Finding the right player to lead the Italy attack has been a troubling task for Azzurri coach Roberto Mancini, but early signs suggest that Mateo Retegui might just be the centre-forward that the reigning European champions are looking for.
The Argentine-born forward opened the scoring in Italy’s laboured 2-0 win against Malta in their Euro 2024 qualifier on Sunday evening, taking his tally to two goals in as many games. Thanks to this impressive start for the Azzurri, Retegui will surely be gaining greater attention from Serie A clubs with AC Milan being an early frontrunner.
Given the lack of quality Italian-born forwards available to Mancini, this impressive start from the 23-year-old should mean that the search for a settled striker might be over.
Retegui quickly filling the void up front for Italy
Plucked from obscurity, the Argentine is owned by Boca Juniors, but he is on loan at Tigre and he has scored six goals in eight Argentine league games this year.
Retegui obtained an Italian passport due to having an Italian grandfather, and he has not played in Europe yet, but he has quickly shown that he can fit into the Azzurri squad. Although he was not overly active against Malta, he displayed his ability to get into the right positions, and he headed in Sandro Tonali’s corner to give the Italians an early lead.
Retegui was replaced by Gianluca Scamacca after 66 minutes but he has quickly showed that he deserves to play international football and that he can make a difference for his adopted nation.
Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti failed to produce consistent performances for Italy under Mancini while Scamacca has not played enough for West Ham United to merit a place in the starting line-up. If Retegui keeps scoring, his naturalisation will be further justified.
Italy midfield still needing to be overhauled
For the majority of Mancini’s time as Italy coach, his trusted midfield trio has consisted of Marco Verratti, Jorginho, and Nicolo Barella, but they are not influencing games like they used to. Verratti still has the skills and experience, but Jorginho cannot dictate the play like he used to, and Barella looks lethargic when he plays for the Azzurri.
Although Matteo Pessina scored the second Italian goal, his overall contribution was not impressive and Bryan Cristante is not good enough to control the midfield in the long term. Tonali is clearly the most talented out of the trio that started in Malta but he clearly needs better support.
Mancini needs to look at bringing in the likes of Davide Frattesi and Nicolo Fagioli while also contemplating using Lorenzo Pellegrini in a deeper role. A fit Manuel Locatelli would be an added bonus for the Azzurri.
Mancini’s Italy at their best could play the opposition off the park, but this side is at the crossroads and fixing the midfield is necessary.