There was almost no renewed excitement around the prospects of the Italian national team in Naples on Thursday night with a depleted Azzurri squad offering very little against an impressive England.
Roberto Mancini will have been desperate to put the ghosts of the failed 2022 World Cup qualification campaign behind his team with a strong start to the Euro 2024 qualifiers, but with important players out injured, there was a worrying drop in the level of the performance compared to Euro 2020, which seems oh so long ago now.
Italy’s replacements fail to inspire
It is fair to say that Mancini would have liked a different squad on his hands. Not having Ciro Immobile, Giacomo Raspadori, Alessandro Bastoni, Federico Chiesa and Federico Dimarco will have an effect on almost any team.
That being said, the drop-off from a lot of those players is pretty stark. The harsh truth is that even with those players in the team, you can’t confidently say that they’re a side that can challenge for another major honour straight away.
Mancini found himself with a back two of Rafael Toloi and Francesco Acerbi which leaves a lot to be desired and Leonardo Spinazzola on the left who, whilst lively at times, doesn’t represent the future in that position. The midfield looked good on paper but had no real influence until the second half.
Much has been made for years now about the lack of a prolific striker who can do it for both club and country and that was shown again as, whilst he did grab a wee-taken goal, Mancini resorted to Mateo Retegui for his debut at the age of 23, a player that has been plucked from Argentina.
Domenico Berardi was uninspiring on one wing and Lorenzo Pellegrini was pushed to the other, a role that does not suit him best. He proved that when he found himself more central in the second half and cleverly set up Retegui’s goal.
Greenshoots suggest hope beyond Euro 2024
If we try to look for the positives, the main one is that those aforementioned players will be back in the squad when they are fit and that does raise the level. There are also some interesting youngsters that are worth giving patience to.
An obvious one is Wilfried Gnonto who has been enjoying a really impressive Premier League campaign with Leeds United and caused obvious excitement when he was introduced off the bench.
Whilst Retegui could be viewed in time as merely Mancini making a point about the development of homegrown players within Italy, he did take his goal very well. He was largely anonymous beyond that, but it will be interesting to see where his Italy career goes.
The goal did spark Italy into life and coupled with a red card for Luke Shaw, there were some signs that they could grab a point that in the first half seemed unimaginable. It did feel, though, that England could have and should have put Italy to the sword before Retegui got a goal back.
There are still players like Davide Frattesi, Giorgio Scalvini and Gianluca Scamacca who could prove to be very important in the coming years. Beyond those hypotheticals and an improved second half against England, there was not a lot for Italian fans to get excited about in Naples.