The Gentleman Ultra writer Richard Hall on Ireland's opponents Italy
From the outset it doesn’t look good. The Azzurri travel to France knowing that their energetic coach is leaving after the tournament.
They are missing several key players in important positions and the recent friendly results were hardly encouraging. The opening game on June 13th in Lyon against Belgium is a tough start and it is soon being followed up with games against Sweden and the Republic of Ireland. The Italian squad looks like it will be a shadow of itself in recent years but the fact that it is forced to be reborn may also make her a threat.
Antonio Conte is clear about his approach at least, he spoke to Rai Sports after his team’s 1-1 draw with Spain and the 4-1 hammering they received from Germany in March and also showed his frustrations. He declared that by then he knew 16 players who would travel out of the 23 that was ultimately submitted for May 31st and claimed that whilst some had gained ground there have also been some that have regressed.
There is one main principle that the ex-Juventus boss insists his players have: Intensity. He wants his team to be fit enough to engage the opponent with a furious tempo exhibited by his superb Juventus side some years back and as he said in the same interview the physical condition will be key when he selects his squad. "If you want to play with rhythm and intensity, you have to have it in your legs, I will evaluate the players at the end of the season and take it from there."
Verratti and Marchisio will miss out. Picture by: Antonio Calanni / AP/Press Association Images
The major problem with this theory is that the Italian side will be made up from players who are coming out of a hard season and what is more, there are those talents who are already ruled out with injury like Juventus' Claudio Marchisio (cruciate ligament), Mattia Perin (anterior cruciate) and PSG's Marco Verratti. The midfield will suffer without Verratti and Marchisio and leaves some staggering options in the center. Daniele De Rossi has been in disastrous form and has slipped in and out of various injuries all season. He may be an outside chance if fighting fit as the other candidates involve Marco Parolo and Thiago Motta. They will hardly instil fear in their opponents.
The fact of the matter as it is that Conte simply doesn’t have the players in the right physical condition to play his system, especially in the middle of the pitch. However, there may be another option. Should the coach change adapt his formations slightly it means he could offer some form players a chance to add that dynamism he so craves. Roma’s Stephan El Shaarawy who has been superlative for the Giallorossi this term and has recaptured his form not since his days in Milan. Another decisive player is Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne who has been devastating in the Partenopei’s Scudetto race and he brings a goal threat as well as a creative force.
England's Harry Kane, top left, and Italys Giorgio Chiellini vie for the ball as Italys Leonardo Bonucci, bottom left, and Italys Graziano Pelle look at them, during the international friendly soccer match between Italy and England, at the Juventus stadium in Turin, Italy, Tuesday, March 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Massimo Pinca)
There are many decisions for Conte to make but it could be argued that his decision to wait until the end of the season may not be as foolhardy as maybe thought. He has taken the back-line of the Juventus Scudetto-winning team and with in the wide areas, the new Chelsea manager could perhaps move the focus away from the middle of the field and simply opt for holding players to break up the play before releasing counter attacks.
It is true that players like Paolo Maldini, Roberto Baggio, Giuseppe Bergomi and Fabio Cannavaro may comment that this Italian side is a shadow of the teams they played in but these are the cards Conte has to play with. Perhaps they shouldn’t be underrated? Perhaps they will manifest themselves in a different way that sees the team not start the tournament slowly only to kick in later on. Perhaps Conte has it right and the team will explode onto the scene offering an intensity we haven’t seen before from the Italians?