There was something awfully familiar about the sight of Leonardo Spinazzola tearing down the left wing of the Stadio Olimpico pitch – except this time he was in a red shirt, not a blue one.
Spinazzola’s dazzling start to Italy’s triumphant Euro 2020 campaign shouldn’t be forgotten, although if it was up to the defender, that’s exactly what we would do.
“The Euros is in the past, let’s not keep talking about it. I train every day to be in my best shape, sometimes it works and others it doesn’t,” Spinazzola said after creating both goals in a 2-0 win against the Austrians.
The left-back hit the peak of his powers at just the right moment in the summer of 2021, putting in stunning performances during Italy’s group games in Rome before playing a pivotal role in the last 16 win over Belgium, where he notched an assist.
It was heartbreaking when the defender – aged 28 at the time – ruptured his Achilles tendon in the quarter-final win over Belgium, ending a wonderful individual tournament performance and heralding a lengthy recovery time.
“He didn’t deserve that, he has been one of the best players of this tournament and he will still be even if he can’t play in the next games,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said afterwards.
Spinazzola’s attacking attributes especially caught the eye at the Euros – his boldness and willingness to take on defenders one-on-one and his creativity and threat in the final third.
What could have been the tournament to launch him to a new level instead ended up setting him back.
A long way back
The former Juventus and Atalanta man had to sit out almost all of Jose Mourinho’s debut season in Rome.
He finally recovered in April 2022 but only made his first Serie A appearance of 2021/22 in May, featuring in the final three matches of the season.
He did at least get a cameo appearance from the bench in the Giallorossi’s Europa Conference League final win over Feyenoord, giving him the chance to participate in the final of a successful cup run after being so cruelly denied that opportunity with the Azzurri.
This season has been a slow burner. Spinazzola has featured regularly when available, but he has gone in and out of Mourinho’s starting line-up as he struggles to get back to his previous heights, while two spells out with injury disrupted things further.
But this week, Spinazzola has shown perhaps the most promising signs yet that he’s ready to return to his previous levels.
A decisive week
It was the wing-back’s inventive flick that set up Ola Solbakken for Roma’s 1-0 win over Verona on Sunday, and he and the Norwegian striker came out as the top-ranked players in the pagelle bulking up the national sports dailies the following day.
But Spinazzola took things to another level against Salzburg. It helped that Mourinho had clearly instructed his men to set out with an intensity and aggression that isn’t their usual calling card, but which suits the wing-back’s game.
Roma had a lead to overturn, and it was thanks to their flier from Foligno that they did.
Not once but twice, he destroyed his man for pace, bursting into space down the left flank before picking out an opponent in the box – first Andrea Belotti, who couldn’t miss, then Paulo Dybala, who doesn’t.
It was exactly the kind of electrifying running threat that characterised his performances at the Euros 18 months ago.
Romanisti will now be keeping their fingers crossed that the best version of Spinazzola is back for good after a season of chopping and changing in the wing-back roles.
Because when he plays like this, he’s hard to stop. Just ask poor Salzburg.