, but Conte is not so lucky with his midfield duo. When the worst was confirmed and Marchisio diagnosed with an ACL tear, Azzurri hopes turned to Verratti. But the Paris St-Germain player has been struggling with a groin problem for some time.

“I had hoped to the end that I’d be able to participate in such an important competition as the Euros and to help my teammates achieve the objectives we’d set, but unfortunately I didn’t make it…” Verratti wrote on Instagram.

It leaves a gaping hole in Italy’s midfield. Arguably the strong point of an Azzurri team which has flattered to deceive throughout Conte’s reign, the coach is left scratching his head prior to the June 13 opener against Belgium.

There looks two ways Conte can turn. One, the experience route. Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi are Azzurri mainstays with over 100 appearances each. Veterans of Italy’s 2006 World Cup and run to the Euro Final four years ago, it’s well known what the pair bring. But neither is enjoying particularly fruitful seasons, at New York City and Roma respectively. Nor have they been in Conte’s recent plans. Pirlo last featured in October, De Rossi a month prior. Can the veterans have the same impact as they did previously?

Or Conte can go to youth. A criticism of the boss is he failed to integrate Verratti into the midfield at the outset of his reign, allowing for growth at international level. He may be forced into such a risk at this stage however, with a player who recently made his Azzurri debut.

Napoli’s Jorginho was a late substitute against Spain in March, a reward for a stellar season in the southern city. He has the passing range and ability to sit deep in midfield create, a characteristic shared with Marchisio and Verratti. But he lacks international experience, ensuring a decision to build the midfield around the Brazilian-born player to be a risk.

But after losing two certain starters in the past month, perhaps Conte has to go down that path. As the difficulties increase for the future Chelsea boss, does he have something up his sleeve come June?