In short, Italy were not able to contain Portugal in yesterdays match of the UEFA Nations League. The Azzurri were defeated 1-0 in Lisbon, a score that does not speak about the luck Italy received… The match could have been much worse for Mancini’s side: a goal-line clearance by Alessio Romagnoli; a deflected cross off of Bryan Cristante that hit the crossbar; and a terrific shot from Bernardo Silva that was parried by Gianluigi Donnnarumma to make up for his previous errors – it was a match that could have easily ended 3-0 in favor of Portugal. Youngster Andre Silva, Milan’s ‘flop’ of an attacker who was sent on loan to Spanish side Sevilla this summer, was the scorer with a first touch out of his feet in the 18-yard box to smash a left-footed curler past former teammate Donnarumma at the start of the second half.
Italy had glimpses of promise and good movement, but for most of the match, it was the Portuguese side (without Cristiano Ronaldo) that dominated. A squad and nation that is still ‘under construction’ by the FIGC and Mancini, in yesterday’s match, nine different players started compared to the first match against Poland. Donnarumma and Jorginho were the only two to remain in the starting XI as the coach tries to sort a new formation and implement new tactics:
- Donnarumma started the match looking nervous but redeemed himself with some top class saves, while everything came through Jorginho in midfield as he tried to dictate play.
- Federico Chiesa who came in as a sub in the match against Poland had drive and desire tonight, but nothing worked out for him as he received a yellow card as was only able to muster one shot on goal.
- Ciro Immobile got the nod ahead of Mario Balotelli and was even given the captain’s armband, but the prolific scorer and striker looked lost. He ran left to right, but was unable to find much of the ball – he had only 25 touches all match until his substitution in the 59′.
- Simone Zaza started in an unusual right-wing position instead of a striker (before moving to a striking role later on into the match) and was one of the best on the pitch today, playing the full 90′. However, he himself only had 33 touches and a poor 67% pass success percentage.
- Giacomo Bonaventura, the set-piece man, had the second most possession in the Azzurri kit, having 71 touches – a positive performance from the Milan midfielder who took 9 corners, had 3 successful dribbles, 2 key passes, and an 80% pass completion rate.
- Bryan Cristante was left missing in action in the center of the park, as although a 91% pass success rate, that is all he had. He was dominated by the Portuguese midfield trio of William Carvalho, Ruben Neves, and Pizzi, unable to move forward and create chances like he usually does on a club level.
- Domenico Criscito made his return to play with Mancini once again, but it was a lackluster performance. He struggled to contain the likes of Bruma, Bernardo Silva, and Pizzi and was lucky to have not been called for a penalty as he deliberately set the pick on the Portuguese right center midfielder from a give and go inside the 18-yard box.
- The center back youth pairing of Alessio Romagnoli and Mattia Caldara will take time to form, but it is definitely one of the brighter things to look upon in this Italian side. Romagnoli, as aforementioned, had great tactical awareness to move to the goal line after he saw Donnarumma off his line, and by doing this made a goal-line clearance to keep Italy in the match.
- SPAL right-back Manuel Lazzari was handed his first cap in the Azzurri jersey, and although made some positive runs forward, his lack of experience on an international level was evident.
At the end of the challenge, the Italian had spoken to the microphones of Rai: “Individual mistakes must be limited, but the team gave everything. We must find solutions to score goals. The boys are young, they have to grow up. Some are playing for the first time at high levels. We were aware of it. Today we had a good first half, but we have to score, this is the most important thing”.
On a positive note, it does look like Mancini is trying to rebuild the squad and nation starting from its youth, with the likes of experienced players such as Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Antonio Candreva, Daniele De Rossi, and Marco Parolo all starting to make way, being left to the sidelines.
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