Rolling through Group A, Italy was one of the most impressive sides in the group stage of Euro 2020. However, as impressive as Roberto Mancini’s side was during its opening three fixtures, the competition wasn’t exactly the stoutest.
There was no doubting that the Austrians would give the Italians a bit more of a challenge than Switzerland, Turkey, or Wales. Despite that, I don’t know if anyone could’ve predicted the scare that Austria would put the Azzurri through.
After a fairly strong first half from Italy, the game took a turn in the second half. The Austrians were emboldened after keeping the Azzurri off the score sheet in the first stanza. Throughout the second half the Azzurri were forced onto the back foot; narrowly avoiding defeat when Mario Arnautovic’s goal was called back by VAR for offsides.
Although Italy bent, it never broke through the remainder of regular time, as Mancini made four subs that helped the Azzurri get back on the front foot. With the match in extra time, those four subs helped Italy's attack come back to life. As a result, expect some halos for the men who entered the match already in progress.
And for the first time this tournament it isn’t all halos that we’re handing out in our Sinners & Saints. Read on to find out who we canonized and who should be saying their penance ahead of Friday’s test with the winner of Belgium and Portugal.
Is there any more fitting name for a saint on this site than Chiesa? Running at a tiring defense, the Juve man provided a vital spark off the bench with his late entrance in the 83rd minute. And it was Chiesa who broke the deadlock just five minutes into extra time when he cooly brought down Leonardo Spinazzola’s cross, used a deft touch to have the defender run by him like a charging bull running by a matador before firing it home. There will be calls for Chiesa to start Friday’s match, but Mancini will have to decide if he’s more valuable off the bench as a trump card late in the match when the Azzurri need a spark.
Another substitute who provided the Azzurri with a vital goal in extra time. The Atalanta man wasn’t even supposed to be at this tournament. But it looks like Azzurri fans will be thanking their lucky stars that Stefano Sensi pulled out injured. Pessina scored in the 105’ to provide Italy with some insurance—insurance they would desperately need after Austria pulled one back. His composure and dribbling ability also highlighted a strong 55 minutes for Pessina, who completed four successful dribbles. This Azzurri midfield boasts an absolute embarrassment of riches.
For the second time in this tournament Spinazzola was awarded with the man of the match trophy. The Roma man was an absolute terror down Austria’s right flank throughout the first half and defended well throughout. His offensive contributions cooled in the second, but he was vital in extra time. He provided the assist on Chiesa’s goal and then played the initial ball that started the sequence on Pessina’s. And his tracking back in the 99’ robbed Austria of what looked like a chance to level the score.
Jose Mourinho must be counting the days until he gets to work with Spinazzola in this form.
The Azzurri shot stopper had been mostly a spectator throughout the group stage with little work to speak of. However, last night Donnarumma came up huge in extra time with a strong one-handed save on the full dive with Italy up 2-0. It didn’t look like it would make a huge difference at the time, but considering Austria scored moments later, it was vital in keeping the Azzurri out of a penalty kick crapshoot.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo
Spinazzola’s performance may have been more eye-catching on Italy’s opposite flank, but Di Lorenzo had quiet the match himself. The Napoli man finished with 116 touches—second only to Jorginho. Meanwhile, he won six aerial duels, three total tackles, one interception, and two clearances. And his solo run in the 109’ minute was certainly impressive, even if the shot went wide. His experience as a center back and willingness to sit back allows Spinazzola the freedom to maraud down the left at will. Keep in mind this guy was playing in Serie C just four years ago.
The Lazio man continues to show that the Italy defense consists of more than just Juve center backs. With Chiellini again unfit to start, Acerbi stuffed the stat sheet with five clearances, four interceptions, two total tackles, and four aerials won. Meanwhile, he out-passed Bonucci—who usually dictates play from the back— with eight accurate long balls and two key passes while completing 91.9% of his 86 passes. And he popped up in the right place at the right time when his lay-off in the box played Pessina in for Italy’s eventual game winning goal. Can Mancini pull him for Chiellini after this performance?
The Sassuolo man was impressive in his first two matches and certainly deserved to start. However, his decision making and end product were off yesterday. He had three key passes, but Berardi just didn’t instill much confidence with his performance. Mancini will have a decision to make between him and Chiesa on Friday.
Barella is one of my favorite players in this side and is normally a must start. However, the Inter man didn’t put in one of his usual solid performances yesterday. Barella completed just 74.1% of his passes and had just 37 touches in 66 minutes. Meanwhile, he had no tackles, interceptions, clearances, or blocked shots. Plus, his yellow card for dissent was certainly unnecessary. An off night for the Inter star.
Initially, I was inclined to leave Ciro off of the sinners' list, but his numbers yesterday just weren't very good. Granted, he was starved for service and only had 40 touches, but six unsustainable touches and being dispossessed three times simply isn’t good enough. He had no shots on target either—although if his first-half shot was three inches to the right, the conversation around Immobile, probably is a bit different.
Stuck in Between
Verratti won the opportunity to start over Locatelli after starring against Wales. However, he didn’t quite shine in the same way this time around. Verratti showed flashes of what makes him great as he completed four key passes, three successful dribbles, four long balls, and drew four fouls. However, he also was also dispossessed five times and had three unsuccessful touches. It’s understandable that he tired in the second half after missing so much time to close the domestic campaign. I’d still expect him to start on Friday.
Bonucci wasn’t culpable on Austria’s goal, but on numerous occasions, he just didn’t instill confidence defending Austria’s counterattack. You have to wonder how he’ll fare if it’s Lukaku or Ronaldo running at him like that rather than Arnautovic. Meanwhile, his passing was solid (6 accurate long balls & 89.3% completion percentage), but he was certainly outdone by Acerbi in all areas.
Insigne’s biggest contribution to this match was picking out Acerbi in the box in the lead up to the Pessina goal. However, the rest of the match was a mixed bag for the Napoli talisman. Insigne worked hard throughout and did some good—four key passes, four accurate long balls, and two accurate crosses. However, there was also plenty of room for improvement— 75.5% completion percentage, three offsides, dispossessed four times, and two unsuccessful touches.
That's in for not, but check back later this week when we preview Italy's quarterfinal matchup against the winner of Belgium vs. Portugal later today.