Old or new in Italy midfield now Marchisio misses out on Euro 2016?


Holly Thackeray | April 23, 2016

Something old, something new, something borrowed and… something blue? Azzurri and Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio will certainly be feeling that way as injury has ruled him out of Euro 2016.

Italy manager Antonio Conte now faces an engine room conundrum ahead of the France finals, for he must decide who to take to the Euros, and the makeup of the 27-man preliminary roster will be most interesting.

Juve player Marchisio missing out will leave a hole in the middle of the park, after he sustained cruciate ligament damage against Palermo, and his is a royal blue void that former club chief and Chelsea-bound Azzurri national boss Conte must fill quickly.

Ex-Old Lady captain and coach Conte can only take his chosen 23 to the tournament in France after culling four, but Marchisio is not one of Italy’s fringe players that can be easily replaced; rather, he could have been a crucial cog with his box-to-box nous and excellent adaptability.

Conte consideration

It is not as though the Azzurri (13/8 with Coral to win Group E) are short on options, with Conte having experimented with a host of midfield combinations, be they a central two or three in his various flexible formations and their tactical variations.

Still, Marchisio will be be missed and his absence could now force Conte’s hand – will the next Blues boss opt for tried and tested experience above youth? Or throw caution to the wind and pull a surprise card from his pack?

Coral contemplate Conte’s choices and consider which might precipitate Italian success in France, with the host country just one side with a bountiful supply of powerful midfield depth they may face en-route to a potential finale.

Verratti ready for the big time?

Italy (16/1 to win the lot at Euro 2016) are well known for blooding youth a little slower than other nations, with the Azzurri’s approach to, and definition of, youngsters often a little more mature than their continental neighbours.

Take 23-year-old Marco Verratti for example, who is still seen as a prospect after 15 caps and over 150 appearances for regular Champions League contenders PSG. Paul Pogba, by comparison, has almost double the amount of international appearances for Les Bleus at the same age.

True, PSG’s deep-lying playmaker has had injury issues of his own, but isn’t always a guaranteed pick despite his obvious passing talent. Compatriot Marchisio’s slice of unfortunate luck may mean Verratti does start in France, as arguably the midfielder closest to approaching, not past, his physical peak.

Still, the Pescara academy product schemer seems far from a trusted Italy fixture, with coach Conte recently commenting: “Marco is a player with important potential, he must continue with the same desire and passion.

“You can see that he lives for football with passion. He has already excelled technically, he’s also developed physically and has great personality…but he must learn to play vertically and speed up the game.”

Old guard to be called upon?

Which centre backs are fit enough to cross the Alps will have a huge impact on squad selections in other positions, with the most recently deployed 3-4-3 dependent on dynamism from wing back and midfield, with the latter expected to both break up play and instigate attacks.

Roma revelation and Premier League-linked Alessandro Florenzi is mainly fielded on the flanks, with Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian likely occupying the opposite one, as he still curries favour outside Old Trafford ranks.

Flexible Florenzi would be a proposition able to add at both ends of the pitch though if shoehorned centrally, but would be a loss out wide.

So, could this force Conte to ask veteran duo Daniel De Rossi (32) and Andrea Pirlo (37 before Euro 2016) to go to the well of their 2006 World Cup win one more time?

The romantic in every fan and pundit would undoubtedly enjoy seeing the duo act out one last European Championship hurrah. Yet, neither have set the world alight this season for their respective clubs, and with their ages advancing would ideally not be key men anymore, and certainly not played together.

This couple of classy old-timers can still offer something, and Conte certainly knows how to surround pass-master Pirlo with energy to extract the best from him, but it is time for a changing of the guard and to give others a chance to experience a tournament before the 2018 World Cup in Russia rolls around.

Alternative options

Italy have not seen Pirlo or De Rossi take to the field for some time, as everyone already knows what they can do, and fresh faces have been tested – though they are not all youthful.

Brazil-born maestro Thiago Motta (33), of Inter Milan treble-winning fame, has been given the nod of late, but instead of beating Verratti to the spot, Conte could reap profits by bringing that sometimes PSG partnership to the international stage.

It looks more likely to be one or the other at this point, but AC Milan captain Riccardo Montolivo and Lazio’s Marco Parolo (both 31) are others that have been tested as they continue to shine in Serie A.

Motta and Montolivo were the preferred pairing with Parolo also featuring against world champions Germany, when Italy were thrashed 4-1 in the friendly fixture last time out, though admittedly the Azzurri were missing first-choice centre halves and dominant defenders, with Darmian lodged into the back three. Still, it wasn’t the best of omens.

Beware Belgium

Italy’s Euro 2016 pool, Group E, will see the side in royal blue pit their wits against Belgium, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden and it is the energetic Belgians that could pose problems.

If the Italians wish to pip their Red Devils rivals to the post of top spot, with the winner to face a runner-up from Group D comprising of Spain, Croatia, Turkey and the Czech Republic, and the second place side to be pitted against the winner of Group F featuring Portugal, Iceland, Austria and Hungary – they will need to come out tops in the midfield tussle.

The likes of Axel Witsel, Mousa Dembele, and Radja Nainggolan will provide boundless energy and exuberance, so the Azzurri must avoid being run over, which is where some of their younger stars must surely come in, lest there be a repeat of the last 3-1 exhibition loss to Belgium.

Roberto Soriano of Sampdoria fame, now 25, has been in and out of Conte’s selections, but his performances for the Blucerchiati have reportedly caught the eye of ambitious Napoli, so the former Bayern Munich man, actually born on German soil, could still be in with a shout.

Speaking of the Little Donkeys, a potential Soriano switch may see deep conductor Mirko Valdifiori head for the exit with an Italy inclusion for the Euros now highly unlikely.

The 30-year-old was one of Serie A’s impressive performers for Empoli the previous campaign but, after following coach Maurizio Sarri to the Stadio San Paolo he has found minutes, and thus caps, hard to come by.

Valdifiori’s agent said: “I don’t think Mirko is willing to have another year like this. The expectations were something else, and the lad’s situation will be evaluated in June because he came to Napoli to be [a] protagonist, not just make up the numbers.”

Young blood

Back to younger legs, but sticking with Campania club Napoli, it is Brazil-born Jorginho (24) who has shone ahead of Valdifiori in the anchoring role, and thus fallen into favour with Conte, perhaps just in time for Euro 2016.

Having made his bow across the recent international break, the South American of Italian heritage has another round of friendlies in which to stake his claim, though AC Milan’s Andrea Bertolacci could also boast a strong opposition after emerging as a bright spot in the drab Rossoneri season.

A little more of an all-rounder, with plenty of guile but also graft, the astute and intelligent midfielder may actually be the better replacement for man of many talents Marchisio.

Should Conte really fancy a surprise package, however, and raid the Italy Under-21s, he could do worse than looking to all-action Juventus prospect Stefano Sturaro, who may one day fill Marchisio’s boots for club as well as country.

The all-action 23-year-old is yet to taste senior international football though, so is probably the wildest card of the bunch alongside budding Lazio starlet Danilo Cataldi (21), who looks to become another future fixture.

When Italy make their next World Cup assault these young midfielders will likely have had little experience of fighting for international silverware.

Yet, with Conte clearly eyeing end product over youth development as he seeks to leave with a medal in his pocket, he will likely task blooding new faces to his replacement and instead call upon the services of an already proven Pirlo and co. Whether this will inspire the Azzurri we can only wait and see…


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