No striker, no problem: is this the way forward for the Azzuri?
This past Sunday, Roberto Mancini acquired his first competitive win since taking over as the Italian national team manager. Playing free-flowing football that was pleasing on the eye, the nation did so without a recognized number 9 – a surprising feat. Here, Vijay Rahaman (@TriniSportsGuy) takes a closer look at the Azzurri.
Now, of course, Udinese’s Kevin Lasagna (cue the food analogies) did enter the match as a substitute late in the second half. A designated striker, the player who wore the number 9 jersey played a vital role in the Azzurri’s winning goal: he provided the flick on to Fiorentina left-back Cristiano Biraghi to score the only goal of the game in the dying minutes.
The question on everyone’s mind following the match: what must Ciro Immobile be thinking? After Mario Balotelli and Andrea Belotti were left out of the squad and Patrick Cutrone picked up an injury, the Lazio man must have had a starting position on his mind, believing that this was his chance (yet again) to perform for his nation, as he does for the Laziale. However, instead, Mancini turned to Lasagna for a recognized striker late on and he was, as aforementioned, very decisive!
Today, Mancini attended an event collaborated between the Postal Service of Italy and the Italian FA(FIGC), stated that “Italy does not have a striker problem”. A very sure statement from the manager as anyone who has seen the last two matches versus Ukraine and Poland may disagree with the manager. The four-time world champions created tons of chances in both games, but a combination of poor finishing, the crossbar, superb goalkeeping and much more meant that they only hit the back of the net ONCE in 180 minutes of football.
Mancini then said something, that in most people’s opinion was of great significance: “The win versus Poland was important, but the performance even more so”. For decades, managers in Italy, both with their clubs and with the national team, have almost always focused on the result and at times, the actual play on the field was secondary. As long as they won, no matter how boring, how cynical, how negative, it was seen as “all good” as long as the final score went in their favor.
Thinking of Juventus manager Max Allegri? He has constantly been beating the drums that the final result is what counts, and despite his team winning, Juve hardly ever play an entertaining brand of football. It is why most personally feel they won’t win in Europe with him as a manager, just as he failed with Milan in Europe as well.
Compare that to the revolutionary tactician Arrigo Sacchi…. The former Milan manager, created the best team of his era and one of the best of all time, not only because of the results but even more so because of the way they played. Milan were a joy to watch when Sacchi was in charge, and back to back European Cups and Intercontinental Cups, as well as people who saw them play, still remembering the beautiful football they played, a is testimony to that.
Mancini has seemingly adopted an approach that is quite more modern, with his pressing, to win back the ball quickly, in particular, his midfield three of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho, and Marco Verratti. None of these three are a defensive midfielder, however, they are all capable of putting in a shift in the defensive side of things. This tactic combined well with the front three of the two Federico’s, Chiesa and Bernadeschi, and Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne. Their constant movement and inter-changing of play, was a menace to the defenses of Ukraine & Poland, as they just could not keep a handle on them. Chiesa and Bernadeschi started as the wide men in the front three but changed positions as the need arose. Insigne, even though being the more central one, also, drifted wide from time to time, particularly, to the left, where he has been very productive with the Partenopei.
Could this be the long term plan for Italy going forward though? As mentioned before, neither of Balotelli or Belotti were picked, while Cutrone, unfortunately, got injured, so was Mancini basically forced into a “false 9”? He seems to have little faith in Immobile and apparently did not want to thrown Lasagna into the Poland game from the start, being as it was a must win scenario. What does he do when Cutrone is fit? Or if Balo or il Galo find form with Nice and Torino respectively? Does he call them back and start them? If so, who of the front three drops out?
Mancini has made it clear, that he favours a 4-3-3 for his nation, and given how well the midfield played, he should not change that. For all the talk of Italy lacking talent, this is a view, that is absolute RUBBISH, as Mancini can mix and match and rotate when possible until he finds his preferred front three. There is optimism within Italy again about the national side, and the different options that Mancini is willing to use are part of that, including a No Striker, No Problem option.