As Italy returned to training, there was one thing on their mind, to get back on track after a faltering start against Argentina in which they succumbed to two second half goals by Benega and Lanzini. This was supposed to be the reanimation of Italian hopes after a disastrous qualifying campaign for this summer’s World Cup, however, many would seek patience and ask to look beyond the scoreline and focus on the modus operandi. Especially that of the second half.
Italy’s temporary manager; Luigi Di Biagio has entered the cauldron of Italian opinion and expectation with a new focus and desire to drive Italy forward, not only in terms of FIFA rankings but also in the style of play. His team set up on Friday against Argentina at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, in an attacking formation that failed to make any inroads in the first half, but there was much more to celebrate in the second. If only the Italian strikers could have converted their chances in front of goal.
Indeed, many within the Italian camp are looking to those generated chances and have confidence that this new work in progress by Di Biagio may indeed pay dividends in the upcoming matches. Whilst there are a few raised eyebrows with the recall of Buffon, he proved his worth and quality in the first half with a clutch of important saves, although rather fortunate not to concede as he favoured a parry rather than a catch. But the devilish threats were soon dealt with and cleared by the Italian covering defence, ably choreographed by Bonucci.
The manager’s ethos appears to be to mix the young and old and to play on the front foot. To take the game to the opponents and press high up the field and for the most part it was working against Argentina and the aim is for it to be applied more efficiently and completely in the England encounter, to come away with a positive result or indeed a win.
England manager; Gareth Southgate and Di Biagio are old foes from their respective U21 days, so their games should be well known to each other. England are still struggling to find another golden generation, however, there is quality in positions covering the whole pitch. Di Biagio will expect England to rise to the occasion and give the home crowd an entertaining spectacle and offensive display…however Italy may yet prove more than a match as they fine tune their defensive capabilities and attacking opportunities.
Di Biagio is expected to begin with the same starting line up as he did against Argentina, but greater emphasis will be placed on Marco Verratti in midfield to create opportunities going forward and control the tempo of the game from his central position. However, whilst there are glimmers of hope for a resurgent Italy, all fate rests with the striking partnerships and the finishing capabilities.
The manager has already referenced that the team were able to produce quality play in the second half, however, as the game opened up they left themselves exposed at the back. This will be where England will want to exploit the Italians and use the pace in the side to counter attack when Italy have lunged forward to vindicate Di Biagio’s ambitions.
For Italy, friendlies have always been considered as exercises in fine tuning a squad performance or using real time matches to go through the motions of the coach’s playbook, however this is unfamiliar territory for the Italians, certainly in recent history, as they strive to regain their position in world football without delay.
All players and coaches from within the Azzurri camp are all tuned into the ideas that their leader has imparted upon them and now it is up to them to realise these goals in the coming games ahead. Of course a loss is hardly acceptable, however, the journey is the most important aspect right now as they rebuild reputations and structures both within the national team and within the FIGC, so patience is the greatest virtue being asked of all Italians right now.
Whilst of course there are detractors from all sides, there are also many who favour Di Biagio’s mentality to bring something new to the traditional Italian footballing landscape. They certainly have the quality, and the mix of experience and youth will pave the way for a successful qualifying campaign for the Euros in autumn. The objective is clear for all to see, to remain solid defensively but be fluid and expeditious when clearing their lines, then work the ball forward with pace and look for openings, both in the short passes and the long. There were signs that the plan may yet work, the Azzurri are on course to knock down England’s defences and would hope the English do not knock back.