Italy: What we’ve learned so far as the Azzurri top Group A

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After another sound win against 10-man Wales, Italy have secured top spot in Group A and will face Group C runners-up Austria in the Round of 16. Now that the group stage is over for the Italians, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about this side so far.

Fullback positions not an issue

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Coming into the tournament many (myself included) looked at the 26-man squad and thought the position most lacking was that of fullback. After three games this is a take that has aged poorly. The worries concerning Italy’s fullbacks have been put to the side as Leonardo Spinazzola has been hugely influential in Italy’s attack, while the right-backs have kept things solid and engaged more in the build-up. Spinazzola’s performances down Italy’s left have been very impressive and he even earned a man of the match award for his efforts against Turkey. With Spinazzola playing so high up the pitch, the Italian right-backs have been more conservative, ensuring the centre-backs aren’t left exposed. In this department Roberto Mancini has the option of playing the defensive-minded Rafael Tolói, or the more natural fullback, Giovanni Di Lorenzo.

Strength in depth

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Speaking about options, Italy showed against Wales that they have a deep squad, with capable players on the bench looking to make an impact. At the back, Alessandro Bastoni displayed his physical strength to great effect against Wales star Gareth Bale. If Giorgio Chiellini is unable to return to the starting lineup against Austria, Italy should feel good about slotting either Bastoni or Francesco Acerbi alongside Leonardo Bonucci. In the middle of the field Marco Verratti made his return from injury and had a fantastic display, looking to get on the ball as much as possible and move the play forward. His re-emergence gives Mancini a difficult decision to make in who he leaves out in the midfield for Italy’s next match. Additionally, Federico Chiesa and goal scorer Matteo Pessina were both bright against Wales and add two additional quality options for Mancini to bring off the bench if he wants to spark new life to Italy’s attack.

Italy should be considered favourites

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Off the back of three comfortable victories against three decent sides, Italy have shown that they might have what it takes to go all the way. The depth of the squad has already been tested, the team harmony seems to be quite strong, and Mancini has shown to be flexible with his tactics. While other tournament favourites France and England have already slipped up against lesser sides, Italy have gone about their business and beaten the teams they were expected to beat. It’s still the group stage and the games that really matter are yet to come, but Italy are rolling rather than stumbling into the Round of 16. Of course, anything can happen in the knockout phase of international tournaments like the Euros. Good form can take a backseat to luck or a moment of brilliance in a win-or-go-home match. It only takes a poor half, or one mistake at the back to see your hopes of a championship erased. But Italy look to be in great shape heading into their huge match against the Austrians and deserve to be viewed as potential tournament winners at this point of the competition.

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