Coming into this U21 European Championship, Italy’s Azzurrini find themselves as potential favourites for the tournament, just weeks after the U20s finished third in their tournament. Drawn in a group with Germany, Denmark and Czech Republic, it certainly won’t be easy for the Italians. However, their squad is packed with talent playing at the highest level even at a young age. There is no area where Italy will feel particularly weak or lacking in comparison to other teams. There are high expectations surrounding Luigi Di Biagio’s team and a belief that they can go far in the competition.
In between the sticks Italy find themselves with Gianluigi Donnaruuma. The 18 year old is widely considered to be Buffon’s heir and he’s shown impressive shot stopping abilities since playing for Milan from 16 years of age. He towers over most of his teammates at 6’5” tall and kept 12 clean sheets this season in Serie A. There are rumours linking him with a move to PSG or Real Madrid, and it has to be seen if these affect his performance in any way. Either way, he’s a reliable option for the Azzurrini. Should he be injured or suspended, Alessio Cragno and Simone Scuffet are the other options.
Defence is Italian football’s bread and butter, and this is reflected in this side. The defence is arguably this young team’s strongest suit. In the centre, Juventus’ Daniele Rugani and Mattia Caldara will hold the line. Rugani has been an up and coming talent for some time now, and is predicted to take over from Barzagli and Chiellini in the coming years. Caldara however, had a breakthrough season, helping Atalanta reach their highest finish ever. He was promptly signed by Juventus to ensure an Italian future in their defence. Caldara scored 7 goals as a defender this season so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him grab one or two in this tournament. Other options centrally include Davide Biraschi and Alex Ferrari.
In the fullback positions, Italy have Atalanta’s Andrea Conti and Torino’s Antonio Barreca. Conti is yet another player with a stunning season for Atalanta. Conti scored 8 goals and provided 4 assists from the right flank and put his name on the map in the previous season. Now he has clubs after his signature, including AC Milan, which is a testament to his ability. His energy in the right side means teams will struggle to contain him on his flank. On the opposite side is Antonio Barreca. Barreca had a quieter season than Conti, providing only 2 assists with Torino. He is one of the lesser known names in this squad but he will look to make an impact regardless. Other potential names include Davide Calabria and Giuseppe Pezzella.
In addition to a strong defence, this Italian side boasts a marquee midfield. Captain Marco Benassi is a regular for Torino and chipped in with 5 goals and 2 assists this season. He will provide the team with stability and resilience in midfield with Inter’s Roberto Galgliardini. As a result, this frees up Lorenzo Pellegrini to advance up the pitch and link up with the squad’s attacking talent. Pellegrini scored 6 and assisted 6 with midtable Sassuolo in Serie A. Look for him to be the link between the midfield and attack for this Italian side. Furthermore, Alberto Grassi, Manuel Locatelli and Danilo Cataldi are all more than good enough to swap in for any of the aforementioned players seamlessly. Especially important to this midfield is the fact that they all play regularly in the top flight. Benassi, Gagliardini and Pellegrini all played around 30 games for their respective teams.
Spearheading this Italian team is a blistering attack. Federico Bernardeschi of Fiorentina and Domenico Berardi of Sassuolo are dynamic wingers with 16 goals and 12 assists between them this season. Both are quick, with powerful shots and good crossing delivery. They will be linking up with Atalanta’s Andrea Petagna up front. The young striker is yet another member of Atalanta’s team who finished 4th. He scored 5 and assisted 7 while playing next to Atalanta’s experienced captain Alejandro Gomez this season. Between these three, goals will certainly come. In addition to these, Federico Chiesa and Alberto Cerri are options from the bench.
ITALY’S FIRST MATCH
Sunday, June 18th at 8:45pm local time (CET) in Kraków, Poland. This Italian U21 side will play their first game of the U21 European Championship against Denmark’s U21 side in Group C.
Italy U21 recent form: L-W-D-L-D-W
Denmark U21 recent form: L-D-W-W-W-W
Finally, the match can be viewed on Sky Sports 2 or streamed via UEFA.tv’s Youtube channel.