Interim Italy boss Gigi Di Biagio has a long way to go but the positives are there

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 24 March 2018, 14:34

Friday’s friendly between Italy and Argentina provided some interesting food for thought for their respective bosses. While Jorge Sampaoli is planning for the World Cup this summer, interim Italy boss Gigi Di Biagio is holding the fort before a new man is appointed as the Azzurri face an offseason without any competitive international football.

The latter – temporarily promoted from the charge of the Under-21 side – had begun the task of bringing some new and younger players into the squad after severe criticism faced by former Coach Giampiero Ventura, however the friendly in Manchester proved that there is still much work to be done. Italy went down 2-0 to a patient and well organised Albiceleste, despite having played well for large periods of the game.

Di Biagio went for a 4-3-3 system that observers everywhere had been crying out for under Ventura. The front three consisted of striker Ciro Immobile alongside wingers Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa, a marked improvement from the team selected in that disastrous second leg of the World Cup playoff versus Sweden.

In that match Manolo Gabbiadini – a man who should’ve been nowhere near the squad, never mind the starting XI – started up front in a two, while Insigne inexplicably sat on the bench. As a result of intense pressure, Ventura had finally selected Napoli’s star midfielder Jorginho to start in that match, but his first competitive cap came far too late for the Azzurri.

The Brazilian-born player looks certain to feature heavily in the Italian national team from now on, but his place in the side next to Marco Verratti of PSG at the Etihad should’ve given Di Biagio a warning about deploying both players in the centre of the park. While Jorginho seemed stifled by having a player close by that plays in such a similar way, Verratti offered very little except committing silly fouls and complaining to the referee.

Jorginho himself didn’t seem to agree with this sentiment, commenting after the match that he thought the partnership could work. “I think we did well in midfield, Verratti and I combined, we played the ball to feet and swapped roles at times,” the Napoli man assured reporters after the game. “It was our first match together, but we can certainly grow and improve this partnership. All the players have their own characteristics and can work with everyone else, the important thing is to have courage.”

With another difficult friendly on Tuesday versus England at Wembley, it is now up to Di Biagio to rectify some of the errors made against Argentina, in order that Italy supporters are reassured that this path is the right one. A different solution in midfield should be first on the list, the form of Jorginho on a domestic level indicative of how important it is to truly bring the best from him.

“There were some important scoring opportunities against the side that won the silver medal at the last World Cup,” the Coach declared after the match. “Let’s not forget some of our squad were on their debuts or first few caps, yet the result was harsh on us. Aside from individual players, I think it’s unfair to compare us to Argentina. We need patience and to be realistic about where we are right now.”

It will only be if Di Biagio can rectify any errors and improve the balance of the team that he will stand any chance of being on the shortlist for the permanent position, meaning these friendlies are just as important for the boss as for the squad to prove that they genuinely did merit a place in Russia this summer.

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