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Back to the grind. The third installment in this series on choices and considerations for Italy’s Euro Under 21 squad. The discussion shifts towards who may make up the midfield and strikers. Past articles have dealt with platform/importance and goalkeeping/defenders. What makes this new topic intriguing is the number of questions and possible solutions that lurk in the distance. Many will wonder why so much drama? Possible omissions, run a form and overcoming recent injuries will definitely be issues.

If Volume 2 holds up, then 12 roster spots remain. While the three goalkeeping spots are an obligation, eight spots were absorbed by the defensive department, easily filled, considering the talent that is available on the back line.

With 12 spots to disperse, the obvious mix should be six midfielders and six strikers, The only concern, will be resolving what formation/tactics will be used, or will pure positional players be needed. A great way of putting these issues to rest will be selecting versatile players, capable of playing multiple roles with ease.

When looking at the thought process that will need to be used, to evaluate midfielders, some obvious decisions start there. First the recipe, two holding midfielder’s, two box to box midfielders and ideally two technical outlets. While this may seem easy, questions arise, are the selections capable of playing as natural wingers or can one or more choices be utilized as ball winners if the opposition is more technical as a collective.

For the holding midfielder’s role, there are some evident choices that should and probably not be overlooked. While these are opinions, options may change the final result, it certainly will be a three-man race. Comprised of Milans wonderkid, Manuel Locatelli, Juventus youth purchase from Genoa, Rolando Mandragora or Luca Mazzitelli of Sassoulo. All possess slightly varying degrees of a combination of tireless work ethics, as filters, capabilities of dictating play/tempo and are accustomed to being initial outlets, once the back line has absorbed the oppositions attack. None can be considered liabilities. If talent is served, then Locatelli and Mandragora will get the nod, but Mandragora has missed the last nine months of playing time, case in point because of an injury, that may see his spot put into question. If so Mazzitelli will be waiting on standby.

As for the box to box midfielders, there are clear-cut choices. Guaranteed to occupy these two options will be, the FC Inter big money man, Roberto Gagliardini and the ever present Torino midfielder Marco Benassi. The beauty of this combination is Gagliardini’s versatility to be both a box to box midfielder and a holding midfielder if needed. He possesses characteristics, that make him a very able choice in both regards. Adjectives do not do him justice, he is the perfect example of a complete midfielder. Considering Benassi, who it should not be forgotten, is the current captain of this squad. Goal scoring abilities from a midfielder’s point of view, leadership, and experience are just a few of the elements he is naturally gifted with. In other words, another complete midfielder, with a pinch of ruthlessness in front of the goal. Italy is definitely spoiled with these two gems. In addition, the likelihood of seeing both grace the field at the same time, is very likely, given that both are very balanced and that neither can be considered liabilities to their squad.

Now focusing on technical midfielders, questions pop up. Lack of playing time, recent injuries and tactical setup are some to underline. As was said earlier, two need to be distinguished. It may very well be a three horse race. With the likes of, current Genoa loanee, Danilo Cataldi and the Sassoulo duo, Stefano Sensi and Lorenzo Pellegrini. While all three have interesting passing, first touch and overall techniques, only two can be chosen. Of the three Cataldi, should be a definite choice, given his familiarity with Italy’s under 21 coach Luigi Di Biagio. As for the other two, a slight advantage may go to Sensi over Pellegrini, considering his ball winning abilities, that could go the extra mile when the circumstances call for it. So to round out the technical choices Danilo Cataldi and Stefano Sensi should be booking their trip to Poland.

The concept for choosing the strikeforce of this team, has a similar twist, when compared to the midfield crop. Two technical choices, two physical target man and two off the ball based options. The major issue here, will be availability and form prior to the tournament starting.

First choice picks are easy to make for technical players. Fantastic talents, Federico Bernardeschi of Fiorentina and Domenico Berardi of Sassuolo have no equals. Loads of dribbling abilities, pace and finishing are just a few tools that they possess. Their with no doubt the most dynamic players available in this squad. The nations weight will certainly be carried by these two, if success is to be achieved. The odd man out will probably be Federico Ricci, the Sassoulo man. Although being highly touted, his level of potential is a tad off when compared to the two wizards mentioned above.

As for the target man, if today’s form stands true, then definite inclusions will see, Andrea Petagna, the Atalanta front man and Alberto Cerri, the current Pescara loanee. Although Cerri’s form has dipped of late, his familiarity with the team, experience that has seen him capped 10 times in this age category, should not be overlooked. A saving grace for his season might be the appointment of Zdenek Zeman as the new Pescara bench boss, who’s enficace on attack could be just what Cerri may need to salvage his goal output. On the other hand Petagna’s spot has more to do with recent form and tactical adaptability. He is no doubt a centre forward, with massive physical qualities, work ethic and sacrifice, this has maybe seen him leapfrog Cerri as the more suitable option. The debate is still ongoing, on who will be the first choice of the two, but there is no discussion that their names will be included in this squad.

Last but not least, the movement strikers. A different approach should be taken if possible. Interesting suggestions come to mind such as Bologna owned, Federico Di Francesco, as well as Cesena man, Luca Garritano and Fiorentina’s baby face product, Federico Chiesa. It may be notable that all three are very comfortable playing as wingers, and their adaptability has shown promising results when utilized on the forward line.

With that said, all three are different when speaking about their familiarity with this squad. Garritano is the most capped with 11 appearances, Di Francesco is the most prolific, four appearances with three goals and Chiesa is the most raw, with zero appearances. Like always two need to be chosen, if potential is awarded then Chiesa and Di Francesco have an edge. Chiesa is the outsider looking in, his diverse talents in different positions, especially when going vertical, plus technique on the ball and sacrifice, go along way in making him a viable option. Di Francesco should be considered in the same breath as Chiesa, with a little less sacrifice, but a little more familiarity to the coaching staff. What makes them even more interesting is that Chiesa is a righted side player, while Di Francesco is more a left sided player. So balance is served as well.

Wrapping up selections, lots of questions to be answered, such as taking a look at schemes and placements. Like was said in previous volumes, time is needed to execute this plan for success. Volume 3 down just one to go.

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