With the Azzurri already assured a spot in the Round of 16, Roberto Mancini made wholesale changes to his line-up for Italy’s last group stage match against Wales. Only Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho, and Gigi Donnarumma remained from the side that hammered Switzerland and Turkey. Included in those eight changes was Marco Verratti, who played the full 90 in his return from a knee injury suffered late in the season with PSG.
With the changes, it was no surprise that it took the Azzurri a little while to find a rhythm. However, Italy’s second team showed that it’s no pushover either en route to a solid 1-0 victory over the Welsh. With the win, Italy finishes the group stage with three clean sheet victories while scoring seven goals.
It’s certainly been as good as an Azzurri fan could’ve hoped for in a tournament that looks more and more to be wide open as the group stage plays itself out. While the Azzurri await the results in Group C to decide whether they will face Austria or Ukraine on Saturday, let’s take a look at who stood out in today’s victory over the Welsh.
The Atalanta man wasn’t even supposed to be at this tournament, but an injury to Stefano Sensi meant Pessina was included. And Pessina showed he belonged in the squad in his first start. Pessina was active in Italy’s midfield, linking up well with Federico Chiesa once the Juve man swapped flanks with his Bianconeri teammate Berardeschi. Plus, his deft touch on Marco Verratti’s corner found its way into the Welsh net for Italy’s only goal. Pessina’s match-winning performance shows just how much midfield depth Mancini has at his disposal.
Chiesa has provided a spark off the bench in the Azzurri’s first two matches but got the start in this one with Lorenzo Insigne and Domenico Berardi earning some much-needed rest. And Chiesa didn’t disappoint. The Juve man used his pace to be dangerous throughout down the flank and led the Azzurri with three successful dribbles. He likely returns to the bench in the Round of 16, but his energy and attacking talent as a 12th man could be vital in the knockout rounds.
The 22-year-old Inter man is Italy’s fourth-choice center-back, but looked like a regular starter. He didn’t back down from the threat of Gareth Bale and used his physicality to keep the Welsh at bay as he won seven aerial duels and committed five fouls without getting booked. His 93 touches were second on the team and he completed 91.7% of his 84 passes, including four accurate long balls. The heir to Giorgio Chiellini is certainly already on the Azzurri roster.
Verratti is back from his month-long absence due to a knee injury and showed no signs of rust. The PSG midfielder proved why he’s been so instrumental for the Azzurri’s in the build-up to this tournament. He led the side with an astounding 136 touches, completed 93.6% of his 110 passes, including four key passes, and put in three accurate crosses. One of those was the corner kick that Pessina turned into the Welsh net. Meanwhile, he led the Azzurri with four tackles and even won two headers.
Mancini will have a lot to contemplate when picking his midfield trio on Saturday. With Jorginho a fixture at regista, it’ll come down to Verratti, Barella, and Locatelli for the other two spots. It may be a difficult choice, but it’s certainly a good problem to have.
Stuck in Between
Il Gallo was active throughout and gave the Welsh plenty to think about as he tried to get in behind the defense. As usual, he worked hard for the team, drawing four fouls and unleashing five shots (two on target). However, he only had 21 touches in 90 minutes. His work rate is an asset, but he didn’t do enough to make Ciro Immobile feel threatened.
The Juve man’s inclusion in the Italian side continues to baffle supporters given his lack of league form. However, Mancini continues to stick with him, even taking him over the in-form Matteo Politano. Bernardeschi wasn’t bad in this one, but he didn’t offer as much as the Azzurri’s other three wingers have so far. His two key passes and two interceptions were his two most impressive stats. He only completed 80% of his 25 passes and it felt like he did a lot less with his 25 touches than Chiesa did with his 49.
For the third match in a row, there were no sinners for the Azzurri. Let’s hope that trend continues into the knock-out rounds. In the meantime, let us know who you have as your sinners and saints.