Italy boss Roberto Mancini has a puzzle to solve ahead of quarter-final showdown with Belgium at Euro 2020… does he keep faith in his stars or pick his men on form after their instant impact against Austria?
Matteo Pessina compared Italy’s performances at Euro 2020 to a Vincent van Gogh painting after their last-16 win over Austria, and now on Friday we’ll see whether Roberto Mancini is capable of producing a true masterpiece.
Atalanta midfielder Pessina is one of several selection headaches for Mancini as he prepares the Azzurri to take on Belgium in Munich.
Italy do not have players comparable to Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard — at his best — or Romelu Lukaku, but they have strength in depth. Only three of their nine goals have been scored by players who would be in Mancini’s first-choice XI.
Matteo Pessina has put himself in frame to start Italy’s Euro 2020 quarter-final against Belgium
Federico Chiesa is in contention to start too, with both stars having scored against Austria
Ciro Immobile was on target in the wins over Turkey and Switzerland while Lorenzo Insigne also struck against Turkey, but Pessina and Federico Chiesa started last Saturday’s 2-1 win against Austria at Wembley on the bench.
Manuel Locatelli scored twice against Switzerland but he only played because Marco Verratti missed Italy’s first two group games with a knee injury. Both coaches have puzzles to solve ahead of this fascinating quarter-final.
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has the superior individuals but must figure out how to replace Hazard and De Bruyne, both of whom picked up injuries in the last-16 win over Portugal and would only be in contention to return for an eventual semi-final.
Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco are the favourites to deputise against Italy.
‘Kevin and Eden will remain with the squad,’ said Martinez. ‘We won’t get them fully fit for Italy. In the next phase they will be fit to play. We take it day by day, but if we make it to the semi-finals, the odds of them playing are 50-50.’
Manuel Locatelli has also shone, scoring twice v Switzerland after coming in for Marco Verratti
Roberto Mancini has plenty to ponder ahead of Friday’s crunch showdown in Munich
Mancini’s problem is that Chiesa, Pessina and Locatelli — who are flying — don’t slot into his tactical template as effectively as current starters Domenico Berardi, Nicolo Barella and Verratti.
So does he go with form, which would mean starts for at least two of Chiesa, Locatelli and Pessina, or keep faith with Berardi and Barella, who both faded at Wembley before being replaced by Chiesa and Pessina?
The sense is Mancini will make as few changes as possible, with only captain Giorgio Chiellini expected to come in, replacing Francesco Acerbi, as long as the veteran passes a fitness test on the calf injury that has kept him out of the last two matches.
Mancini believes that Italy’s success depends on his players carrying out his instructions to the letter. It is the classic Italian mentality, even if the style of play — an attacking, possession-based 4-3-3 — is a break with tradition.
‘Mancini trusts us and we feel that trust,’ said Chelsea midfielder Jorginho, who has more appearances in Mancini’s reign than any other player.
‘He makes us feel good about ourselves and gives us a big helping hand on and off the pitch. He’s always been close to us through this journey. We’ve got to believe in ourselves.’
Mancini would not admit it, but with De Bruyne and Hazard missing, he will already be picturing a return to Wembley for the semi-finals. Now he must keep a steady hand over the canvas.
Roberto Martinez must figure out how to replace the injured Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne