The Italian national team hit a nadir towards the end of the last decade, failing to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in 60 years and dropping to their lowest-ever FIFA rank.
But the Azzurri have risen from the ashes of Gian Piero Ventura’s disastrous reign and come into this summer’s European Championships in good shape – which bodes well for their mid-price Fantasy assets.
Head coach Roberto Mancini has overseen a 25-match, three-year unbeaten run, with Italy one of only two teams to come through Euro 2020 qualifying with a 100% record.
Mancini’s troops have since finished first in a UEFA Nations League group that featured the Netherlands, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Poland, and have begun their World Cup 2022 qualification campaign with three wins from three.
And this is a far cry from the defence-first approach of days gone by, with their current manager wanting his side to attack:
“We might have won four World Cups in the Italian way, but the days of playing counter-attacking football are over.
“I like offensive football, I know we have won four World Cups playing in the Italian way, but I think we can play more offensive football today.”
– Roberto Mancini, Febuary 2020
Those comments and the sustained run of form will no doubt appeal to Fantasy managers and we’ll take a closer look at the Euro 2012 runners-up in this our latest team preview.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
Qualification to Euro 2020 was sealed with three matches to spare, with Italy becoming the second team after Belgium to ensure their passage into this summer’s tournament.
Roberto Martinez’s side were the sole nation to score more goals (40) than Italy (37) in qualifying, with Turkey and Belgium (three each) the only two countries to concede on fewer occasions than the Azzurri (four).
Granted, it wasn’t a difficult group and the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina were second seeds says much about the calibre of opposition.
But there were still eye-catching results (3-0 wins in Sarajevo and Athens were praiseworthy) and a 9-1 rout of Armenia on the final matchday perfectly encapsulated Mancini’s front-foot mantra.
ITALY’S EURO 2020 QUALIFICATION RECORD
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
The goalscoring responsibilities were shared out, with 19 different players on the scoresheet and not one member of Mancini’s squad registering more than four goals – and that is a possible downside for Fantasy managers looking for a talisman to pin their hopes on.
Italy should be fairly easy to predict formation-wise, at least, with their head coach opting for a 4-3-3 during qualification and beyond.
The experienced centre-half pairing of Giorgio Chiellini (€6.0m) and Leonardo Bonucci (€5.5m) will be flanked by two forward-thinking full-backs, with a relatively lightweight but undisputedly talented central midfield trio – likely to feature Chelsea’s Jorginho (unpriced) – operating behind the front three.
We’ll delve more into the squad members in the sections below.
ITALY’S MATCHES IN 2020/21
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
Italy’s record in 2020/21 has perhaps put their stroll through Euro 2020 qualifying in some perspective: strip away 6-0 and 4-0 wins over minnows Moldova and Estonia and they’ve only averaged 1.44 goals per match over the last 12 months.
And six successive clean sheets going into the forthcoming friendlies against San Marino and the Czech Republic suggests that a bit of the old Italy still lingers – no surprises, really, with Bonucci and Chiellini still involved.
EURO 2020 QUALIFYING STATS
- Most starts: Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho (9), Nicolò Barella (8), Marco Verratti (7)
- Most goals: Andrea Belotti (4), Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne, Jorginho (3)
- Most assists: Federico Chiesa, Leonardo Bonucci (3), Andrea Belotti, Nicolò Barella, Ciro Immobile, Emerson, Riccardo Orsolini (2)
- Goals scored: 37
- Goals conceded: 4
- Clean sheets: 6
THE KEY TARGETS
Ciro Immobile (€10.0m) ought to be at the forefront of our thoughts based on his club record, with the forward having averaged 24.6 goals per season over his last five Serie A campaigns with Lazio.
But the 31-year-old striker has never really carried his domestic form onto the international scene, with 12 goals – most of them against European also-rans – in 45 caps for his country a modest record at best.
We shouldn’t expect a premium forward to be a rotation risk either but with Andrea Belotti (€8.0m) likely eating into his minutes as a substitute at the very least, the money for Immobile could perhaps be better spent elsewhere over the medium term.
In the short term, however, we will have the benefit of seeing the teamsheets when Italy face Turkey in the tournament curtain-raiser, so with that tie being the only game of the opening day, Immobile could still be in the captaincy conversation on June 11.
There is a bit of uncertainty over the right-wing spot, too, with Federico Chiesa (€7.0m) coming into this tournament off the back of a fine season with Juventus but facing a bit of competition from relative newcomer Domenico Berardi (€6.0m).
Chiesa is the favourite to get the nod and could turn out to be a steal at his price but Berardi, who scored 17 league goals for Sassuolo in 2020/21, has found the net in each of his last three appearances for his country.
So for relative security of starts, we may have to look elsewhere.
Lorenzo Insigne (€8.5m) is perhaps the most settled of the front three and comes into the tournament off the back of a 19-goal season with Napoli, with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo the only player to register more shots than Insigne in Serie A in 2020/21.
The central midfield trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti (€6.5m) and Nicolò Barella (€7.0m) are gifted but limited from a Fantasy perspective, with Barella the pick of the bunch from open play: he was second for key passes behind Insigne in the recent UEFA Nations League campaign.
Jorginho does have one ace up his sleeve, however, in the form of penalties. We might not see quite as many spot-kicks given as we did in the 2018 World Cup but penalty takers could still be worth their weight in gold, with the rate of awards still likely to be above-average.
Alongside the two grizzled centre-backs in defence, Alessandro Florenzi (€6.0m) appears to be a relatively safe starter – but only three Fantasy defenders are more expensive than the right-back, who hasn’t scored for his country since 2015.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma (€5.5m) is nailed and offers clean sheet potential with the odd save point, although averaged less than two stops per match in his last nine competitive appearances.
THE LONG SHOTS
Belotti and Berardi we have already discussed above, with their cut-price appeal offset by the strong possibility of benchings come Matchday 1 – although again, we will get to see the teamsheets before the Azzurri take on Turkey.
That leaves us with the left-back position to discuss and the tussle between Leonardo Spinazzola (€5.5m) and Emerson Palmieri (unpriced).
Both have offered more attacking threat than Florenzi on the other flank, with Spinazzola assisting four goals in just 13 appearances and perhaps now having the edge over the rusty Chelsea left-back given his lack of minutes.
The final warm-up game against the Czech Republic on June 4 could be key in telling us who has the edge, with Emerson set to be a late arrival to the Italy camp because of his club’s involvement in the UEFA Champions League final.
FANTEAM PRICE CORNER
Immobile comes in a tad cheaper in FanTeam at €9.0m, while there is nothing to split Chiesa and Insigne (both €8.0m).
The two veteran centre-halves and Spinazzola are all listed at €5.5m, some one million cheaper than Florenzi, while Donnarumma is only the eighth-most expensive shotstopper at €6.0m.