It was the beginning of a new cycle for four times World Cup winners Italy, an opportunity to move on, look forward and put the World Cup qualification disaster behind them. Interim coach Luigi Di Biagio will have viewed this has his audition and a chance to prove he is the man for the job permanently.
Italian Football Daily takes a look at how the Argentina friendly played out and if we have learnt anything from this match.
Luigi Di Biagio selected a fresh looking Italy XI, the ideas were there but the execution was lacking. A disjointed performance was perhaps to be expected; after all this was the coaches first game in charge, there are new faces in the squad and to bring this all together after only a few days training would have been nothing short of incredible.
The 4-3-3 was a welcome system switch, the Azzurri looked to approach the game positively. This was evident early on with the high press they adopted, it was a bold move and on occasions see them go man to man across the pitch as they forced the opposition into longer passes. In possession they got numbers in good areas but there was a real lack of fluidity in the attacking phase. The front three of Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and debutante Federico Chiesa were quite rigid and played high against Argentina’s back four to occupy them.
This did create space for full backs Matteo De Sciglio and Alessandro Florenzi. However, Italy struggled to cycle the ball to wide areas quick enough and once Argentina fell back into a defensive block, La Nazionale lacked ideas to unlock them.
Argentina on the other hand represented what Italy lacked, their players were comfortable with Jorge Sampaoli’s game plan and it was evident they had done this before. La Albiceleste took advantage of Italy’s mistakes, they showed composure and an experience at this level Italy simply did not have.
A dose of realism…
The post match fall out from this 2-0 defeat was one of overreaction for the most part. Gian Piero Ventura caused many of the issues under his stewardship, however to say that is all it was is incorrect. Italy were never likely to return as world-beaters, they are starting from scratch in many ways and need time to grow. Individually, the squad cannot compete with the likes of Germany, Spain or Brazil who have many world-class players to choose from. The Azzurri have a number of very good players and a bunch of players with potential – that is the reality of the current situation. Over the next few years that can change, the players need the opportunity to play and develop individually and together as a national team
The Insigne/Immobile debate
Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile, fine players for their respective clubs and two of Serie A’s most influential attackers, but when they pull on an Italy shirt something changes. Both had golden opportunities to put Italy in front on Friday and for players of their quality they simply have to do better.
These two-divide opinions amongst Azzurri fans, they have more than earned their place in the national squad but does either deserve a starting place? On current performances it’s quite simply a no. They have each had ample time to prove themselves and have not taken their club form into international matches.
We have seen it before; some players simply do not transfer from league to the world stage. It is difficult to understand why, however certain players are comfortable in more familiar surroundings and that is arguably true for Insigne and Immobile. The Napoli man has a very particular role in Maurizio Sarri’s team, their positional play is very specific and it frees Insigne to play in particular areas that suit his attributes. As for Ciro, we have seen his struggles previously when moving to Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla, he is another that needs to feel comfortable and confident in his surroundings. Once he can sense the trust of his environment, he flourishes.
Neither are bad players, far from it but it is time that Italy explored different options.
Jorginho, Verratti and Superman
It was the first time Italy fans had the opportunity to see a midfield built around Jorginho and Marco Verratti. Two of the best midfield technicians in Europe, it was long overdue that we see them deployed together. Napoli midfield player Jorginho had an off day and was at fault for giving the ball away in situations were he is usually faultless. It was his mistake that lead to Argentina’s opening goal, it is still early days for Jorginho in an Italy shirt but he must adapt quickly and not fall into the trap of becoming a ‘Sarriball’ only player. PSG man Verratti has been rightly criticized for his recent Italy performances but this was an improved performance. The diminutive midfield man was Italy’s driving force from midfield and he was behind the team’s best spell at the start of the second half. Going forward, the new boss of La Nazionale must persist with both Jorginho and Verratti . There was enough between them to suggest it can become a fruitful partnership and as they learn each other’s game it will only get better.
Many have suggested that Italy’s very own Superman Gianluigi Buffon should not have returned to the Italy set up. Last nights performance was further evidence – like it was needed – that he deserves to see this season out as an international player. The Juventus man made key saves to keep his team in the game and after all his service to Italian football, the least Gigi deserves is the respect of the fans and to help Italy through to the end of the season.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Italy
The average age of Italy’s outfield XI at kick-off was 26, including a start and first cap for 20-year-old Fiorentina man Federico Chiesa. Of the six subs that were made during the second half only one, Antonio Candreva, was over the age of 25.
It was pleasing to see the likes of Lorenzo Pellergini, Bryan Cristante, Andrea Belotti and man of the moment Parick Cutrone all get their chance to play. That’s without including others such as Gianluigi Donnarumma, Mattia Caldara, Alessio Romagnoli and Federico Bernardeschi who are all more than ready to play their part. The list goes on, the talent is clearly available, it is clearly coming through and it is now time for these players need to be the core of the national team for years to come.
The new generation are finally beginning to make their presence felt, the time has come for the Azzurrini to take over and help build a new great Italy.
Player Ratings from the Etihad –
Buffon 7 – Florenzi 5 Bonucci 5.5 Rugani 6 De Sciglio 6 – Jorginho 5 Verratti 6 Parolo 5 – Chiesa 5 Immobile 4 Insigne 4