In the first of the international friendlies, Italy square up against Argentina at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, whom many are tipping to win the World Cup this summer in Russia. Unfortunately for the Italians and for fans of the Azzurri. Italy will not be present however they have an opportunity to make their presence felt if they can beat Argentina and England over the next few days, then it might give some credence to the notion that Italy are falsely out of the current top order.
The Italy interim manager, Luigi Di Biagio has an opportunity to make some good out of the despair felt by a whole nation and his tactical style may make for refreshing change to the dour applications under Ventura. As the national team settled into their training camp in Italy prior to flying to England, Di Biagio was forthright and forthcoming in how Italy should and will attempt to play…almost giving his closing argument in the Italian footballing court case prior to the FIGC deciding whether to employ him on a permanent basis.
“The first aim is to play well and impose our style of play, if you play well, then in ten matches you’ll end up winning eight of them. For me, playing well means having the courage to get into the other team’s half regardless of the quality of the team that you’re taking on. It means sending the full-backs up to attack, pressing the opponents high and not being afraid to take on the best players. This is a cohesive group made up of players that I’ve seen develop. We need to start again with the right conviction straight away. We’re not at the level of the world’s strongest National Teams but neither are we among the worst.”
Italy have been training in Corveciano and have been coming to terms with the sudden death of Fiorentina captain, Davide Astori who played 14 times for the Azzurri. Many of the current squad were close to the player and much has been said of the devastation felt by each and every one. Indeed it not only shook the Italian footballing nation but also sent shockwaves around the world too. These matches will undoubtedly be played in his honour and the team will strive to make good out of tragic circumstances.
Di Biagio has also made some surprising choices in his run up to these games with the call up of retired legendary goalkeeper; Gigi Buffon. Many are questioning why the elder statesman has been recalled, however the manager claims that his presence will be good for the team, both on and off the pitch, leading many to ask whether Gianluigi Donnarumma of Milan will feature in the next two encounters.
All would seemingly agree that Italy need a change in direction and pace, however Di Biagio would look to his most experienced players to lead the way into the new promised lands, whilst the door in always open to inject youth into the running order. He would simply play to their strengths and change tactics to take the fight to Argentina and England who are both known for their attacking tendencies.
At face value, it would appear to be the right course of action, to stifle play and to defend all over the pitch. This method of pressing high has been amiss for some time and has led to attacking impotency in much of the qualifying campaign and especially so when up against the group favourites; Spain, in which Italy were well and truly beaten with ease.
Di Biagio has also not been shy in letting everyone know which players he is still keen to reintegrate into the national set up, most notably Mario Balotelli who has been on fire for Nice, netting 22 times in 31 appearances this season. Whilst he may have been keeping an inquisitorial eye on the mercurial talent…one has to wonder exactly how many goals one needs to score in order to feature in the national team. However, whomever is the long term choice for manager…and if Balotelli continues in the same vein, then one can only imagine it will only be a matter of time before he gets his recall…if only the management could depend on his volatile temperament!
Whilst many footballing fans will be looking to Argentina to steamroll over Italy with pomp, there are others that would favour the Italians and even see them become teacher once more to talented students. For there is no denying that Argentina are one of those nations that Di Biagio counts as one of the strongest national teams, and their squad is littered with the world class and the sublime, however within every great team there is always a weakness, usually in defence, that can be exposed…and Italy’s tactics might just be enough to expose them.
Whilst final preparations continue, the reformed squad has witnessed changes that might breathe an air of uncertainty for Azzurri fans. However this is a transformative period…and whilst West Ham’s Angelo Ogbonna has back filled for the injured Chiellini, Di Biagio has looked heavily to the U21s contingency to offer promotions to the senior side…indeed Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina) and Patrick Cutrone (Milan) have been called in and may yet feature in the next two games but most likely as substitutions.
Looking ahead to the game against England, this may indeed be the more difficult of the two matchups as both ex U21 managers will set up against each other in familiar territory but in unfamiliar roles. England, on home turf, always a force to be reckoned with and Italy will no doubt expect Southgate’s young horses to charge and fire at will in any given opportunity. However on paper there is enough power in the Italian stable to loosen the reins and let their stallions return favours.
Both inside the Italian camp and those looking in from afar are expecting Italy to resurge in the next few months and reemerge as one of the dominant forces in world football. There is appreciation of this transition period but patience will soon wear thin if the Azzurri do not put on a good show against their Italian Lunfardo influenced cousins or the English who might prefer ‘Frittata’ over a basic omelette. The time is now for the Azzurri to return and show the critics what they’ll be missing at the World Cup. Arise Ye Blues and forget ye not the fallen!