Italy will mark their return to the finals of a major tournament by opening their EURO 2020 campaign in Rome on Friday night against Turkey.
It has been a long road to redemption for the Azzurri, who failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But the dismal performances and results under former manager Gian Piero Ventura have now been replaced by Mancini employing an expansive and successful attacking game inspired by his own playing career.
Undefeated Italy in form going into Euro 2020
Currently undefeated, Italy are on a run of 27 consecutive games stretching back to October 2018. The pain of failing to qualify for the last World Cup has been a catalyst to a dramatic change in approach. The desperation of missing out on a place in the finals in Russia has had a deep and dark effect on the Italian game.
But Mancini now has the opportunity to exorcise the ghosts of the recent past. He is on the cusp of delivering a return to the glory days of Italian football when European and World titles ensured they maintained their place as a leading nation through defensive discipline and moments of attacking brilliance.
Italy have played in the World Cup final on six occasions, lifting the trophy four times. The Azzurri have also reached three EURO finals, but their only success in the competition came in 1968. Losing against Spain in 2012, there is a desire in this Italian group to restore international superiority after their long absence from a major tournament was extended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a creative and attacking presence in the successful Sampdoria side of the early 1990s and later with Lazio, it is only natural that Mancini’s calcio identity is evident in his national team. His preferred 4-3-3 formation allows for creative space in midfield, with wide players supporting a trio of attacking options ahead of them.
A modern take on tactical tradition
Mancini has not lost touch with the traditional Italian catenaccio principles of play. In Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, Italy boast a potential defensive pairing of over 200 international appearances. The veteran duo has the experience that allows the midfield the freedom to push forward, with the creative Jorginho integral to Italy’s build-up play in the middle of the pitch.
Italy have a long and proud tradition of producing exceptional goalkeepers. It is young prodigy Gianluigi Donnarumma who currently holds the number one shirt and appears destined to hold on to it for many more years to come. Already a veteran of over 200 appearances for AC Milan, the 22-year old follows a long list of impressive Italy custodians.
Gianluigi Buffon, Dino Zoff, Walter Zenga, Angelo Peruzzi, Francesco Toldo and Gianluca Pagliuca are just some of the goalkeeping names and reputations associated with the Azzurri as Donnarumma attempts to emerge out of their shadows at the highest level. His confident character now sets the tone for the team that plays in front of him.
Mancini’s system is also built for the attacking talent that exists in his squad. Headlined by 2020 Golden Boot winner Ciro Immobile, Federico Chiesa, Andrea Belotti and Lorenzo Insigne means there is no overreliance on one individual to deliver the goals in this team. The strength of this Italy team is very much in the collective unit.
Jorginho, the midfield key for Italy
As an example of how the individuals within the system complement one another, the space covered by Jorginho in the middle of midfield through his energy and footballing intelligence allows the influential Nicolo Barella to play in a wider role. The 24-year old Serie A winner with Internazionale has become a key player for Mancini as a result of this additional freedom.
Tactically, the successful forging together of a system with personnel capable of applying it successfully has been the cornerstone behind the success enjoyed by Italy under Mancini. The psychological damage suffered by their failure under Ventura has been replaced with a belief that has been justified in recent performances and results.
Italy head into the EURO finals with a perfect record in 2021: five wins from five games, 17 goals scored and no goals conceded.
Should they emerge from Group A undefeated, they will extend their run without losing a game to 30 consecutive fixtures. Mancini has surpassed the winning records set by previous Italy managers, but only emulating titles of the past will be of any value when assessing his achievements.
Of course, as in any Italian opera, success this summer may not be without problems and drama along the way. Their ageing defence will need to perform consistently over an intense period of games, while Immobile is yet to mirror his goalscoring prowess for Lazio in Italy colours. Fine margins could be the deciding factor between Italy’s success and failure at Euro 2020.
Phoenix from the flames
There is an inevitable expectation surrounding Italy in the finals of a major tournament, and their story has been defined by eras of success and failure.
Italy now play an open and attacking game while still ensuring they do not throw caution to the wind. This belief is built on more than tradition, and there is a real opportunity for this team to make history through a different tactical approach.
Roberto Mancini has been building this Italian team from the ashes of 2018. His solid foundation has now evolved into a timely blend of youth and experience that is peaking at the opportune moment for Italy.
A victory against Turkey in Rome on Friday night would be a strong statement to the rest of the competition and show that the pain of 2018 has fuelled an intent to put right the wrongs of a painful period in recent Italian football history.