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With Humility and Ingenuity: Italy Faces Off Against Albania and the Netherlands

Giampiero Ventura will have to show humility and ingenuity as Italy plays Albania, in an historical World Cup Qualifier, and the Netherlands, in a prestigious friendly. Humility against Albania will go a long way to ensure that the Azzurri will not underestimate the threat posed by them. Ingenuity against the Netherlands will allow Ventura to make sure that Italy is comfortable in using more than one formation, while at the same time, integrating more youth players into the senior squad. Italy’s Commissario Tecnico released his squad list on Saturday for their first two games of 2017. It includes maiden call-ups for Danilo D’Ambrosio (Inter), Leonardo Spinazzola (Atalanta) and Alex Meret (SPAL). The most notable absences are Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio (Juventus) through lack of fitness. Another noteworthy exclusion is Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), who was called up to the Under-21 squad. Since its initial release, Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton FC) and Federico Bernardeschi (Fiorentina) had to be removed from the team due to injury and replaced by potential debutants Matteo Politano (Sassuolo), Simone Verdi (Bologna) and Andrea Petagna (Atalanta).

During his Monday press conference, Ventura spoke about the absence of Chiellini and Marchisio: “I miss Chiellini and Marchisio. They know this perfectly well because I told them. They need time to find their best shape.” He also spoke about the inclusion of Danilo D’Ambrosio: “It’s a message. There are no preclusions for anyone doing well in Serie A.”

On Tuesday, the latest reporting has Leonardo Bonucci in doubt for the game against Albania because of a virus and could be replaced with Alessio Romagnoli. In the same report, Daniele De Rossi is experiencing fatigue, due to the congested schedule from participating in the knockout rounds of the Europe League and the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia, is also a doubt and would be replaced by Roberto Gagliardini.

Updated Squad List

Goalkeepers: Buffon, Donnarumma, Meret

Defenders: Astori, Barzagli, Bonucci, Darmian, D’Ambrosio, De Scigilo, Romagnoli, Rugani,
Spinazzola, Zappacosta

Midfielders: De Rossi, Gagliardini, Parolo, Verratti

Wingers: Politano, Verdi, Candreva, Insigne, Sansone

Forwards: Belotti, Eder, Immobile, Petagna

Italy versus Albania

Game venue: Stadio Renzo Barbera- La Favorita, Palermo, Italy

Date and time: Friday, March 24, 2017 at 3:45pm EST (7:45pm GMT)

Italy’s fixture against Albania will be the first time in history that these two nations will face off in a competitive game. Albania poses an interesting test for the Azzurri to stay humble and to sacrifice against an inferior opponent, as Italy desperately needs the three points to stay within reach of Spain for top spot and automatic qualification from Group G. Even though they are tied on points, Spain holds the advantage with a superior goal difference. In December 2016, Ventura spoke to reporters about the consequences of failing to win against Albania: “If we don’t beat Albania, it would become very difficult to win – not even winning in Spain would be enough.”

Albania will most likely take a defensive approach to the game as they will look to absorb Italy’s pressure with a 4-1-4-1, which will have two lines of four midfielders and four defenders with one defensive midfielder in between the two lines to add extra cover of space. It would be the same system that they used in their defeat against Spain. This defensive approach is understandable considering the strength in the tactical and technical abilities of their opponent and the experience of their Italian-born manager Gianni De Biasi, who coached in Serie A with Torino and Udinese. The Albanian squad contains six Serie A and Serie B based players: Thomas Strakosha (Lazio), Arlind Ajeti (Torino), Elseid Hysaj (Napoli), Frederic Veseli (Empoli), Miglen Basha (Bari), Ledian Memushaj (Pescara).

In their game against Spain, Albania conceded when they were pressed high up the field. The second Spanish goal came about after a poor restart from Albanian and Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha was intercepted off by Spain in the final third and transformed into a goal. Italy should employ the same tactic by pressing high in the final third and force Albanian defenders into similar mistakes. Prior to the latest reports, I presumed that Italy would line up in a 3-4-3 formation because it was the formation used in their previous game against Germany. On Tuesday, it was being reported that Ventura has decided to use a more attacking 4-2-4, which seems to suggest that the Azzurri manager is confident enough to use his favoured formation after holding a training camp on February 22nd. This formation would see Insigne line up on the same side as his Napoli teammate, Elseid Hysaj.

Probable Italy XI (4-2-4): Buffon; Zappacosta, Barzagli (Rugani), Bonucci (Romagnoli), De Sciglio; Verratti, De Rossi (Gagliardini); Candreva, Immobile, Belotti, Insigne

Prediction: Albania will set up to defend, but I think Italy will overpower them with their attacking talent in the 4-2-4 formation and come out 2-0 winners.

Italy versus Netherlands

Game venue: Amsterdam Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Date and time: Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 at 2:45pm EST (7:45pm GMT)

Here are five reasons why you should to tune into this friendly:

1. Italian Ingenuity: Ventura can use this opportunity to test his two formations (4-2-4 and 3-4-3) in preparation for the all-important fixture against Spain. On Monday, Ventura stated in his press conference that “this squad must know how to play in at least two formations. We must be able to switch formations.” He added that “a national team can’t have one way to play otherwise everything becomes too regimented.”

2. Depth Rotation: The Italian manager used his Monday press conference to essentially confirm that Donnarumma and Rugani would start at least one or two games. This means that it should be expected that they will start against the Netherlands. Also, many of the call-ups will mostly likely get their debut during this fixture. This includes Alex Meret, who could very well make his debut in the second half against the Netherlands. Why else would Ventura want to keep him in the squad even though his club team SPAL play on Saturday against Frosinone in a battle for first place in Serie B?

3. Pacey Dutch Wingers versus Italian Full Backs: Whether it will be the combination of Zappacosta/Darmian and De Scigilo or D’Ambrosio and Spinazzola, it will be interesting to watch how they will cope with the speed of Memphis Depay and Arjen Robben, who will mostly likely start against Italy.

4. Battle of the Rebuilders: Both Italy and the Netherlands are in the process of integrating their youth players into the senior squad set-up after an underwhelming 2016. Both teams failed to reach their objectives for the European Championship in France. Italy got knocked out in the quarter-finals and the Netherlands did not even qualify for the final tournament. This fixture will allow each manager and their fans to gauge where each of their national teams is in their rebuilding process.

5. Netherlands’ Serie A Contingent: The Dutch squad has three Serie A-based players in their team: Stefan de Vrij (Lazio), Wesley Hoedt (Lazio) and Kevin Strootman (Roma). It is very possible that these three players start aginst Italy because of their knowledge and experience playing with and against some of the players on the Italian team.

Possible Italy XI (3-4-3): Donnarumma (Meret); Rugani, Bonucci, Romagnoli; D’Ambrosio, Gagliardini, Parolo, Spinazzola; Verdi (Politano), Petagna, Sansone

Prediction: Italy has played ten friendlies since March 2015 and their record contains two wins, four draws and four losses. Based on Italy’s notoriously lethargic performances in friendlies and the strength of their opponent, I am predicting a 2-2 draw. Both teams will seek to impress their respective managers to stay in contention to be included in the squad list for the next round of World Cup Qualifiers in June.

Italy’s next fixtures are a friendly against Uruguay on June 7th, a World Cup Qualifier against Liechtenstein on June 11th and another friendly against France on June 11th, with the all-important game against Spain on September 2nd.

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