A 1-0 defeat in Sweden has raised even further the possibility of Italy missing its first World Cup tournament in around 60 years. Former Torino coach Gian Piero Ventura has taken Italy on a roller coaster journey and unfortunately for Azzurri fans it has strictly been a downward spiral with no uptick in fortune.
Below are some of the main points behind Italy’s struggles:
1) Bad results and even poorer performances: The Azzurri were dismantled by Spain with Isco running the show. Things did not get better when Italy managed a 1-1 draw with Macedonia followed by an unconvincing 1-0 win at Albania.
The results were definitely poor but what is more troubling has been the bad performances. Italy’s struggles have been down to multiple factors but much revolves around Ventura’s inability to get the best out of his players.
2) Players are uncertain of what are supposed to do: Imagine you are playing in a decisive play-off match and your team is down by one goal in Sweden, but you are unsure of your role on the pitch! Well, that is exactly how Lorzeno Insigne felt when subbed on with around 15 minutes left on the clock. Ventura played him out of position (again)! One of Italy’s brightest talents this season yet Insigne continues to be played out of position, or to be used in ways which hinder his skills.
3) Selection Nightmare: Ventura’s selection process has been controversial to say the least as he excluded the likes of Napoli’s Jorginho from the entire campaign before finally selecting him for the playoffs against Sweden! Jorginho and Insigne have built a solid understanding while both have played a critical role in Napoli’s rise to the top of Serie A.
Excluding Jorginho may perhaps be forgiven, yet Ventura’s decision to pick Eder defies all odds. Eder cannot start for Inter with stats showing the striker has not made a single start in Serie A- Eder has so far made 9 substitute appearances in Italy’s top flight in the 2017/18 campaign.
Eder’s curious case is but one example. In previous matches, Ventura opted to select Leonardo Spinazzola who had not featured for his club Atalanta during the first 4 matches in the current Serie A season. Thus, Spinazzola was clearly short on match fitness. One disappointing omission is perhaps that of his teammate Mattia Caldara who has been one of the most consistent centre-backs in Serie A over the last 15 months while also showing a knack for scoring goals.
4) Italy’s Age Question: Ventura took over insisting he wants to rejuvenate the side yet he has taken Italy backwards several steps since taking charge.
Performances and results aside, Ventura has also failed to blend in younger faces into the squad. Against Sweden, the likes of Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi were both selected despite being 36 and 34 years old respectively. While selecting Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon makes sense considering the vast experience he possesses as a goalkeeper and his much needed leadership, having Barzagli and De Rossi start is confounding. Both cannot cover much space anymore and both would be expected to struggle against a physical Swedish team. However, Ventura decided to start both.
5) Conte vs Ventura: Current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte guided Italy to some solid displays during Euro 2016 despite having a less talented squad at his disposal. Conte’s attack consisted of Eder and Graziano Pellè. Ventura has had the choice of picking between the Best Player in Italy during the Month of October- based on detailed Fantasy Football stats- in the shape of Ciro Immobile and Torino’s top scorer Andrea Belotti. What does Ventura do? He rightfully selects both in his squad, yet mistakenly, again, forces both to play in the Starting XI despite the clear indications the two cannot perform well together.
Conte’s midfield options were rather limited as well, with injury depriving him of key players such as Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio. Ventura can start one or both of the midfielders yet has continued to misuse Verratti, just as he has misused Insigne.
6) Wrong Formation: Ventura used his beloved 4-2-4 formation against Spain and not only did it backfire but it also led to a humiliating defeat in Madrid. Despite lacking the players to produce the result while using a 4-2-4 formation, Ventura continued to press with it. Ventura clearly failed to acknowledge his squad is not suited for 4-2-4.
Against Sweden, he switched to a 3-5-2 yet that backfired as well because of a number of reasons.
7) Confusion, Chaos & Tinkering: You would forgive a coach for making changes during the early stages of his reign, yet for Ventura to reinforce his uncertainty before and during the two-match playoffs against Sweden spells disaster for Italy.
Ventura has yet to settle on a formation and moved to a 3-5-2 for the first game in Sweden while he is expected to change again for Monday’s game in Milan!
The constant change leads to confusion among the players due to the lack of familiarity with the formation. In fact, the Italian team lacked cohesion versus Sweden and struggled to impose its style, that is if Ventura’s Italy did have any style to showcase.
The turnover and changes lead to a lack of stability. Imagine if this happens during critical matches in a playoff battle for qualification for the World Cup.
8) Last but not least, where is the Passion? From the beginning of the World Cup qualifying campaign, Ventura’s Italy has lacked the conviction and determination displayed under his predecessor Conte during Euro 2016.
The current squad lacks confidence too. The instability and the lack of a clear vision under Ventura has also been quite detrimental in terms of motivating the players and building their confidence. The players are clearly not confident and do not seem to trust Ventura’s tactics.
The Italian manager has failed to transmit clear ideas and has not been able to get the best out of his squad. To make matters worse, the lack of a coherent plan has resulted in a lack of commitment and dedication from the players.
To blame everything on Ventura would be a mistake because the first party to be held responsible should be the FIGC for hiring an unqualified coach in the shape of Ventura. Even if Italy turn things around and qualify to World Cup 2018, the Azzurri will be knocked out from the group stage unless drastic changes are introduced starting with the sacking of Ventura.
There is talk that Ventura does not even control the locker room with some hinting the veterans and the more experienced players have had a strong influence on Ventura and his actions. To fire him will result in a much needed jolt and perhaps see the hiring of a well respected manager who can bring order back to the locker room.
Azzurri fans deserve better. Legendary goalkeeper Buffon deserves better. Instead of celebrating a remarkable career by playing in a record 6th World Cup tournament, Buffon may end up watching World Cup 2018 as a retired player.