Italy Coach Spalletti Is Learning on the Job, and It Shows

It wouldn’t be Italy if there weren’t some drama to make it out of the group stage. It won’t take long to know whether the Mattia Zaccagni gem will ignite the Azzurri or if it was just a flash in the pan in a rather lackluster tournament so far. They had an okay showing versus Albania, where they did the bare minimum, an awful one versus Spain, and only showed a sense of urgency and something interesting offensively with their backs against the wall versus Croatia when they had a host of attackers on the pitch at the same time. Despite the quality of the opponents, an early exit would have been an unmitigated disaster given the formula of the competition.

The Expectations

The premise is that it’d be a miracle for Italy to go back-to-back after winning the Euro twice in 52 years. And, only partially due to some ill-timed injury, the talent gap with the favorites is evident. Still, there are ways and ways things can go. A run can still be positive even without achieving the ultimate goal. It’ll be necessary to rev up in the elimination stage.

While the bracket did break in a favorable fashion, with most of the top teams on the other side, matches against second-tier opponents could paradoxically pose a bigger threat. They might lead to a sense of false confidence the current group hasn’t earned. The meeting with Switzerland is far from a cakewalk.

A Rough and Late Transition

The overarching issue is that Italy is widely in flux, not only between generations but also schematically and selection-wise. Luciano Spalletti was right in moving on from his beloved 4-3-3 in the lead-up to Euro 2024. Most of his players are more familiar and better fits for 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1, the trendiest one in Serie A. His selection heavily hinted at that. Instead, he went backward in the first two matches. The adjustments and the outcome were paltry.

If the plan was to utilize a trident, there should have been at least another winger, preferably a lefty that features on the right, on the roster. Or he should have gone with Federico Chiesa on one side and Mattia Zaccagni on the other. Granted that some footballers aren’t doing him any favors with their subpar showings, it makes little sense to have just one pacey player if the purpose is to have width.

The Corrections

The three-man line should have been and should be the way to go. The regulars who are more used to other formations are numbered. Even those can adapt just fine or even benefit. For instance, Riccardo Calafiori has more liberty to attack as a braccetto. Giovanni Di Lorenzo has been abominable defensively, but he’s less burdened with a man behind him. Perhaps the coach didn’t go all-in because he lost Giorgio Scalvini late. Therefore, the top three defenders are all left-footed. Thankfully, Matteo Darmian can manage wherever you put him.

The growing curve is only natural since Spalletti has been in the dugout for a hot second for national team standards. It’d be unfair to say he has looked out of his depth, but his outburst against the press was totally out of line and a clear sign of nervousness. The courage and desire to pull the strings that the Azzurri generally displayed during his tenure have been nowhere to be found in Germany. That’s the first thing that will have to improve. The downside of a more proactive strategy is there, as the defense hasn’t been shut down despite Gianluigi Donnarumma’s tremendous performances, but the benefits are not yet.

The Way Forward for Italy

It wouldn’t be right to ask the play to get close to the level reached by Napoli in their title-winning season. International football is a different beast entirely; plus, the roster is very different trait-wise. On the other hand, the Italy gaffer has to be the first to come to grips with that rather than desperately holding onto solutions that worked in the past but aren’t currently for whatever reason. He has to be more open to extemporaneous fixes that are very specific to the match-up or just a phase of a match. He must ride the hot hand rather than insisting on some players or principles. The manager needs to be less stubborn and loyal to his lieutenants,some of who have little left in the tank after a grueling season. Ultimately, he must trust his instincts more, even if they could lead to unpopular decisions, because his radar is still working. For instance, Riccardo Calafiori wasn’t a lock to make the squad; instead, he’s been the second-best contributor even though partnering him with Alessandro Bastoni is wonky on paper.

In the end, Spalletti needs to have a better handle on the squad, the scheme, and the level of form/tiredness of his men and act accordingly without getting stuck in his own ways. Hopefully, the Zaccagni goal was the necessary jolt that was missing. While Italy are underdogs, most of the frontrunners have failed to impress and looked even more gassed. Therefore, the door is still open. Perhaps not to win it all, but to go far and head home reasonably satisfied with the showing.

Follow us on Google News for more updates on Serie A and Italian football

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *