Every time a national squad is announced prior to the international break, the selection is always analysed to the deepest degree and at every moment, it is criticised and scrutinised. I can’t remember the last time I saw a squad announcement that wasn’t plagued with comments on why a certain player shouldn’t be in the team. One nation in particular where this always seems to happen is Italy, with Giampiero Ventura’s selection often ridiculed for the omission of an outstanding player, regardless of how well that player has been performing for his club.
The Azzurri are going through what can only be described as an injury meltdown, more than just a plain old crisis, with Marco Verratti, Daniele De Rossi and Lorenzo Pellegrini all dropping out through injury, leaving Ventura with Marco Parolo as he most experienced and only midfielder. That is, until he drafted in the replacements and almost inadvertently ushered in a new era of Italian national team players. Roberto Gagliardini of Inter, Nicolo Barella of Cagliari and Bryan Cristante of Atalanta have all been called up as replacements and whilst it means that one again Jorginho misses out (somehow), it could offer us a sight at what the future may look like in the Azzurri midfield.
Obviously the strongest out of the three new midfielders is Roberto Gagliardini, a midfielder who made his international debut back in March of 2017 in a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands. His time at Inter since joining from Atalanta in January of this year has shown us that despite being just 23-years-old, Gagliardini has a mature brain and a safe head on his shoulders. He isn’t exactly the type of player you’d see rushing into the box to collect a knockdown or play one-twos in and around the opposition penalty area, but Gagliardini will be more likely to sit back, break up play by thinking one step ahead of his opponent and play a simple pass to one of his fellow midfielders, one he trusts to create an attack.
He’s more like a De Rossi type player, but with more dynamism and ability to drive the team in a certain direction. He may not have had the playing time he needs or deserves at Inter this season due to how well their midfielders have been playing so far, but he can certainly show his worth this week.
Moving on to the next of the three new midfielders and let’s take a look at Nicolo Barella. The young attacking midfielder has started well this season with Cagliari, scoring once in seven appearances but showing glimpses of what he can offer in almost every game. By simply looking at stats and stats only, Barella looks like a rather lacklustre player, but that really doesn’t tell the whole story. He isn’t an attacking midfielder in the sense that he will score and assist whilst playing the majority of the game in the final third, but he is willing to drop into deeper positions to pick the ball and try to make things happen for his team.
Barella is a very raw talent, with only one cap at Italian U21 level to his name, but the faith that Ventura has placed in him must mean something and will almost certainly give him a tonne of confidence. Whilst it remains fairly unlikely that he starts this weekend, Barella is a good type of player to bring off the bench to add something different when the game needs a spark.
Finally, we look at Bryan Cristante, on loan at Atalanta from Benfica and is looking to make an impression following his goal scoring display at home against champions Juventus recently. Being 22, Cristante offers a nice blend of youthful exuberance and plenty of first team experience having made just under 100 career appearances at multiple clubs, including Milan and his parent club Benfica.
Cristante is your typical midfielder who knows when to play the right pass and also has the skillset to break up a move and start one for his side, but also has the ability and presence of mind to get a goal or more over the course of a season. Will he start for the Azzurri? Perhaps not, but his ability to calm play down as well as being able to grab a sneaky goal will be a huge asset if things aren’t going the way of the Italians deep into a game.