Inter And Napoli Head Towards Europe After Very Different League Results.

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The photos above are of the last time both Inter and Napoli won in Europe, and both will be need special performance like those in Madrid and Stuttgart tomorrow night if they are to progress in Europe.

Inter vs PSV :

Football Club Internazionale have won Europe’s most prestigious trophy three times, in 1964, 1965 and 2010, however, their participation past the group stage of this year’s competition is not entirely in their hands. Simply put, they need to better Tottenham’s result, who play away to Barcelona at the same time.

The Neazzurri however are heading towards Tuesday night having lost to biter rivals Juventus in the Derby D’ Italia by one to nil. Their performance was decent, but not great, as they missed a few guilt edge chances, that could have potentially given them an outside chance of a Scudetto challenge. However, following manager Luciano Spalletti’s fatal error of taking off the in form Matteo Politano and bringing on the out of shape Borja Valero, they fell apart.

Spalletti was rounded and rightly cristicised for his substitution, although he has defended it by saying “He needed Valero’s characteristics at that point in the game.” With the Serie A now out of reach, all attention turns to Europe, and he must find a way to at least make it out of the group stage, otherwise questions will be asked of his position at the club.

Latest reports are that he will re-unite the successful Stefan De Vrij-Milan Skriniar center back pairing, however, there are big questions about his midfield. Valero was a good player, now he is just a liability, but given that both Joao Mario & Roberto Gagliardini are not on the European roaster, the former Roma manager has little choice, but to start the former Fiorentina player.

At least the usually reliable pair of Marcelo Brozovic & Matias Vecino should be there to cover for the Spaniard. That leaves the front three, expected to be captain Mauro Icardi, flanked by Politano and Ivan Perisic, to create and score the goals, although, I have a feeling that Keite Balde will have a roll to play at the Guiseppe Meazza.

The Dutch 1988 European champions for their part are out of Europe all-together, so they will just try to play spoiler and with former Milan man Marc Van Bommel at the helm, he may just see this as a sort of personal Derby della Madoninna.

The real problem for il Biscione, is that should Spurs beat Barca, they will go through, no matter what Inter do, based on a better head to head. Barca manager Ernesto Valverde has stated that Barcelona will play to win at the Camp Nou, but also said that he would rest “some” players. Who exactly those players are, and if in includes a certain Leo Messi is another matter.

Despite Valverde’s words, I personally see a troubled night for Inter, and that lack of being pro-active at the game away to Spurs at Wembley could very well be their undoing.

Liverpool vs Napoli :

Unlike Inter, the Partenopei had a stroll in the park as their comfortably took care of Frosinone by a 4-0 scoreline, and they barely had to get out of second gear to do it. They are eight points off Juve in the league, and while is it extremely difficult to see them overcoming that deficit, it is not entirely impossible.

Their manager Carlo Ancelotti loves European competition, and he takes his team into as he put it “the best stadium in the world for atmosphere” cauldron of Anfield. Napoli are in a slightly, and I stress, slightly better position than Inter. Their destiny is actually in their hands, as they know, a win or even a draw will see them through to the knock-out rounds.

Something that Ancelotti said in his press conference before the game that struck me was about his tactics for the game. He said that he wants to “Repeat the first Liverpool game.” When the teams met the first time around, the Campanians dominated the match, but it was not until a Lorenzo Insigne goal very late on did they get their just rewards. Does he intend to play the same attacking way in Liverpool, his words seems to suggest that, however, I expect him to set his team out slight more conservatively.

There is a reason that the Reds have won the European Cup five times, and it is because of having been involved in numerous nights like the one their fans are going to create. Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp is a manager who knows how to play one main way, attack, press and score goals! There are no secrets to the German’s approach and given that Liverpool need to win, that is just what I am expecting them to do at home.

Carletto has a full squad to choose from except Simone Verdi, and he welcomed back the likes of goalkeeper Alex Meret & left back Faouzi Ghoulam, while being able to rest the likes of Dries Mertens & Jose Callejon, both of whom are likely to start Tuesday night. Liverpool also won on the weekend 4-0 and have pretty much a fully fit squad excepting long term absentee Joe Gomez.

Anfield will be rocking, can Napoli handle the pressure?

We are just under 24 hours from kick-off in this final match-day and Inter & Napoli have it all to do….Will both, one or neither qualify???

Damn I love this drama!

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Juventus Juggernaut Ends Inter’s Scudetto Hopes As Super Mario Shows His Worth Again.

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It just had to him didn’t it??? MARIO MANDZUKIC!!!!!

UEFA Champions League Finals….scored

World Cup Final…..scored.

The machine that is former Croatian international Mandzukic continues trucking on, and last night he got the lone goal as the Bianconerri beat their arch-rivals by a single goal to go 11 points ahead of Napoli, but significantly 14 ahead of the Nerazzurri. It effectively killed off any hopes the Lombardians had of a title challenge.

The most significant part of the game also involved players facing their former sides, as it was Joao Cancelo’s cross which Mandzukic met of which he got the better of Gerard Asamoah….You could not had made this up folks!

The game started off as expected with il Biscione taking the game to the home side. It caused Miralem Pjanic to foul Joao Mario to prevent a quick counter, which resulted in the Bosnian receiving a yellow card. Was it eight months to late? Pjanic off-course should have been sent off in the rivals last meeting in April for a foul on Rafinha, but got away Scott free.

Juve were more than happy to bide their time and wait for their moment, while allowing Inter the lions share of the ball. They were almost made to pay for that, with some neat build up play from the three time European winners. A long racking ball out of the back found Matteo Politano, he cut inside and played it into Mauro Icradi, who held up the ball and waited for support which came from Roberto Gagliardini. The former Atalanta product just had the keeper to beat, but his shot hit the post, which was rather scuffed.

The Piedmont club don’t give you many chances, and Inter would live to regret that miss…..and the teams ended scoreless at the half.

On resumption, it was again Inter who created the better chance and again, they failed to convert. An uncharacteristic mistake from Blaise Matuidi near his own goal, allowed Icardi to play it to Politano, but the former Sassuolo man shot was nervously hit, and Leonardo Bonucci cleared.

Two chances created by Inter, no goals, we ALL know what happens don’t we?

Juve finally heeded the warning, and started pressing La Benameata back further, and Paulo Dybala missed a chance when Joao Miranda failed to clear his lines, and the Argentine hit his shot over the bar. Despite the intensity, of the match, it was played in a good spirit, although, the referee gave out three bookings in the space of three minutes to Juve’s Rodrigo Bentancur and Inter’s Croatian stars Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic.

A key moment of the match took place, as Inter boss Luciano Spalletti took off Politano, who had been his best player all night,and brought on the woefully past his best Borja Valero. That gave Juve the advantage in my opinion, because while Politano was a constant concern for them, Valero was never going to be influential.

Less than 10 minutes later, it proved so as the seven time defending champions took the lead. It was the ironies of all ironies, as former Inter player Cancelo whipped in a cross, and Mandzukic basically out-muscled former team-mate Asamoah to head the ball past a hapless Samir Handanovic in the Inter goal.

The Lombardians were punished for their earlier misses and there would be no way back for them.

Spalletti throw on the likes of Keita Balde and Lautaro Martinez and the latter had a chance late on to equalise, but as was the case whole night for his team, he failed to covert. There is no team that can kill off a game better than La Vecchia Signora and they duly saw off Inter with ease.

Both teams now concentrate on their European ties, with Juve trying to confirm top spot in their group playing away to Young Boys, while Inter must better Tottenham’s result when they host PSV.

Juve can still win the treble, while if Inter go out of the Champions League, their season could come crashing down and we are only in December.

Juventus And Inter Meet In The Derby D’ Italia In A Friday Feast Of Football.

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Juventus Football Club vs Football Club Internazionale…..the Bianconerri vs the Nerazzurri…..Le Zebre vs il Biscione…..Few rivalries in world football matches this clash in Calcio!

They are the two most supported teams in Italy, and conversely, the two most hated!

The term itself “Derby D Italia” alone tell us all we need to know whenever these sides meet. It was coined by famous Italian sports journalist Gianni Brera back in 1967 to describe the rivalry. At the time, these were the two teams competing for the major honours in Italy.

Overall, they have met 238 times, with La Vecchia Signora winning 108 times to La Beneamata’s 73, while on the trophy count, it’s again the Piedmont side leading, with 65 to the Lombardians 39. Off-course those numbers change according to who you ask, with the contentious Scudetto of 2006 still carrying hot debate 12 years later.

The intensity of the Derby really kicked off in 1961, with a pitch invasion in Turin! At first, the Italian FA awarded the win to Inter, but later changed their decision and ordered a replay. Inter President Angelo Moratti was furious, citing favoritism  towards Juve, influenced by the powerful Agnelli family, who have owned Juve since 1923, and still does to this day.

In protest, the away side fielded a youth team, got thrashed 9-1 and it has fueled the resentment and bitterness ever since. Further incidents, in particular “the Ronaldo penalty” in the 1997-1998 season, when Juve defender Mark Luiliano appeared to have fouled Brazilian striker Ronaldo in the box, the referee Piero Ceccarini awarded nothing, and instead on the counter-attack, gave the home side a penalty for a foul, which was subsequently missed by Alessandro Del Piero.

Below is an image of the controversial moment, but you need to see the video to understand what really happened.

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This incident had repercussions off the pitch as well, as there was a heated exchange in the Italian parliament! For the last 20 years since then, there have been other clashes whenever the two rivals meet, with the Calciopoli scandal of 2006 causing a definite rise in the tensions…..Last season, in the two clubs last meeting there was a true match of what this rivalry represents…

The match was played at the Guiseppe Meazza and Inter were chasing a UEFA Champions League spot, while Juve were trying to hold off a spirited charge of Napoli for the Scudetto. Juve led 1-0, then Inter came back to lead 2-1 themselves, and the key moment of the encounter took place, as Juve midfielder Miralim Pjanic karate kicked Inter player Rafinha, which should have resulted in a red card, however, the referee awarded nothing!

The two time European champions eventually came back to win 3-2 with an almost last minute goal from Gonzalo Higuain….Following the match, the accusations of Juve “cheating” reared it’s head again, and the committee of the officials admitted that Pjanic should indeed have been sent off….In the end, both teams did achieve their objectives, as the Bianconerri won their seventh straight Scudetti and the Nerazzurri qualified for Europe’s most prestigious competition with a dramatic last day win over Lazio in Rome.

So here we are on the verge of another Derby and the stakes as usual are very high!

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The match will be played at Juve’s Allianz Stadium on Friday night. The league leaders currently have an eight point lead in Serie A over their nearest challengers Napoli, with Inter a further three points back. If Inter are to even contemplate a Scudetto challenge, they must win tomorrow night, whereas a Juve win, will take them closer to an eighth straight title, leaving only the Partenopei to carry on the fight with Juve.

At play as well, is that both teams have important European ties to consider. Inter are at home to PSV on Tuesday, while Juve travel away to Young Boys, with both teams needing wins but for different reasons. An Inter win and Tottenham dropping points versus Barcelona means they qualify for the knock-out rounds, while Juve need to win to ensure they finish atop their group above Manchester United.

The team’s selection will also be rather different, as Juve’s managers Max Allegri has constantly changed both formation and tactics, although he has stuck with more of less a settled core of seven or eight players since the start of November, will he be tempted to throw a spanner in the works to throw off his counterpart Luciano Spalletti?

We should not be surprised if he does…..

On the other hand, Spalletti, has gone with his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation with captain and star striker Mauro Icardi as the focal point.

The home team’s biggest injury doubt right now is Rodrigo Bentancur, as the Uruguayan is suffering with a back injury, just as when he has begun to establish himself in the Old Lady’s midfield. However, on the positive front, German international Emre Can is back in the squad and he should be available. Allegri has stated that the European game is more important than the Derby, so I don’t expect him to take unnecessary risks as they have such a big lead in the league.

Also, he is expected to stick with the three up top of Cristiano Ronaldo-Mario Mandzukic-Paulo Dybala who have started combining very well since the Croatian came back from injury a month ago.

The biggest questions facing Spalletti is his midfield and on the right of the attack. Radja Nainggolan is injured, so does he take a risk and play Joao Mario or put back Matias Vecino in the middle, who started on the bench in the Nerrazzurri’s last game versus Roma? Given his performances in big games, I expect Vecino to get the nod. The other dilemma is Matteo Politano or Keite Balde? Both new recruits have had their positive moments recently, so either should do well whoever the former Roma manager chooses.

Onto the tactics…..

Neither manager are known for their attacking gung-ho approaches unless they really have too, so how do each manager set their team out to play?

One would think that Inter being 11 points back, that Spalletti should be the more attack minded of the two on Friday night, while Allegri, will be more than happy to take a cautious approach and give nothing away. This is where Inter’s front three vs Juve’s backline will be key. Icardi along with Ivan Pericic and Balde/Politano would be expecting to press the home’s teams defense.

Juve’s back-line will have to play the ball out quickly to the midfield and their wing-backs, expected to be Joao Cancelo and Alex Sandro, will have to play their part as well. When Juve ball the ball up, expect Dybala to drop back and act as a number 10, and look to thread the ball to the quick running Ronaldo or Mandzukic to hold up the play and await support.

Inter’s back-line especially Danilo D’Ambrosio and former Juve player Kwadwo Asamoah will have their work cut out for them trying to hold off the quick counters of Juve. When Inter themselves attack, they can’t afford to leave Icardi isolated up front, and that is where Perisic and the support from midfield will influence this game.

Juve don’t give teams many chances in particular in Torino, and whatever they do get, Inter will have to take advantage, while Juve have been clinical as usual in Serie A this season. When Juve get a chance, they take it!

We are just over a day away from the first Derby D’ Italia of the season, and who knows, it could be the first of six times the old rivals meet this season, if we throw in the potential of them coming up against each other in the Coppa Italia and in Europe.

Whenever, wherever they meet, tension, passion and drama is guaranteed.

Juventus’s Difficult December Is Off To A Flying Start As They Pass Their Tuscan Test Versus Fiorentina.

The seven time defending champions came, saw and conquered.

Juventus Football Club is disliked all over Italy, as there are the club you either love or hate in Calcio, and few places they are loathed as they are in Florence.

From the Scudetto showdown that was controversially won by Juve in 1982, to the double incidents of 1990; the UEFA Cup final & THAT Roberto Baggio transfer that set off riots in the streets of the city to the more recent transfer of Federico Bernadeschi. When the Bianconeri comes to town, it is not just a football match, it’s a city wide event.

Unfortunately though, we saw a few and I stress a few Viola tifosi took those feelings way too far!

In the hours leading up to the clash, some “fans” decided to mock tragedies that Juve had experienced previously….They mocked the 39 people who died at the Heysal stadium disaster back in 1985 before the European Cup final versus Liverpool. In addition to which making reference to the car accident that claimed the life of Juve & Italy great Gaetano Scirea, who died in Poland when he was on a scouting mission for the club.

In contrast to which, the current captain Giorgio Chiellini laid a reef at the Curva Fiesole as a mark of respect for former Viola skipper Davide Astori. No matter how strong the rivalry there may be, no matter what has happened between the two clubs, there is ZERO tolerance for that type of behaviour in sport or in life and the people that wrote such disgusting things, must be condemned in the strongest possible terms!

When the game started, it was the home team that took the initiative, as in just the 3rd minute of play, a rasping shot from Marco Benassi flew just past the top right hand corner of Juve’s goal. The two time European champions heeded the warning, and started taking more control of the match.

It paid dividends as they opened the scoring at the half hour mark through rising star Rodrigo Bentancur. The Uruguayan played a lovely one-two with Paulo Dybala, cut inside the home team’s defense and placed the ball into the bottom left hand corner of Alban Lafont’s goal.

The 1961 European Cup Winners Cup winners, reacted and were nearly level a few minutes later. A cross whipped in evaded the defense of the away side, but first Benassi and Giovanne Simeone failed to score from point blank range. Juve got off the hook there, and they don’t give the opposition many chances, so La Viola boss Stefano Pioli would have been hugely disappointed, that the chances went a begging.

The first half ended with that solitary strike.

Juve sat back slightly at the start of the second, and Fiorentina went on the attack, however,just like in the first, their finishing was woeful. A cross into the box went straight to Simeone, and for some unknown reason he left it while inside the 18-yard box, and it eventually found it’s way to Brazilian Victor Hugo who knew nothing about it when it hit his left foot.

Soon after Juve punished Fiorentina’s lack of a cutting edge by doubling their lead. Former player Chiellini put a sliding shot towards goal, it somehow looped over Lafont and with Cristiano Ronaldo having the attentions of two defenders, the ball trickled into the net.

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Just 10 minutes later, La Vecchia Signora compounded Fiorentina’s misery by adding a third from the penalty spot. Edmilson handled the ball after it had been played in by Mario Mandzukic and Ronaldo stepped up and converted for his 10th goal in Serie A. By going into double figures, the Portuguese becomes the first player since Welshman John Charles in the 1957-1958 season to reach double figures in his first season in league play.

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There were a slew of bookings late on, but truth and in fact, the match was physical without ever becoming dirty. There was also still time for 18-year old striker Moises Kean to get some minutes as well as Bernadeschi to play again on his return. Another one sided match for the most part ended in typical fashion, with the league leaders running out comfortable winners, while Fiorentina’s young team have to learn fast if they are to stop their rut of the last two months.

This match marked the start of a difficult run of fixtures for Juve…..

They play two Derbies in the next couple of weeks, as they host Inter in the Derby d’Italia and then travel to Torino to play the Derby della Mole. These are followed by clashes with Roma, Atalanta & Sampdoria, in what is their most difficult run of fixtures this season in their hunt for an 8th successive Scudetto.

They came through their Tuscan test with flying colours and unless they have a complete meltdown in December, they can virtually seal another Serie A success before the new year.

Juventus’s Difficult December Is Off To A Flying Start As They Past Their Tuscan Test With Ease.

The seven times defending champions came, saw and conquered…..

Juventus Football Club is disliked all over Italy, there are the club that is either loved or hated, and few places they are loathed as much as Florence.

From the Scudetto showdown that was controversially won by Juve, in 1982, to the double incidents of 1990; the UEFA Cup Final & THAT Roberto Baggio transfer that set off riots in the streets to the more recent transfer of Federico Bernadeschi. When the Bianconerri comes to the Tuscan city, it is not just a football match, it is an event that the entire town feels strongly about.

Unfortunately though we saw those feelings taken too far by a few La Viola tifosi.

In the hours leading up to the game, they wrote some graffiti close to their stadium…..

It is basically mocks the 39 people that were killed in the Heysel Stadium disaster before the European Cup final in 1985 versus Liverpool and also the death of Bianconerri legend Gaetano Scirea, who was killed in a car accident in Poland while on a scouting mission for the club. In contrast to which, the current Juve captain Giorgio Chiellini laid a wreath as a mark of respect for former Fiorentina captain Davide Astori, who died earlier this year.

No matter what has happened between the clubs, there is ZERO reason for this type of behaviour in sport or in life and the people that wrote such disgusting things, must be condemned in the strongest possible terms!

When the game started, it was the home team who started brightly, as in just the 3rd minute of play, Marco Benassi hit a rifled shot that flew just past the top left hand corner of Juve’s goal. The two time European champions heeded the warning, and started gaining more control of the match, although not entirely as they would have wanted.

However, their measured approach paid dividends, as they opened the scoring at the half hour mark through rising star Rodrigo Bentancur. The Uruguayan played a lovely one-two with Paulo Dybala, cut inside the home’s teams defense and placed the ball into the bottom left hand corner of Alban Lafont’s goal.

The 1961 European Cup Winners Cup champions reacted and were nearly level a few minutes later. A cross whipped in from the right side evaded the entire Juve defense, but first Benassi and then Giovanne Simeone failed to score from point blank range. Juve got off the hook there, and they don’t give away many chances, so La Viola boss Stefano Pioli would be hugely disappointed, that the chance went begging.

The half ended with Juve leading by that solitary strike.

Juve sat back slightly at the start of the second half, and Fiorentina went on the attack, however, just like in the first, their finishing was woeful. A cross into the box from the left went straight to Simeone, who for some reason left it be, and it found it’s way to Brazilian defender Victor Hugo, who completely scuffed the shot, and he failed to make proper contact, and the chance was gone.

Soon after Juve punished Fiorentina’s lack of a cutting edge up front, when Chiellini doubled their lead. The former Fiorentina player put a sliding shot towards goal, it looped over Lafont and with Ronaldo occupying a few of the Fiorentina defenders, the ball trickled into the net.

Just 10 minutes later, La Vecchia Signora added to their advantage from the penalty spot. Mario Mandzukic played the ball and it hit Edmilson on the arm, and who else but Ronaldo stepped up and converted, with a ferocious shot into the top corner.The Portuguese was given a yellow card for kicking the ball away, but he probably would not have cared much.

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There was a slew of bookings late on in the encounter bringing the total up to nine for the match, but truth and in fact, it was a physical game, without ever becoming dirty. The match petted out after, and there was still time for Juve to give 18-year striker Moises Kean a few minutes on the pitch.

Another one sided match for the most part ended in typical fashion, with the Bianconerri running out relatively easy winners, while Fiorentina’s young & talented team, have dropped off significantly in the last two months.

This match marked the start of a difficult runs of fixtures for Juve…..

They play two Derbies in the next two match-days, as they host Inter in the Derby d’Italia and then travel to face Torino in the Derby della Mole. These matches are followed by games versus Roma, Atalanta and Sampdoria, in what is the league leaders most difficult month so far this season on the road to them claiming a record extending 8th successive Scudetto.

They came through their Tuscan test with flying colours, and unless they lose all the rest of their fixtures in December, they can virtually seal another Serie A success before the new year.

Has Roberto Mancini’s Italy Tenure Been A Success So Far?

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Like all new employees, Roberto Mancini would probably had a six month probationary period as well, so how has he done so far?

Nine matches played, with a record of three wins, two losses and four draws, might not seem like a great return, but considering where Italy were just over six months ago, Roberto Mancini has done very well.

Speaking yesterday after Gli Azzurri’s 1-0 win over the USA, Mancini said “We are in line with where we are expected to be at this stage, perhaps doing even better, as the team is playing very well”.

Clear, concise and correct were the words that sprung to my mind after the press conference.

The former player turned manager, was clear about where he wanted his country to be, he was concise in stating the goal in as simply a way as possible and he was correct that the team was indeed playing well.

From the very second the former Inter manager took over, he set his stall out for the four time World champions to play in a 4-3-3 system.

He wanted his Italy to play in a modern way, playing out from the back, quick intricate passes, exploiting in and all spaces, creating chances and scoring goals.

The last part has not come as of yet, as Italy have scored just the eight goals in those nine matches. However, that Mancini has this team of young, hungry and exciting players, playing a brand of the game that is attractive on the eye and even the most harshest of critic of Calcio can appreciate, is a victory in itself.

Forget Catennaccio, forget playing for a 1-0, forget the old time Italy of only keeping things tight and hoping to create one moment of genius from a Rivera, a Baggio, a Totti etc…

This is the new modern Azzurri and it is fun to watch!

Oh and by the way, they have kept three straight clean sheets, so not only are they a joy to watch going forward, they are still keeping with the traditions of stout Italian defending.

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It is at the back, where I will start…..

Gigio Donanarumma is right now the clear number one, while Salvatore Sirigu and Mattia Perin have held their own when called upon. However, the concern for Perin is that he is not playing at Juventus, being second in line behind Wojciech Szczesny, and that led to him being dropped for the last two games versus Portugal and the USA.

The defense seems set with Christian Biraghi-Giorgio Chiellini-Leonardo Bonucci-Alessandro Florenzi. However, the reserves are not too far behind, with the likes of Alessio Romagnoli, Francesco Acrebi, Emerson Palmieri all being reliable options off the bench. There is still also Mattia Caldara, Leonardo Spinazzola and Daniele Rugani waiting in the wings as well.

In the middle, in my opinion, the strongest part of this current Italy set up, there are technicians, tactically astute thinkers and grafters.

Marco Verratti, in particular looks like a player re-born, or should I say, the player we all hoped he could become when we saw him at Pescara running riot in Serie B six seasons ago.

His combination play with Jorginho and Nicolo Barella has improved immensely just from the Ukraine friendly, to the Poland and Portugal games in the UEFA Nations League.

But guess what? Jorginho was sent back to his club for a rest, and Sassuolo player Stefano Sensi came into the starting line-up versus the Americans and fitted the team like a glove.

Besides those are Roberto Gagliardini, who is basically the only real “defensive” midfielder in the squad, which says a lot of the type of football Mancini has the team playing. Lorenzo Pellegrini can fit anywhere in a midfield three, while Giacomo Bonaventura will be hoping to regain fitness and form after his surgery that will keep him out for a while.

There has been a lot of hype surrounding 18-year old Brescia prodigy Sandro Tonali, and although Mancini did not give him his debut, the experience he would have gained in the set up should help him going forward.

Now, we go onto the attack and here is where Italy have the make the most improvements, not in the play itself, but in their proliferation in front of goal.

As Mancini is using one out and out striker, flanked by two wingers, the Azzurri striker needs to be clinical, and that has been a problem so far. Italy are simply not scoring enough goals!

Mario Balotelli, Andrea Belotti, Simone Zaza, Ciro Immobile, Kevin Lasagna etc…have all been tried, but none have convinced…..Of the 1968 European champions eight goals, only three of those were scored by the main striker, and two were in the first game versus Saudi Arabia.

Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa, as well as when he is fit, Federico Bernadeschi have all made vast improvements under Mancini’s tutelage. Unfortunately though, they too have not quite figured out their way to goal in a consistent manner either.

Chances are being created, chances are not being taken.

Mancini eluded to this in the post match conference yesterday, saying “It was heading to a 0-0 again…..but that football, there is nothing you can do about it. We had so many chances”.

Mancini, being a former forward himself, would have appreciated the chances that his team were creating, but he knows, that come the really crunch time for Euro 2020 qualifying, those chances need to be taken.

Besides a new modern way of playing, Mancini has been fully prepared to give talented players their chance no matter their age, something that previous managers failed to do, to the determent of the game.

Tonali may not have been given his debut, but another 18-year old, Moises Kean was, and he made an immediate impact yesterday, and he is definitely one that Mancini will look to for the future.

Another, who was given his senior debut was German born Hoffenheim Vincenzo Grifo. The 25-year old came on for Federico Chiesa and like Barella before him, fit effortlessly into the team. That Mancini gave him the iconic number 10 shirt won by so many legends for Italy says a lot about how the manager values him.

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Above, is a picture of Italy’s one and only triumph at the Euros, way back in 1968. Mancini’s tenure is all about emulating those heroes over 50 years ago.

International football takes a four month break until March, as the full focus we be on domestic matters, and I am sure that Mancini will be attending as many games as he can, between now and then.

Not only will he be checking the progress of the main players he has used so far in his tenure, but possible new recruits and even may throw an eye or two on players who have been dropped.

Mancini in my opinion has indeed passed his probation and all connected with the Azzurri have a lot to look forward to in 2019 and beyond.

Italy’s Improved Performances Needs One Last Piece, Is It Time For Kean & Cutrone?

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Looking at the three main sports pages in Italy this morning, the general consensus of the nation’s performance last night versus Portugal was the same…..

Milano based Gazzeta dello Sport :L’Italia C’e Ma il Gol, translation; Italy are there, but the goal?

Roma based Correire dello Sport : Niente Final Four, Ma Col Portogallo La Nazionale Conferma La Crescita, translation; No final four, but Nazionale confirms improvements against Portugal.

Torino based Tuttosport : Una Bella Italia Ma Senza Bomber, translation; A beautiful Italy, but without a hitman.

The somewhat ironic thing about this new Italy under manager Roberto Mancini, is that Gli Azzurri has usually been known for it’s clinical nature in games, while not always playing the most attractive football.

Italy was known for decades at being tight at the back, tough, steely & creative in the midfield, and most importantly, taking it’s chances when they came along up front.

This current team is very pleasing on the eye, so much so, that even people I know who usually look down on the Italian national team, labeling them as “boring, negative & defensive”, have actually enjoyed watching them play.

Former playing and managerial legend Johan Cruyff once said “Quality without results is pointless, results without quality is boring”.

Italy’s quality is there for all to see, but the results are not coming, at least not as of yet.

After the round robin stage of this newly formed UEFA Nations League, the 1968 European champions finished with five points from their four matches. They recorded just the one win, away versus Poland, while drawing two and losing one.

I am not personally a big believer in statistics, but two goals scored in four games is not good enough!

Want more irony? Off-course you do…

The one time Italy won in these four matches, they played without a recognised center forward.

In Warsaw versus the Poles, Mancini started with a trident of Lorenzo Insigne-Federico Bernasdeshi-Federico Chiesa, and it worked wonders.

They constantly exchanged quick intricate passes, their combinations with the midfield trio of Nicolla Barella-Jorginho-Marco Verratti was a joy to see, they changed positions at times which confused the opposition.

That was the best Italy performance since Euro 2016 versus Spain.

That they had to wait until almost the last kick of the encounter to win, through a goal from left back Christian Biraghi was well deserved.

The midfield trio was again superb versus the Euro 2016 winners, and Verratti had probably his best game in an Italy shirt last night. His continued improved understanding with Jorginho & Barella has given Mancini a settled midfield to build the attacks from, while also protecting the defense.

It’s up front that Italy are sorely lacking that cutting edge.

Image result for italy vs portugal getty photos

Italy have tried Mario Balotelli, Andrea Belotti, Ciro Immobile & Kevin Lasagna as that central striker, all with differing outcomes….

Balotelli & Belotti were not good enough, and were subsequently dropped for the last two games, Immobile keeps failing to transmit his Lazio form to the national team and Lasagna has only just started, but did provide the flick on for Italy’s winner versus Poland.

Unless the first two recover their form with Nice and Torino respectively, I don’t see them getting a recall from Mancini, while Immobile openly admitted after the game, that the lack of goals is weighing on him.

The former Torino man has now gone eight games without a goal for his country and he missed two glorious chances against Portugal last night.

So what does Mancini do going forward?

Well, the former Fiorentina, Lazio, Inter & Manchester City manager has a few days to ponder that, with a friendly against the USA in Genk on Tuesday.

Immobile has already been sent back to Rome, and 18-year old Juventus striker Moises Kean has been called up, although he was called up for the USA game even before last night’s draw.

The teenage scoring sensation has made just one appearance for La Vecchia Signora this season, but when he plays for the youth teams, he has been lethal.

At this summer’s Under-19 European Championships, he scored four times as Italy made it all the way to the final, including two in said final. At the Under-21 level this season, he already has two in three games, including Italy’s lone goal in their 2-1 loss to England last week Thursday.

Another option is Patrick Cutrone.

The Milan man, made his international debut in March of this year versus Argentina, but has not appeared since, although he did suffer an injury when called up last time.

He has also been suiting up with the Under-21’s in recent times, but his performances for the Rossoneri means there is no point in Mancini holding him back anymore.

The Como born player already has five goals this season for the seven times European champions, and that too when not being a regular starter.

However, for these two youngsters, stats does not tell half the story….

Kean & Cutrone have elements to their game that has been missing from the national team for some time.

Both are lively, quick, energetic, passionate and they are always on the go hounding the opposition defenders, these are attributes, that don’t appear on the stats sheet, but are vital to a successful team.

Image result for photos of moise kean & patrick cutrone getty images

The Azzurri have made vast improvements under Mancini’s reign so far, and they are playing with a swagger and style that has not been seen for a long time…

All they need now is someone to fill that final piece of the puzzle up top.