Italy finally are into the Euro 2020 quarter-finals with an extra-time win over Austria, so you’d think coach Roberto Mancini is now aware what his best line-up should be?
Well, think again. Yes, they have won four out of four and yes, they conceded their first goal in 1,168 minutes, but with practically the whole squad enjoying game time, the Azzurri remain a selection mystery.
For the latest edition of Inside Europe we went to our Italian colleague Paolo Pegoraro and there is one thing he is certain about… no matter who the other 10 are, the “dynamic” Federico Chiesa has to start the next game…
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Another surprising starting line-up... does Mancini actually know what his best XI is?

No, he doesn’t, and probably doesn’t want to. With the exception of a few key pillars like Donnarumma, Bonucci and Jorginho, there aren’t any hierarchies on Mancini’s tactical board. Matches against Wales and Austria proved it. Players that we thought were irreplaceable or at least solid starters - like Insigne, Verratti, Berardi – actually under-performed during these last few games. However, the key of Italy’s success lies in good balance of equal talents in the starting 11 coupled with a deep, young bench. Players like Locatelli, Pessina, Chiesa can always step up from the bench and be decisive. At the end of the day, everyone is a starter.

Federico Chiesa looks a superstar in the making. Did his performance prove that he should be in the starting line-up?

I honestly think that Mancini should have started him well before Saturday night. His talent is too bright, he plays with much more intensity than Berardi and together with Insigne he has the best technique. He can be the key to unlock this offense’s full potential (Immobile and Insigne have struggled so far). Unfortunately, Mancini privileged numbers: Berardi is still a better finisher than Chiesa, and scored way more goals this season. Mancini hasn’t conceded that much space for dynamic players like Chiesa, or even Moise Kean (who was let out of the list), but I think he really should think about it.

Who would YOU start with up front in the quarter-final game?

I would start Chiesa-Immobile-Insigne up front. I’m torn between Immobile and Belotti: the scoring instinct of Immobile is far superior to Belotti’s, but Lazio’s forward hasn’t really shown that in the course of the last few games. Belotti struggles to be decisive, but at least is a better fighter. He is more committed towards pressing and aggression, and that should benefit this team.

Austria did get behind the defence on several occasions, will the high press be too risky in the quarter-finals - and more importantly, will Giorgio Chiellini be fit for Friday's game?

We will face Belgium or Portugal: these teams can be deadly once they find the right gaps between our midfield and defence. Obviously Mancini will work on that, against Austria we weren’t as compact as the previous games. Chiellini will probably be available: he returned to training a day before the game against Austria. Him sitting on the bench was just a precautional measure. Friday we’ll face the toughest opponent so far, and his presence will be crucial.

Giorgio Chiellini a Wembley prima di Italia-Austria - Euro 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

Playing Belgium or Portugal will be tough, are there any areas Italy need to improve or change, no matter who they play?

We need to improve drastically up front, especially in the decision-making department. We always miss the last, crucial pass or shot. This is usually Immobile and Insigne’s responsibility, but they have had a tough time so far.

Italy won in the end, but will the performance against Austria damage the confident they had grown in the group stage? With the players and the supporters?

That could be a real possibility. Franco Foda’s side proved that Azzurri can be out-worked. I can see a team like Belgium adopting the same approach. Being away from home and from the fans is a huge factor, too. It won’t be the same Italy against Belgium/Portugal: Austria really damaged us, during the second half we lost confidence in our collective style of play. We qualified thanks to an individual sparkle. So it will be different next time, for sure. Now recovering from 120 minutes of play will be the key. We can’t afford to be physically tired right now.
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