Despite being in fine form for Marseille and his country lacking other attacking options, leaving Mario Balotelli out of the Italy squad is still the right move
Mario Balotelli’s name is carved forever in the history of the Italian national football team. Forever, and ever. His two goals against Germany at Euro 2012 have gone down in history, and will continue to do so. He is a hero for Italians. But somehow, despite having found renewed form at Marseille, he is being left out of the current squad.
Why? Because he isn’t necessary at the moment.
Roberto Mancini left Balotelli off the list to face Finland and Lichtenstein, the first two games on the path to qualifying for Euro 2020. At the moment, Balotelli isn’t part of the group of players named to try and get Italy back to a major tournament after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Following the failure, and considering Balotelli had been systematically left out by the previous coach Gian Piero Ventura, Roberto Mancini decided to call him up for the first game in charge against Saudi Arabia, and the former Manchester City striker immediately scored.
Since then, he hasn’t been part of the Azzurri. And it’s not like Italy don’t need a centre forward. Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti (the latter also not in the current squad) haven’t exactly been doing amazingly well.
Seeing a problem with his number 9s and a proliferation of great attacking midfielders and wingers, Mancini has decided to leave out a real striker from his ideal Italy, at least for the time being.
He did so in the last Nations League game against Poland, and Italy had one of their best performances since Euro 2016, winning 1-0 away from home. So the feeling is he’ll continue to play a lot of technical, attacking midfielders, snubbing proper strikers.
Tactically, this means having a 4-3-3 system, with the three forwards being extremely mobile, interchanging positions, cutting into the pitch and onto the wings, with the aim being able to combine with the midfielders and have extra men in possession in midfield.
In Italy’s outing against Poland Mancini played Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa either side of Federico Bernardeschi, who acted as a false nine. It worked. In the following match against Portugal Immobile started, and Italy struggled more to produce chances.
Looking at these games, it seems the current Italy crop of players are more suited to not having a real striker. Chiesa, Insigne, Bernardeschi, Matteo Politano, Nicolò Zaniolo – just to mention a few – are all technical players who can play everywhere up front, and to leave out any of these for a real number 9 doesn’t look like a good idea right now.
Of course, if Balotelli is to continues his current great form with Marseille – having scored five goals in eight games – Mancini will surely consider him, and include him in the squad for the Euro 2020 finals in just over a year’s time. Mancini was the one who gave Balotelli his first senior appearance at Inter, and knows him like few others.
At the moment, Italy have decided to try and imitate the Spanish group that won Euro 2012, with Cesc Fabregas as centre forward. In that same Euro 2012 in which Balotelli demolished Germany in the semifinal, the final finished 4-0 for Spain, against Italy. Perhaps not having a real centre forward could come in handy for the Azzurri this time round.