Antonio Conte has been appointed as Italy’s new head coach, beating out popular candidates Roberto Mancini and Roberto Zaccheroni. The 45-year-old recently left his post at Juventus citing reasons of exhaustion, whilst media reports speculated a disappointment in the Juventus management in their inability to meet his transfer demands.
Conte’s objective was to turn the Bianconeri into a competitive side again after two consecutive years of finishing seventh place. He passed with flying colours by winning three Scudetti, whilst also finishing one season unbeaten and breaking a total points record in another.
Conte’s appointment comes after Cesare Prandelli unexpectedly stepping down from the Azzurri after four years in charge. Prandelli helped to absolve Italy’s poor reputation following a disgraceful exit from the 2010 World Cup by finishing runners-up in the last European Championship and implementing a style of more attacking football. However, Conte finds himself in a similar position this time around, picking up the reigns of an Italy side devoid of creativity and motivation.
Conte is an expert at the tactical battle, beating sides with more talented squads as he did in his first year with Juventus. He is also very charismatic and embodies pure grinta, or determination, and a win at all costs mentality. Conte’s view of squad selections is geared towards the best in-form players at the moment. His predecessor was accused of always heavily relying on striker Mario Balotelli, something that Conte will not intend to repeat.
Conte is a war general when it comes to discipline and fitness, an enthusiast of the “run until you spit blood” mentality. He expects the very best out of his players and will drop high profile names without a second thought (see Milos Krasic). Should character types like Balotelli and Antonio Cassano expect to come along for the ride and not put in the necessary effort, do not expect to see their names anywhere in his squad.
Looking ahead to the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifying matches, here is a preview of how Conte might line up his squad:
Buffon; Chiellini, Bonucci, Barzagli (Ranocchia); Candreva (De Sciglio), De Rossi, Pirlo (Verratti), Marchisio (Jorginho), Darmian; Rossi, Balotelli (Destro)
Conte will likely start out his tenure with Italy deploying a 3-5-2. This formation is the most suitable since the core of the national side hails from Juventus where Conte made it popular again. The Azzurri have found moderate success when using this system (see Euro 2012).
Formations Conte could experiment with in the future:
Buffon; De Sciglio, Chiellini, Ranocchia, Darmian; De Rossi, Pirlo, Marchisio; El Shaarawy, Rossi, Cerci (Berardi)
Wingers in Italian football is a new trend which has led to the possibility of a well-functioning 4-3-3 with the current crop of Italian talent. Andrea Ranocchia would replace Leonardo Bonucci as the former is better suited playing in a back four. Stephan El Shaarawy and Alessio Cerci could stretch Italy’s game by providing width and pace down the flanks whilst assisting Giuseppe Rossi or Balotelli in attack.
Buffon; De Sciglio, Chiellini, Ranocchia, Darmian; De Rossi, Pirlo, Marchisio; Rossi (Insigne); El Shaarawy, Balotelli
The 4-3-1-2 relies heavily on the skill set of a trequartista, something Italy has lacked for close to a decade. Positioning Rossi behind the forwards could be the key to rejuvenate the uncreative Azzurri side witnessed during the recent World Cup. Balotelli is at his best when playing off another forward, therefore El Shaarawy could certainly help to bring out the best in the striker.
Buffon; De Sciglio, Chiellini, Ranocchia, Darmian; De Rossi, Verratti; El Shaarawy (Insigne), Rossi, Balotelli, Cerci
The “Magic Square” could be tested under Conte’s reign with a plethora of attacking talent at his disposal. Marco Verratti would slide in for Andrea Pirlo to offer support to Daniele De Rossi in covering large stretches of the pitch. Whilst defending, the 4-2-4 system transitions into a 4-4-2 with wingers tracking back to put men behind the ball. If successful, the counterattack comsisting of the abovementioned would currently be one of the strongest in international football.
Although Italy may not be considered among the very best sides in the world at the moment, they still are a great team. With Conte at the helm, Italy look poised to bounce back from a tournament they will wish to forget. If Conte’s time with the Azzurri proves to be successful, expect to see him leading Italy into the next World Cup.