In the ever evolving nature of international football, Italy hold an ace up their sleeve in the shape of their manager, Roberto Mancini, who is a strong contender in the conversation surrounding who is the best manager at this summer’s Euro 2020.
Having lifted a nation in shock off the canvas following the humiliation of missing out altogether at the 2018 World Cup, the former Manchester City and Inter Milan boss has inspired a remarkable 25-game unbeaten streak that stretches all the way back to 2018 and a 1-0 Nations League defeat to Portugal.
Yet to dispense with the old guard entirely, Mancini has instead smoothly integrated the bright young talent at his disposal, including Alessandro Bastoni, Nico Barella, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Federico Chiesa, all of whom have now established themselves as key parts for the Azzurri.
While the veteran presence of Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Marco Verratti, Jorginho and even Lorenzo Insigne, who will turn 30 before the tournament starts, bring a wealth of experience to make Italy a serious threat to emerge victorious at Wembley on 11 July.
While the results have certainly appeased most on the peninsula, with a 100 per cent record in qualification to win 10 out of 10 games, Mancio has added a sparkle to this side while retaining much of the Italian DNA.
Predominantly set up in a 4-3-3, Italy are now grasping the initiative in games and imposing their style and personality on opponents, while also providing regular reminders of their ability to lean on their tactical discipline out of possession.
Mancini recently displayed his versatility while experimenting with a 3-5-2 in World Cup qualification against Lithuania, which could become a theme entering the knockout stages.
With just four goals conceded in qualification and no goals conceded in three games on the road to Qatar, Mancini, 56, has found the right balance for this team.
The project has already proven to be a great success with Mancini unable to hide his delight earlier this year at the progress of his team and their ability to “express good football”, adding that he has not worked miracles, but merely afforded opportunities to the next generation, while building confidence in the group.
“It Italy, we have never lacked the players, maybe in some roles in some periods you can have more or less options,” Mancini said. “But the important players have always been there. You just had to give them a chance. The Italian lads are good, you just had to give them confidence and a chance to play.”
European champions in 1968, as well as runners-up in 2000 and 2012, Mancini will be desperate to continue restoring pride to this great footballing nation, with the initial challenge to negotiate a group of Wales, Turkey and Switzerland before the fun begins.
(All times BST)
11 June (20:00): Turkey vs Italy - Stadio Olimpico, Rome
12 June (14:00): Wales vs Switzerland - Olympic Stadium, Baku
16 June 2021 (17:00): Turkey vs Wales - Olympic Stadium, Baku
16 June 2021 (20:00): Italy vs Switzerland - Stadio Olimpico, Rome
20 June 2021 (17:00): Switzerland vs Turkey - Olympic Stadium, Baku
20 June 2021 (17:00): Italy vs Wales - Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Alex Meret (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino).
Defenders: Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson (Chelsea), Alessandro Florenzi (PSG), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Rafael Tolói (Atalanta).
Midfielders: Nicolò Barella (Inter), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), ï»¿Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Stefano Sensi (Inter), Marco Verratti (PSG).
Forwards: Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), ï»¿Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Giacomo Raspadori (Sassuolo).
Ones to watch
Star man: Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)
The spark for Mancini playing from the left of a front three, the Napoli forward has embraced the responsibility and faith given to him from his manager. If the Azzurri are to go far, Insigne, twisting and turning, as well as linking with Ciro Immobile or Andrea Belotti through the middle, will be decisive.
Breakout talent: Alessandro Bastoni (Inter Milan)
A ball magnet with immense anticipation, Bastoni has emerged as a key component to Antonio Conte’s title-winning Nerazzurri side. The left-footed defender, still only 22, will look to establish himself as the heir to Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci with the national team.
Italy to win Euro 2020: 11/1
All the ingredients are there for Italy to go all the way or at least be a tough out for a finalist, with Mancini’s fine balance of experience and youthful confidence, we’ll lean towards the Azzurri bowing out at the semi-final stage.