Roberto Mancini Puts Italy on the Right Track

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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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Mancini Prepares for Liechtenstein Clash

Following their impressive 2-0 win against Finland, Italy have proven they are ready to put their past issues behind them, and finally re-establish themselves as a threat on the international stage, starting with the 2020 Euros. Italy tactician Roberto Mancini has shown he’s ready to give youth a chance, all-while not undervaluing experience.

Today, Mancini held a press conference ahead of Gli Azzurri’s clash with Liechtenstein, and highlighted the importance of establishing an identity for the side, something that was lacking under Gian Piero Ventura’s guidance.

We have to keep growing and look to maintain the same identity as a team, no matter the opposition in front of us. We’re happy with the result: We want to bring back the enthusiasm to the national team, and what better way than through our play. We still have a lot of work to do,” said Mancini in the press conference.

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Since becoming Italy boss, Mancini has introduced a slick 4-3-3 with a highly technical midfield, including two registas in Jorginho and Marco Verratti. In doing so, the former Inter tactician ensures gli Azzurri are able to impose their possession-based game and dominate the opposition.

While results are often the compromise of good football, it hasn’t been the case for Mancini’s Italy, as they have registered four clean sheets in their last four games and have started their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign on the right foot.

I think a team that plays with a determined style of play over a series of games with success could establish their identity,” added Mancini.

Clearly, after Italy’s World Cup disaster and tame displays against Sweden that saw them get eliminated, Mancini’s number one priority was to introduce character. Thus far, he’s had success introducing the likes of Moise Kean and Nicolo Zaniolo while also turning to the experience of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Fabio Quagliarella.

Acting with balance of youth and experience in mind, Italy are playing their best football since Antonio Conte’s tenure, and will likely be a threat at the Euros. With a clash against Liechtenstein on the horizon, Mancini is ready to blood in more players and mix up his starting eleven once more.

“We’ll change 3-4 players from our starting eleven against Finland, perhaps even more,” said Mancini.

According to recent reports, Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli is rumoured to start in defence while Stefano Sensi is set to get a start in the midfield. Romagnoli has arguably been the best defender in Italy this season, and deserves a shot at usurping Leonardo Bonucci in the starting eleven. Sensi, on the other hand, has been in exceptional form for Sassuolo, and is an ideal deep-lying playmaker for Mancini’s 4-3-3 in the absence of Verratti or Jorginho.

Otherwise, Leonardo Spinazzola will start at right back after a string of top notch performances for Juventus while it’s likely that Fabio Quagliarella will get rewarded with the full ninety minutes after an impressive cameo against Finland.

While question marks were raised after Mancini’s appointment, the Italian tactician is proving to have the midas touch so far for gli Azzurri, introducing a clear style of play and identity to the national team for the first time in over two years.

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Three Azzurri Standouts Against Finland

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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.

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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.

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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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Mancini Makes Questionable Choices in The Final Third

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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.

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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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Time For Mancini To Look To Patrick Cutrone

After yet another toothless display against Portugal, Azzurri fans are crying for a fresh start in the final third. Something clearly needs to change as it’s the first time in Italy’s illustrious history that they go winless in six consecutive home games. With the side struggling for goals, Italy boss Roberto Mancini has tried everything to get his side firing again.

When the false-nine experiment with Lorenzo Insigne didn’t quite pan out, the former Inter tactician reinstated Ciro Immobile into the fold. While the Lazio man is prolific at club level, he’s yet to translate that form in Azzurro blu and has a mere seven goals in 35 appearances for the national team, most of which came against second-tier sides. As Italy look to restore themselves as a European superpower on the international scene, it’s time to start anew and give Milan’s Patrick Cutrone a shot at the role.

In the past, Immobile and Andrea Belotti have been given an opportunity to make the number nine spot their own, yet have regularly failed to impressed when tasked with leading the line. Other than not finding the back of the net, they both rarely involved themselves in the buildup and typically cut a frustrated figure until they were eventually subbed off. While both have demonstrated they have a keen eye for goal in Serie A, neither of them has demonstrated they have the character to play for Italy and went missing in action in Gli Azzurri’s crucial game against Sweden.

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Ciro Immobile’s critics are wrong – it’s time for Italy to embrace the King of Lazio

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Ciro Immobile is Italy’s best striker. This is an opinion, but were you to water down the essential responsibility of a forward to scoring goals, it becomes a fact.

Finding the net is something the 28-year-old has done with stunning regularity since joining Lazio in the summer of 2016. In just over two years in Rome, he has notched 76 goals in 104 appearances, including a 41-goal haul last season that saw him crowned as joint-top scorer in both Serie A and the Europa League.

His incredible strike rate has shown no signs of slowing down this season, with Immobile having already scored eight league goals, one less than leading scorer Krzysztof Piatek and the same number as a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.

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Serie A Weekly News Recap

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On Monday, Italy finished the first cycle of friendlies with Roberto Mancini at the helm with a tie against Netherlands. So one win, one loss and one tie for the new coach as the Azzurri had mixed showings under the new regime.

The coaching carousel is almost over: Cagliari have hired Rolando Maran and Udinese have appointed Julio Velazquez. Sassuolo have parted ways with Giuseppe Iachini and that’s the only open spot besides Bologna. The Sardinians have also promoted Daniele Conti to technical director.  Continue reading

‘Crazy Inter’ throws campaign in doubt weeks out from Serie A start

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The seeds of discontent had been brewing for some time. Whispers regarding how to take Inter forward. That boiled over on Monday when it was announced Roberto Mancini had left the Nerazzurri “by mutual agreement.”

A big sign came earlier in the day as the team trained without the boss, a sure-fire sign amid the chatter that an exit was near. Mancini had only returned to the club in November 2014 and last season had the Nerazzurri at the top of Serie A before Christmas. They would fall away to miss the Champions League.

Inter, hungry to return to that competition, has been busy on the transfer front. Ever Banega, Cristian Ansaldi and most recently, Antonio Candreva, headline the summer additions. They have kept the majority of their usual team from last season, but there still appeared a separation of ideas between coach and club as to how to further progress.

Taken over by new Chinese owners from the Suning Group, their plan is for a long-term Inter. Signing promising players and seeing them develop. Mancini was also thinking shorter term and was interested in the likes of Yaya Toure. Players he feel could help Inter here and now as they look to throw Juventus from their throne.

Less than two weeks from the start of the season, it is hardly an ideal move. But after only one win in seven pre-season matches – including a 6-1 drubbing against Tottenham – there were some concerns. The whole scenario is a throwback to the days of ‘Pazza Inter’ – Crazy Inter – in the 1990s.

Now, the question is who comes in and what he can be expected to do at this point. Dutchman Frank de Boer is the clear favourite and could be announced as early as Tuesday. President Erick Thohir hopes to do so as soon as possible. The Ajax boss has not coached outside his home nation and with such little time to work with the team before the opening round trip to Chievo, it is a huge gamble for the new owners to take. It puts the onus on experienced players, like Samir Handanovic, Joao Miranda and Gary Medel, as well as captain Mauro Icardi, to lead by example.

Mancini took time to thank the club and fans for support, wishing Inter “a future full of achievements and important sports results.” But this move serves to put their campaign in some jeopardy before it has commenced. How will Inter respond to this ill-timed change?

Inter Milan seal highest Serie A finish for five years

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Inter Milan enjoyed a 2-1 win over Empoli on Saturday afternoon to seal fourth place in the Italian Serie A table. The Nerazzurri will be back in continental competition next season in the form of Europa League football, but manager Roberto Mancini will be aiming for much bigger than a top-four finish in 2016/17.

“We would not have finished fourth if we did everything right. The position is what we deserve, because we threw away what we had done for the first six months. In Italy we are quick to criticise all aspects of a team, but instead you have to see the good things that a team does, and we have made progress,” said Mancini.

“We will seek to strengthen the team (in the transfer window), but this is still the best season of the last five years. We thank the fans who came to San Siro, we hope next year to be able to give them some extra satisfaction,” he added.

Inter hadn’t finished in the top-four of the Serie A since 2010/11, and had Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic to thank for delivering a much-needed win. Fiorentina were chasing Inter for a place in the Europa League, but can no longer catch Mancini’s side with two games to go.

The Nerazzurri were chasing the league title earlier in the season, but suffered a slump in form and saw eventual champions Juventus hit perfect form to leapfrog Inter, Napoli and AS Roma to retain their crown. Mancini wants his side to take inspiration from their rivals’ season, calling on the Inter squad to play with such confidence of clawing their way out of trouble regardless.

“We have to improve many things, the technical quality, the desire to fight and we must learn not to give anything away in times of difficulty, like how Juve do. Surely we have to improve our quality, this is crucial. The gap between Juve and the other teams is huge,” said Mancini. Next season will be the first full season of Mancini at the San Siro, and he’ll be hoping a side can finally end Juventus’ monopoly on the division.

Playing in the Europa League is sure to attract a better calibre of players, so Inter should be able to adequately strengthen their squad in the summer to improve upon their fourth-placed finish. Returning to the Champions League is the priority, but if they can start 2016/17 strongly, Mancini might fancy his chances of a title challenge.

Nerazzurri shaping as Scudetto contenders despite Christmas defeat

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They could have enjoyed a four point gap going into the winter break. A win at home against struggling Lazio would have done the trick. Rather, Inter must look over their shoulder, only a point clear of a tightly-bunched chasing pack.

It wasn’t what Roberto Mancini was hoping for. Inter had won their last three matches in all competitions, netting eight and keeping three clean sheets. But they were stunned by Antonio Candreva, who scored early and then late to cancel Mauro Icardi’s equaliser and end Lazio’s seven-round winless run.

And Mancini says his team deserved what they got. Nonetheless, he goes into the Christmas break satisfied with how the season has progressed. “We are still the leaders and in pre-season we’d have happily taken this position.”

Having sat on the outside looking in for what fans would deem far too long – they last challenged for the Scudetto in 2011 – the Nerazzurri can once more consider themselves contenders.

The initial rounds were characterised by 1-0 victories. Inter have recorded eight in fact, out of 11 wins. Mancini’s side holds the best defensive record, having conceded just 11 times. For a team whose best return in four seasons was 39 goals conceded, the wins were important to re-establish the defensive solidity highlighted during their Scudetto winning campaigns.

Their three losses were against top half clubs, including Scudetto rivals Napoli and Fiorentina. Where the Nerazzurri were last term robbed of consistency by dropping points against lower ranked clubs, they’re now stringing wins together. Only Sampdoria and Palermo from the bottom half have claimed points against them. Inter may not always be pretty, but certainly effective. Summer defensive signings Jeison Murillo and Joao Miranda, plus the goalkeeping exploits of Samir Handanovic, have been vital.

But with single-goal wins comes questions in attack. Icardi has not scored with the same regularity as last season. He’s improving and the strike versus Lazio was his seventh. Meanwhile, Stevan Jovetic started brightly but only has four goals. Rodrigo Palacio hasn’t netted. Their 23-goal tally is the lowest of the main contenders. Having rediscovered defensive solidity, improving the attacking prowess is Mancini’s next step.

Inter begin 2016 with potential banana-skins against three surprise sides – Empoli, Sassuolo and Atalanta – but being the only challenger without European competition to contend with is a huge benefit.

Lazio loss aside, the leaders look set for the long haul in the Scudetto race.