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Azzurri: Formations, Flops and Failures

With the Nations League opener against Poland now in the rear-view mirror, the Mancini regime will have lots to discuss and iron out before Tuesday’s clash with Portugal.

It wasn’t pretty, but the Italians managed to salvage a point at home against a well organized Poland. Azzurri Head Coach Roberto Mancini made it clear that changes were in fact coming for the side in the second match of the group.

“We will certainly make some changes and want to build on the second half performance. We need to get a better result than this,” Mancini stated. We could very well change the system too, just like a few players, but I think in the first half the issue wasn’t so much tactical as technical. When there are fewer misplaced passes, the defence will suffer much less.”

Flops and Failures

It is clear that nothing was working in the first half. The attack was isolated and the midfield struggled to put anything together. The only option the Italians played with was passing the ball into the corners and try to find Balotelli, usually triple marked, in the box.

The plan failed for numerous reasons, including Insigne’s lack of a cutting edge and Jorginho failing to take command of a young midfield. Roberto Gagliardini showed signs of being more than useful, while Lorenzo Pellegrini did not make an impact on proceedings whatsoever.

That continues to be Pellegrini’s biggest problem for both the national and club set up, his failure to really get into games and make a mark is becoming a problem. For the Under-21 Italy side, he was on the ball much more and was always dangerous, now it appears he is afraid to get on the ball and make a play.

The recycling pass and move system Italy has used is incredibly straightforward and predictable. Poland sat back rather comfortably despite having only 40% of the ball for much of the game. Jorginho, who was virtually marked out of the game by Piotr Zielinski, would pass to either winger who would then simply get bogged down in the corners, unable to find space and then pass back to a defender 40 yards back.

It was sterile, and obvious that Italy does not have the personnel to play a 4-3-3, which pundits had long predicted to be the next big formation. It simply does not work in live matches.

Italy only began to play well when Lorenzo Insigne was taken off for 20-year-old Federico Chiesa, who attacked Poland’s defense directly, instead of drifting out wide.

With Bernardeschi and Chiesa, the two wingers were taking on their opposite number directly and creating space for Andrea Belotti in the midfield. This created a domino effect which then allowed Jorginho to get on the ball in a more attacking position.

Overall, Mancini’s substitutions impacted the game positively, but it was too late for a winner. What we did see however is that Lorenzo Insigne, Mario Balotelli and Jorginho are not going to be the saviors Italy needs to become a power house again and that the 4-3-3 must be scrapped.


It’s back to the drawing board with few certainties and a nation that is clamoring for a sign of returning to greatness. So far in the six matches Italy has played since their elimination against Sweden in November, not a single clean sheet has been kept and only one win has been recorded. The 4-3-3 has been primarily used, it can be concluded that this is not the way to go.

A 3-5-2? Impossible. Italy doesn’t have a deep lying playmaker nor the attacking midfielders needed to be effective. What made the formation successful in the past was Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi were able to dictate the attack from the midfield line with ease. Now, there’s nobody who can lead the charge except Leonardo Bonucci in the center of defense.

4-2-3-1? For me this is the more likely option. The defensive scheme can more or less stay the same while Mancini tries to identify his starting fullbacks. It appears Zappacosta is locking down the right flank but on the left it is anybody’s game.

In the two man defensive midfield, Jorginho could play alongside a host of options, including Nicolo Barella and Bryan Cristante. In the three man attacking trident, Bernardeschi and Chiesa could be utilized in a more free roaming role with Marco Benassi being situated in the center. The main striker would also have to be named since Mario Balotelli is likely to miss the game due to injury. Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti remain the most obvious replacements.

Regardless of tactics or formations, the attitude of the setup has to change. The attack needs to be more direct and daring. Sitting back and waiting for something to happen continues to cause Italy problems, they have to take the game to their opponents, or risk disappointment yet again.



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