I refused to get too carried away before the opening game. Qualification has been impressive, no doubt. Mancini has developed a system and squad which functions well in every area and buzzes forward with a beautiful chemistry in midfield and plenty of talent in the final third. The side has no real superstars, but the pieces all fit in their places and together very well indeed. I refuse to get too carried away now also, but this was a superb opening game for Italy. One they dominated throughout in possession, shots on goal, fluidity, pressure and the scoreline proved an accurate reflection of this professionally managed dominance.
What was interesting was that Mancini’s system appears to be something not too dissimilar to what Pirlo was trying to implement at Juve. Namely with the back 4, often becoming a back 3. Hence why Spinazzola often appeared more a LM than a LB. And in the first half Florenzi was less often found in the final third than the rear. The reason why this works for Italy and not Juve is mainly coaching expertise but also having the right players in the right roles.
It is not only in defence where the parallels can be drawn for the midfield triumvirate often settled to a double pivot, with Barella moving high and between the lines, mainly to the right to work with Berardi and double up on the Turkish left rear guard. Perhaps Pirlo’s thesis was less innovate than a copy of what Mancini had long been using, just poorly attempted?
On the opposite side, Locatelli would often drift into a covering LB position, allowing Spinazzola to bomb up the flank, which freed up Inisigne.
I stand corrected, by Mancini, as had not looked at the tactical set-up of his side in any detail previously. For I have long ranted of nobody else using the Pirlo model.
My interest in qualification is simply to qualify. Friendlies offer very little barometer, especially on the eve of a tournament, yet now the games have started, we get to see everything in more detail, when the competitiveness is amped up to peak.
We were in the ascendency from early doors. With Turkey playing ever so deep, seemingly content to pack the middle with 8 behind the ball and block out any inroads attempted into their 18 yard box, whilst offering very little in the opposite half through aiming long for the veteran Yilmaz, whose 16 goals in Ligue Un go some way to showing how weak their league is. He was never going to trouble Chiellini and Bonucci, without pace and rarely supported.
Chances were created in the first half, with Immobile, Insigne in particular and Chiellini threatening. And the pressure was building before the whistle went for the interval.
Mancini sent on Di Lorenzo for the second period and within minutes the Napoli flying fullback had been mangled then found himself driving into the final third. The game was opening up, as Turkey also looked to try advance with more zeal lengthening the first half tightness of the defence meeting the midfield, opening up plenty of space for Italy to exploit.
The own goal for Demiral was unfortunate. Little he could have done to avoid the deflection of the ball into his own net, as he had Immobile right behind him so had to be in that position. A nightmare situation for the young Juventino.
The goal added wind to the sails of Italy and forced the Turks to try harder to get men forward. Which played into our hands. And soon led to the second with Spinazzola, who was impressive throughout, forcing the save from the keeper whose save fell to Immobile, ultra swift to get to the ball and score his first ever goal in a major tournament for Italy. Which we hope will blossom his confidence going into the next game.
The third goal came from a goalkeeping error, poor distribution, but the pace at which Italy moved the ball between four players for the crisp curling trademark finish from Insigne was impressive, beautiful to watch and the sign of a team cohesive, confident and deadly if presented with any hint of a gift.
We will know if this was more a weak Turkey or a brilliantly strong Italy soon enough, when seeing the group fixtures unfold. However, this was am encouraging performance from La Nazionale. It brought pride, excitement, elation and Mancini rarely looked anything but steely and often bothered. No crazed celebrations, he knows this was a must win game, and the first of many must win games.
A shame to see Chiesa not appearing until late, yet Berardi was superb throughout. And amusing to see Freddy B make his cameo, which consisted of getting elbowed in the face and a driving run forward when he passed direct to a turkish defender when in a great position, the recipient of his misplaced effort to connect was miles away from the nearest italian. Same old freddy!
What struck me most of the performance was the solidity, cohesion and fluidity of the side, all produced with an attacking thrust, the side constantly on the front foot looking to build from the back and move the ball forward at pace.
Unsure if Chiellini will play the next game, he will need to be carefully managed due to his old muscles prone to injuries, yet if he feels fine, then I expect to see the same back line appear against Switzerland. Would be great to see Chiesa start, but I have great faith in Mancini and Berardi is the one player from Italy who I have an inkling could well prove the wild card star IF we get moving through to the latter stages. This is not assured. Wales have Bale, who on his day can score against any side on the planet. They also have great spirit and some other gifted players. Switzerland are tough, hard to beat, but then again, Turkey had only conceded three in all of qualifying…before they faced La Nazionale.
Criminal to learn this was the first time we have scored more than two goals in any previous game in the EUROS.
I am making no predictions. It is just one game. We may well have been simply better prepared, more confident, or our system put Turkey into turmoil. And the defence will assuredly face far better attackers beyond a 35 year old lone striker with his team sitting too deep behind him to offer any serious threat. Also, we will not get as many chances to score against better opponents. Far tougher tests to come.
I have not felt this good as a passionate fan of Italy for many years.
It is very early days, yet so far, so good…
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