Italy entered the UEFA Nations League A Group 3 with a productive restart atop its group. Roberto Mancini honorably discharged several veterans after Italy’s loss in the Finalissima to Argentina. In turn, Italy’s manager created the opportunity for budding players. Players that, previously, may not receive an opportunity with the national side.
Serie A possesses an unwanted problem. Italian-bred players do not get ample playing time compared to the 1990s. Back then Serie A truly represented Italian soccer.
As a result, players born outside Italy proliferate in Serie A in the modern day. On the plus side, the top four teams in the division perform well in their respective club matches. However, since Italian bred players do not receive enough conditioning amid competition, their development gets prolonged. The Azzurri receive the short end of the stick.
The UEFA Nations League is the perfect opportunity for Roberto Mancini. The former Manchester City and Inter manager can test new lineups within a shape-shifting, tactical approach.
For example, Wilfried Gnonto shows promise for a bright future. Gnonto’s outstanding speed led to his assist to Lorenzo Pellegrini in the opener against Germany. Already, the 18-year-old Ivorian-Italian from Piedmont lit a fuse among Italians as a potential star. But, Mancini prefers to let the youngster focus on his game.
“He’s only 18, and he shouldn’t have too much pressure put on him; he needs to be left alone to develop.”
Gnonto’s stout physiology creates fouls that lead to set pieces since opposing players can easily overpower him with physicality. The Azzurri hope that Gnonto’s development will continue to blossom as he matures into his twenties.
Though absent from the current Nations League, another budding star is Nicolò Zaniolo. The leading goal scorer for Roma ruptured a ligament in the 2020-21 season, sidelining him for 266 days. However, Zaniolo returned to the grand stage. The 22-year-old forward is tall, standing 6’3, and his physicality mirrors former forward Luca Toni. The Fiorentina striker was a member of the Azzurri’s 2006 World Cup team. Recently, Ballon d’Or alumni and Italian legend Roberto Baggio praised Zaniolo as Italy’s future goal-scorer.
Baggio encouraged the Roma star following injuries that mirrored those of Baggio in his career. The Divine Ponytail referred to Zaniolo’s game-winner against Feyenoord when Roma was crowned Europa Conference League Champions.
“The goal he scored in the Conference League Final can only boost his confidence and let him look to the future with less pressure.”
Italy has another standout striker who slowly rises above the ranks: Gianluca Scamacca. The 6’5″ forward born in Rome mirrors the likes of Christian Vieri. Vieri also stood tall and bold for the Italians in his career. As a 23-year-old, Scamacca scored 34 goals in his senior club career with primarily Dutch and Italian teams.
The Azzurri seem to be brewing the idea of a future Scamacca/Zaniolo dynamic duo on the front lines. The two forwards stand like skyscrapers against the opposition. With tall defenders on their backs, Scamacca and Zaniolo’s matching statures can prove effective in their ability to receive passes in limited spaces. Additionally, tall forwards typically have a superior back-to-goal game. They can turn-and-shoot in tight areas around the six-yard box.
Italy and its Nations League restart
Italy’s 1-1 draw with Germany on Matchday 1 was an impressive feat. Moreover, Italy’s win against Hungary on Matchday 2 in the Nations League displayed Lorenzo Pellegrini’s playmaking.
The Roma captain and his teammate, holding Midfielder Bryan Cristante, have a tangible presence. They show the world what they can do when youngsters with tenacity replace veterans like Jorginho and Emerson.
Lorenzo Pellegrini’s role as a No. 10 proves to be effective in his distribution and creativity on the ball. Moreover, positioning on counterattacks is perfect thus far. He scored the game-winner against Hungary. Nonetheless, 24-year-old Manuel Locatelli from Juventus and 25-year-old Matteo Pessina representing Atalanta are central midfielders coming off the bench. Both Locatelli and Pessina are undoubtedly starting players.
Twenty-five-year-old Nicolò Barella continues to display his prowess as the double 9. Frequently, he plays the false nine as a winger, confusing the opposing team’s defense. However, Barella morphs into his role as a striker with ease. The momentum generated by Barella’s straight shot against Hungary proved to be more effective than the inside foot placement shots easily stopped by goalkeepers. Moreover, Barella’s harmless-looking long balls create dangerous situations against Hungary’s defensive line. Barella’s ability to skin players and cleave through defenders is reminiscent of Roma legend Francesco Totti. The Inter Milan midfielder shows promise for Italy in the next World Cup. Especially since former head coach Marcello Lippi claimed Barella is Italy’s star.
Since Euro 2020, the Azzurri aged quickly in one year. Yet, Roberto Mancini is a man on a mission with a broad range of talented players at his disposal. There’s a fine line between national pride and club success. Perhaps, the FIGC should prioritize their values in next year’s Serie A. Consequently, it helps the expectations of a fifth World Cup.
PHOTO: Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
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