Inter duo Bastoni and Barella prove importance to Italy’s Euro 2024 chances

Inter duo Alessandro Bastoni and Nicolo Barella showed their importance to Italy in their comeback win over Albania, and perhaps hinted at something that is still to come from the Azzurri at Euro 2024.

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Alessandro Bastoni and Lorenzo Pellegrini celebrate a goal for the Italy Men's National Team at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri]

The Italy Men’s National Team and Albania met for the first time in a major tournament at Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park on Saturday night, and the minnows gave the reigning champions an early scare in their 2024 (Men’s) European Championship Group B clash.

With more than half of the Albania starting XI having played or currently playing in Serie A, the Eagles would have known what they were up against in Dortmund. But few expected them to take the lead after just 23 seconds through Sassuolo attacker Nedim Bajrami.

That the Azzurri, who have rarely – Euro 2020 aside – started this competition strongly, were not just level, but back in control of the game, within 16 minutes was even more surprising.

However, that 2023/24 Serie A title-winning Inter pair Alessandro Bastoni and Nicolo Barella played major roles in a 2-1 win stunned no one.

Dimarco Italy Euro 2024
Italy Men’s National Team defender Federico Dimarco at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri]

Bastoni redemption launches Italy comeback

After the withdrawal from the pre-tournament squad of Inter teammate Francesco Acerbi, 25-year-old Bastoni was handed with the vital task of marshalling the Azzurri defence. He and was quickly called upon to show he could step up for his country, whether Luciano Spalletti chose a back four or five.

With Bastoni and Federico Dimarco to blame for Italy falling behind after their early lapse in concentration, the former could have called for extra care at the back and an additional focus on defensive duties from himself, Dimarco and the inexperienced Riccardo Calafiori as well.

But Bastoni helped set an attacking tone by snapping into tackles and making interceptions high up the pitch. He also carried the ball forward at every opportunity, not allowing thoughts of failure to set in across the team and 10 minutes after Italy fell behind, he was sending a header past Thomas Strakosha to equalise.

Italy Men’s National Team defender Alessandro Bastoni celebrates at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri]

Brilliant Barella bosses it again

Given the relative strength of the opposition, when it was reported that Barella was an injury doubt ahead of the game, most Azzurri fans would have probably brushed the news aside, more concerned with the following encounters with Spain and Croatia.

The Inter midfielder’s inclusion proved crucial, though, and highlighted his importance to the team’s hopes of retaining their trophy in Germany.

No other player within the squad has the attributes of the ex-Cagliari player, or maybe it is that Barella can do so many of the things that others offer separately.

Out on the pitch, the 27-year-old covered for the immobility of central midfield partner Jorginho, the inconsistency of Lorenzo Pellegrini and, when firing home the winner from the edge of the box, the goalscoring touch that Italy have depended on Davide Frattesi for in recent times.

Add the tenacity and ball-winning ability that the above-named trio also lack, and Barella is not just a replacement for Euro 2020 winner Marco Verratti, but a huge upgrade for Italy.

Others must step up to reduce the burden on the Inter man, who ended the game in a more advanced position after the ineffective Pellegrini was withdrawn.

Italy Men’s National Team midfielder Nicolo Barella celebrates at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri_AR]

How will Italy approach the Spain game after Albania win?

With Group B rivals Spain recording a resounding 3-0 win over Croatia before the Azzurri took to the pitch in Dortmund, an Italy victory has possibly changed the approach coach Luciano Spalletti will take into their second game against the group favourites.

While Spain displayed clinical finishing against Italy’s neighbours to the east, they conceded more possession and attempts on goal, and that might encourage Italy to go on the attack in Gelsenkirchen, rather than try to secure a point that would likely secure progress to the knockout stages.

Italy Men’s National Team coach Luciano Spalletti at Euro 2024. [@Azzurri]

In 46 European Championship appearances, Italy average just 1.17 goals per game and striker Gianluca Scamacca did little to suggest he will suddenly spring into life against Spain, so a more pragmatic approach might be appropriate.

However, introducing AS Roma man Bryan Cristante alongside Jorginho to help stem Albanian attacks was not perfect, with a late Donnarumma save on 90 minutes helping secure victory, so Spalletti cannot take anything for granted and risk two defeats and an early exit.

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