Every Serie A season a new wave of talents break onto the scene and steal the headlines. This season has been no different as countless youngsters have staked their claim to make a name for themselves. Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli is one of these players. Making the most of his regular minutes under Vincenzo Montella, the 22-year-old has now established himself as a key member of la Viola’s eleven.Typically fielded as a mezz’ala (outside of the midfield three), Castrovilli is able to make the most of his enterprise and drive his team forward. Currently, the midfielder’s 2.6 dribbles per game is the fourth most in Serie A and is a clear sign Montella turns to him to progress the ball in the midfield. When he’s not driving with the ball at his feet, Castrovilli has proven to be a willing runner without it. In many ways, his game is eerily similar to that of Juventus legend Claudio Marchisio. He’s at his most dangerous making late, unmarked runs into the box and has proven to have a knack for being at the right place at the right time. In possession, the Fiorentina man is equally as impressive and plays positively whenever given the chance. Castrovilli is currently averaging 1.4 key passes per game and is becoming a creative threat in the middle of the park. Alongside Milan Badelj and Erick Pulgar, the 22-year-old has carved out a role for himself as the ‘runner’ of the midfield trio, offering industry both in and out of possession. In Badelj, Castrovilli and Pulgar, la Viola currently possess one of the league’s most technical midfield units, capable of covering ground and protecting their defence in the process. Most recently, the young midfielder notched his first goal in Serie A in Fiorentina’s 3-1 win over Milan. Castrovilli was excellent against the rossoneri and gave the viola faithful a glimpse of what’s hopefully to come from him. Considering newly-appointed Fiorentina president Rocco Commisso wants to usher in a new era in Tuscany, predicating the importance of quality and youthful Italians, expect Castrovilli to become a center-piece of his vision. Alongside Federico Chiesa, the 22-year-old can help his side put last season’s woes behind them and kick off a new era. Montella has had success with young players in the past and we’re already starting to see his impact on the side. Currently, Fiorentina sit two points out of fourth place having already played Napoli, Juventus, Atalanta and Milan. Moreover, despite the results not always going their way, Montella’s men have looked the better side in most, if not in all, of these games. As their schedule gets easier, expect la Viola to keep climbing up the table with Castrovilli emerging as a key man. If the 22-year-old is able to maintain this level, a national team call-up shouldn’t be too far away. While Italy’s midfield ranks are currently congested with the likes of Stefano Sensi, Marco Verratti and Jorginho, gli Azzurri lack a true mezz’ala beyond Inter’s Nicolo Barella. Having already qualified to Euro 2020, expect Mancini to experiment and Castrovilli to get a chance with the senior setup. After all, he’s earned it. Join the most popular Serie A Fantasy Game here: www.fantasyseriea.com
Italy have done it! After the 2018 World Cup qualifying disaster, Roberto Mancini and his reborn Azzurri have officially qualified for next summer’s Euro 2020 with a 2-0 win over Greece.
Jorginho and Federico Bernardeschi goals sealed a hard fought win over a compact, organized Greece side, making it a perfect 7 wins from 7 in Group J play.
Here are the player ratings for the Italians. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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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Since being appointed as Italy boss, Roberto Mancini has set Gli Azzurri on the right path, and has guided them to four wins out of four in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign thus far.
In their most recent clashes, Italy travelled to Athens to take on Greece, and dispatched their European counterparts within thirty-three minutes, by a score of 3-0.
In their next game against Bosnia, Mancini’s men fell behind early, but mounted a second half comeback to prevail by a score of 2-1. Under Gian Piero Ventura, the side lacked character, and would have likely dropped points in a game like this. With these two wins, Italy now find themselves comfortably in first place, scoring 13 goals, and conceding one in the process. In addition to getting results, this is the best football Italy have played in recent memory, and have demonstrated an identity.
Once again, Mancini was rewarded for sticking with the highly technical midfield of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho, and Marco Verratti, and now has his side well on their way to the upcoming Euros. Together, the trio provide a blend of youth, experience and quality on the ball, and offer the national team some much needed creativity in the final third.
While many initially doubted the midfield’s defensive awareness given their smaller frames, Verratti, Jorginho and Barella have demonstrated they are capable of offering solidity to their back four. Given their similar profiles, Verratti and Jorginho often interchange roles at the base of the midfield, and don’t give their opponents a reference point.
With Barella making late, unmarked, runs into the box, it makes for a truly malleable midfield; something the Azzurri have sorely lacked over the past four years. The Cagliari captain’s drive has been rewarded, and already has two goals on the qualifying campaign.
Much like it’s the case in the midfield, Mancini has not shied away from taking risks with his front three. Since his appointment, the former Inter tactician has called up a number of up and coming talents, including the likes of Moise Kean and Federico Chiesa among others.
In the past, Ventura was afraid to take risks, and typically stuck with Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti up front, despite their struggles. When both strikers were misfiring, Italy did not have a plan B, and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades. Rather than having set starters, like his predecessor, Mancini has mixed and matched at will, and has used a plethora of forwards across the front line. This keeps the Italian forwards on their toes, and ensures no one gets complacent. Moreover, if Italy are struggling in the final third, Mancini is able to turn to different solutions.
One player that has benefitted immensely from Mancini’s reign has been Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne. The diminutive forward was reduced to a bit-part role under Ventura, and largely struggled to make an impact on the pitch when called upon. Under Mancini, Insigne has established himself as a crucial player, and has scored two goals in his last two games. In addition, his assist to Verratti against Bosnia helped Gli Azzurri seal all three points.
On the defensive end, on the other hand, Mancini has decided to maintain the status quo and has typically gone with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. However, the Italian tactician has tinkered with his fullbacks, alternating between Leonardo Spinazzola, Emerson and Gianluca Mancini. While Mancini is a centre-back, he offers the Azzurri tactical flexibility from the right-hand side of defence, and often drops as a third centre-back when in possession. With the Atalanta man dropping centrally, it allows the left-back to get forward and overload with his winger.
While it’s still early days for Gli Azzurri, the future looks bright under Roberto Mancini. Using a blend of experience, and youth, the Italian tactician has demonstrated character both in his selections, and tactical setups. With no one’s place in the team secured, Italy have – for the first time in a while – shown hunger, and a desire to return to the top.
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After Cristiano Ronaldo went down clutching his hamstring in Portgual’s latest Euro qualifier against Serbia, alarm bells went off in Turin. With a crucial Champions League clash approaching against Ajax, Juventus want their star man fit and raring to go. It has since been reported that the former Real Madrid man will likely miss the bianconeri’s clashes against Empoli, Cagliari and Milan but will be fit for their quarter-final encounter.
In the meantime, Massimiliano Allegri would be wise to make the most of the squad depth at his disposal, and give Moise Kean a more prominent role. Since the beginning of the season, the Italian international hasn’t played much, but has not disappointed when given the chance, consistently finding the back of the net.
Most recently, Kean made his presence felt on the international level, scoring two goals in two starts in Gli Azzurri’s Euro qualifiers against Finland and Liechtenstein. While the level of the opposition was questionable at best, the 19-year-old, much like it has been the case all season, did well to make the most of his opportunities and announce himself on the world stage.
With Ronaldo out for the foreseeable future and with the league practically wrapped up, it’s as good a time as any to allow Kean to prove his worth, starting with the Empoli game. However, latest reports indicate that Allegri is going the safe route and will field a front three of Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Federico Bernardeschi.
Since the new year, Mandzukic has struggled for form, and hasn’t scored in his last ten games in all competitions. You would have to go all the way back to his goal against Roma on December 22nd for his last strike. Against Atletico Madrid, the Croatian looked a shadow of his former self, and was regularly beat in the air by the imposing Diego Godin or Jose Gimenez. A spell on the sidelines allowing him to recover could do him some good. Mandzukic will always prove to be a willing runner but, Allegri’s side are going to need more from him if they are to hoist the Champions League.
Dybala, by contrast, hasn’t had his best year in bianconero and has had issues adapting to a deeper role since Ronaldo’s arrival.
While giving them minutes together alongside Bernardeschi – a surefire starter at this point – is a good contingency plan should Ronaldo miss out of the Ajax clash, Kean should still be afforded more playing time. After all, he’s one of the few Juventus forwards that has consistently made an impact when on the pitch in recent times while others have struggled.
Moreover, it would prove to Kean that Juventus are serious about his development, and would go a long way in future contract negotiations. With half of Europe queuing up for the Italian’s signature, as recent reports would suggest, Juventus must do everything in their power to ensure he stays long-term.
As April 10th approaches, and with Ronaldo’s injury status still uncertain, Allegri must ensure his front-line are firing on all cylinders. One thing’s for certain: Benching Kean and stopping his momentum at this point in the season isn’t the best way to go about that.
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Italy started their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in the best possible fashion, dispatching Finland comfortably 2-0, handing senior debuts to a number of the nation’s budding superstars. While Roberto Mancini is still fiddling with his best starting eleven, certain newbies stood out from the rest.
1) Moise Kean
Every time Kean is given minutes, be it for Juventus or at the international level, the 19-year-old scores. It’s simple; it’s in his nature. Since breaking onto the scene in Turin, the young striker has made the most of his limited opportunities, and has consistently found the back of the net.
When Allegri started him for the first time in the Coppa Italia against Bologna, Kean marked his debut with a goal. Similarly, when the Juventus tactician fielded him from the get-go in the league against Udinese, Kean netted a brace with ease, and could have even had a hat-trick.
Just last week, Mancini gave the 19-year-old his first start for the senior national team, albeit in an unfamiliar right wing position, and Kean impressed. Despite being played out of position, the Juventus man looked dangerous throughout and was a constant menace to the Finnish rearguard.
It wasn’t, however, until the 74th minute that Kean made his mark after a wonderful run and through ball from Ciro Immobile put him through. Much like it has been the case his entire career, Kean didn’t think twice and slid it home effortlessly past a helpless Lukás Hrádecky.
As the Azzurri are looking for their undisputed number nine, Kean might just prove to be their best bet.
2) Nicolò Barella
In just his fifth start at the international level, Cagliari midfielder Barella dominated proceedings, and netted his first goal for Gli Azzurri, in what was an overall accomplished performance. Since Mancini has assumed the reigns of the national team, Barella has been a regular in the midfield alongside Marco Verratti and Jorginho, and will likely be a key asset at the upcoming Euros.
Considering his diverse skill-set, Barella acts as the perfect foil in Mancini’s midfield, and has gone from strength to strength for Cagliari this season. Equally capable of defending as he is attacking, Barella epitomizes today’s modern midfielder, and will command a massive figure on the market when Cagliari decide to sell.
At the moment, Chelsea, Inter, and Napoli are all said to be interested in the 22-year-old and will all go head-to-head for the young midfielder’s signature come summertime. Mature beyond his years, Barella is already captaining Cagliari, and is ready to become a mainstay in azzurro blu.
3) Fabio Quagliarella
The veteran striker made his return to the fold for the first time in nine years since the debacle in 2010, and almost scored with his first touch of the game. Given just over ten minutes to prove his worth, Quagliarella demonstrated his predatory instinct and struck the bar after an incisive run.
On another night, and given more minutes, the former Napoli hitman could have easily scored a few. This season, the 36-year-old has had a career year and a renaissance of sorts, netting 21 goals and seven assists in 27 league appearances, which right now, is good for the capocannoniere lead.
While Quagliarella clearly won’t be a part of Mancini’s long-term plans as he’s nearing 40, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t feature at next summer’s tournament. Capable of finding the back of the net with limited touches, the veteran talisman could make quite the impact off the bench in a tight game.
With Italy taking on Liechtenstein tomorrow in their second qualifier of their campaign, expect Mancini to reward Quagliarella with a start. After all, he’s more than earned it.
While it’s still early days, Mancini has demonstrated signs that he’s the right man to lead the national team into their next phase. Blending youth and experience, the former Inter tactician has no prejudices when it comes to his squad selection and has shown that he will take the best player available, no matter their age or reputation.
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On Saturday at the Stadio Friuli in Udine, Italy managed to secure the 2-0 win over Finland in Group J of Euro 2020 Qualifying thanks to Nicolò Barella and Moise Kean opening up their accounts for the Azzurri.
Here are the player ratings from the victory. Continue reading
Since being appointed Italy boss after the World Cup debacle, Roberto Mancini has done well to implement a distinct style of play, and identify key players for his setup moving forward. With the defence and midfield all but set, barring a few adjustments, the attack remains Mancini’s last puzzle. While the former Inter tactician has introduced the likes of Federico Chiesa and Moise Kean into the fold, some of Mancini’s choices in the final third have been questionable, to say the least.
In Mancini’s latest selections, Vincenzo Grifo and Leonardo Pavoletti both got the call to represent their nation. The latter, a 30-year-old mid-table journeyman, won’t be on the international scene for much longer and failed at the only big club he was at, while Grifo has only played eight games in league action this season thus far for Freiburg and has never demonstrated to be anything more than a decent squad player.
After years of struggling for options in the final third, Mancini is finally blessed with various talents in the attacking department, be it with Bernardeschi, Chiesa, and Kean among others. Now is not the time to experiment with players who are on the wrong side of 30 or haven’t been consistent in front of goal.
Regardless of their form this season, neither Pavoletti or Grifo will represent Italy next summer, and neither deserves to take valuable experience away from the nation’s budding forwards. What is more puzzling is that the in-form Andrea Belotti was left home, despite his recent resurgence.
The Torino forward has lead the line exceptionally well, and has propelled I Granata into an unlikely race for European football. While he’s had better goal tallies in past seasons, Belotti has become a more well-rounded forward under Walter Mazzarri and is ready for another go on the international scene. At 25 years old, Il Gallo is about to enter the prime of his career, and is an excellent option for Mancini.
Another player who could have also gotten the call ahead of Pavoletti and Grifo was Mario Balotelli. Despite some previous attitude concerns, Supermario’s has been Italy’s most consistent forward over the years, and has done well in Marseille, scoring four goals in his last six games. Mancini had this to say about Balotelli’s exclusion.
“Balotelli still isn’t in peak condition, he’s improving but I expect a lot from him and he can improve further. In general, all of the technical players are improving and this is comforting for me.” (Source: Twitter – @Azzurri)
The reality is that, much like Balotelli, Grifo hasn’t played much for Freiburg, and yet still received a call-up. Had Mancini cited previous indiscipline as his reason, it would have made Balotelli’s exclusion understandable. Regardless, Supermario deserves one more run with the Nazionale, and will likely get the chance next time around.
While Mancini has done relatively well at blending youth with experience, another player who should have, at the very least, been part of the training camp is Milan’s Patrick Cutrone. Since breaking onto the scene, the Milan forward has demonstrated all the raw abilities of a top forward, and has a knack for being at the right place at the right time.
At just 21 years old, Cutrone, alongside Juventus’ Moise Kean, are easily Mancini’s best long-term bets. Since Krzysztof Piatek’s arrival, however, Cutrone has found playing time hard to come by. Despite this, he deserves a shot with the national team, and could prove useful at the upcoming Euros if given consistent playing time.
Moving forward, Mancini can’t keep turning to the likes of Pavoletti and Grifo as they are taking away development time from Italy’s potential, long-term number nines. Let’s face it, neither will make the final squad while Belotti, Balotelli and Cutrone all have a great shot. The ball’s now in Mancini’s court.
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