Evaluating the favouritesto win the Euros to predict to consider whether they have a chance of going all the way: Italy
The friendlies have finished; the wait is almost over: the Euros are just around the corner. European football fans are now envisioning the possibility that they will lift the cup in a month confirmed their nation as the best side in Europe. Greece winning Euro 2004 highlighted that any side can win the competition.
The 16th Euros is set to be an unusual one. The world is wrapped in the Covid crisis, limiting travel and attendances to games during a Europe-wide tournament which means that games are played across several nations before concluding at Wembley. The difficulties with Covid should not be disregarded. Football fans, who have been impacted the most due to covid, can have an impact. Two of the biggest examples include Wales’ impressive run in 2016 Euros and the impact of the Icelandic clap. Yet, despite these limitations, the tournament will still begin with expectations on each side in the competition. The Riverside Observer has analysed the 24 national sides in the competition to provide our readers with tournament predictions. To prevent our biases from getting in the way, we have excluded the home nations from the lists.
The teams listed here will not surprise any of our readers as they have been widely touted to be the sides expected to win the tournament. These sides have the best squads, a good balance, a manager, and a tactical system, to help them to the final stages of the tournament.
Nickname: Gli Azzurri (The Blues)
FIFA Ranking: #7
Manager: Roberto Mancini
One To Watch: Lorenzo Insigne
Hot Prospect: Gianluigi Donnarumma
It seems unusual to regard the #7th ranked national team as serious contenders to win the tournament but that is certainly the case with Italy. The Azzurri has not lost a game for quite some time and they look like a good strong side under Mancini. The former Manchester City manager has managed to supply a system that maximises their strengths and limits their weaknesses so they have to be considered as a serious threat.
The goalkeeper is one of the strongest positions in this Italian side as Mancini has three very respectable options between the sticks. Salvatore Sirigu is the most experienced of the options in goal and he is less likely to start between the sticks but his experience across European football during his 15-year career will be invaluable to the two younger alternative options. Gianluigi Donnarumma is the favourite to don the gloves for the first game of the Euros. The 22-year-old has proven that he can compete with the very best so far in his short career and has built a reputation as Italy’s next Gianluigi (Buffon). His club career is currently shaded in doubt as Mino Raiola asked too much of AC Milan who opted for French goalkeeper Maignan as a replacement instead of extending his contract. The uncertainty of his future may play at the back of his mind during the Euros but he will be one of the best goalkeepers at the tournament regardless of whether these issues will be playing on his mind or not. Alternatively, Mancini could opt for the middle option, between the 35-year-old Sirigu and the 22-year-old Donnarumma sits Alex Meret. The 24-year-old has made 81 appearances so far in his Napoli career and he is a very strong traditional goalkeeper but his distribution, a key component of the modern goalkeeper, lacks at times.
Roberto Mancini may choose for relative inexperience in between the sticks but that certainly isn’t the case at centre back. There is no surprise that Italian and Juventus stalwarts Leonardo Bonucci (34) and Giorgio Chellini (36) find themselves within the 26-man squad. The alternatives Rafael Toloi and Francesco Acerbi are also on the wrong side of 30 (30 and 33) leaving just Bryan Cristante and relative youngster Alessandro Bastoni as the only centre back under the age of 30. There is no doubting the quality of these players, particularly the most experienced names in this list, as they have been there and done it at the top time and again. However, the side will have to play a deep defensive line as very few of these defenders have the pace to recover and backtrack should it be needed. Meanwhile, Roberto Mancini has Giovanni Di Lorenzo (27) and Alessandro Florenzi (30) at right-back, typically the more progressive of the two fullback positions. While Florenzi has consistently performed well at the top level of European football, Geovanni Di Lorenzo has spent just 2 years at the top of Italian football, and even though he had an impressive season last time out, it does indicate that this position is lacking in depth. On the other side, Roberto Mancini can choose from Leonardo Spinazzola, a relatively important first-team player for Roma, or Chelsea’s Emerson, a player that has struggled for game time at Stanford Bridge, again indicating that the wide defensive areas are a potential weakness for Italy.
In midfield, Mancini will be relying on Jorginho and Marco Veratti’s phenomenal distribution to instigate quick transitions into wide players that are running at or beyond the oppositions defensive line. While the other midfielders support the side in offensive and defensive areas. The most notable player in this role is Nicolo Barella, the Inter Milan midfielder who has played 36 games for his club this season managing to be directly involved in 10 goals. Meanwhile, Atalanta’s Matteo Passina, Gaetano Castrovilli, and Manuel Locatelli are options that are not to be sniffed at in these roles.
These direct passes from Marco Veratti and Jorginho will be aiming for Italy’s supremely talented wide options. Lorenzo Insigne, the 30-year-old Napoli left winger, will most likely start and will hope to bring his club form, which has seen him score 19 goals and assist 7 more, into the tournament. Meanwhile, on the other side, Mancini will probably favour Football Manager favourite Domenico Berardi, the 26-year-old right-winger has scored 17 goals and provided 7 assists for 8th placed Sassuolo in Serie A showing that his direct style, usually holding a wide position until he reaches the edge of the box, will prove to be a danger for most sides in the competition. Other options in these wide areas, Federico Chiesa, who can play anywhere across the front line, and contributed 9 goals and 9 assists for a comparatively weak Juventus side, and Federico Bernadeschi, who is undoubtedly the weakest option in the wide areas has had an average season for the Old Lady (Juventus).
The Azzurri can also choose from several talented strikers with Torino’s Andrea Belotti, a player on the top of most big teams wish lists only 12 months ago, and Lazio’s Ciro Immobile, who has had a return of 20 goals and 6 assists this season as options to lead the line. Roberto Mancini will most likely nominate Ciro Immobile to start most games but in Belotti, he has an alternative that is also a proven goalscorer. Finally, Mancini named 21-year-old striker Giacomo Raspadori among the 26-man squad. The relatively inexperienced striker was rewarded for his 8 goals in 27 appearances for Sassuolo with his first call up to the national side.
Italy has a very good squad but it does have a few notable weaknesses that other sides will aim to exploit during the competition. The question is whether Mancini’s system orientated coaching will work to limit any damage from these areas on the pitch.
In conclusion, Italy have a serious chance of getting into the semi-finals, beyond that they will be facing teams of a similar quality and the outcomes become more murky. France are the favourites to win the tournament so winning the whole thing will depend on how they line up against the French.
Daily Euros: BBC Football Daily Podcast
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