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Midfield Battle Will Likely Determine Italy's Euro 2020 Opener Against Turkey

A bit of home cooking for Italy as they open up Euro 2020 in the capital—even though Turkey are technically the home side.

Italy v Czech Republic - International Friendly Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Roma's already light representation at Euro 2020 took a hit this morning with the news that club captain Lorenzo Pellegrini was forced to withdraw from the Italy squad thanks to a thigh injury. While that's a tough blow for the 24-year-old Roman, Giallorossi fans still have a few favorites to cling to as the European Championships get underway. And, ironically enough, they'll all be on display Friday afternoon at the Stadio Olimpico when Italy face Turkey in the opening match.

Without Pellegrini, Roma's rank and file representatives have been reduced to four: Alessandro Florezing (ITA), Leonardo Spinazzola (ITA), Bryan Cristante (ITA), and Cengiz Ünder (TUR). If you want to be really picky, the list of players participating at Euro 2020 who actually played for Roma numbers only two: Spinazzola and Cristante as Florenzi (PSG) and Ünder (Leicester) spent the 2020-2021 season on loan.

Turkey vs. Italy: June 11th. 21:00 CET/3:00 EDT. Stadio Olimpico, Roma.

But, if you're reading this, I suspect none of that matters because when it comes to international football, the Azzurri are likely your Roma stand-in anyway. Maybe you were born in Italy, spent a summer in Tuscany, can trace your roots back to the peninsula, or you just really love a good gelato, Italy is your team. And no disrespect to the Copa America or any other FIFA confederation championship, but the Euros are arguably the second-most important tournament on the international calendar after the World Cup. Admittedly, that's an extremely Anglo/Eurocentric viewpoint, but the concentration of talent the Euros offer is practically unrivaled.

Since we already dissected the ins and outs of Roberto Mancini's success with the Azzurri over the past two and a half years earlier this week, we'll keep this preview a bit lighter and focus on a few possible keys to victory for Italy.

Keep An Eye On

Hakan Çalhanoğlu

Turkey Portraits - UEFA Euro 2020 Photo by Simon Hofmann - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Cengiz Ünder is likely the name most Roma fans are familiar with, but AC Milan's Hakan Çalhanoğlu is certainly no stranger to Giallorossi followers. With nine goals, four assists, and a league-leading three key passes per match, Çalhanoğlu was one of Serie A's best players this season—a role he reprises anytime he dons a Turkey kit. Over his last 16 appearances for Turkey, Çalhanoğlu was up to his usual tricks, scoring three goals and dishing out seven assists.

Clearly, Çalhanoğlu is Turkey’s most gifted player, but just how hard is it to stop the 27-year-old from inflicting damage?

Almost impossible...

Çalhanoğlu 2020-2021 Serie A heatmap.

As you can see, Çalhanoğlu covers more ground than FedEx. Accordingly, limiting Çalhanoğlu’s time and space on the ball will be critical to Italy's chances of starting Euro 2020 on the right note. Given how much space Çalhanoğlu can cover, look for his opposite numbers, Jorginho and likely Manuel Locatelli, to shadow him wherever he goes.

Italy's Midfield

Italy v Czech Republic - International Friendly Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Speaking on the 11th-hour losses of Stefano Sensi and Lorenzo Pellegrini—and Marco Verratti's lingering injury issues—each of whom was being counted on to fulfill a variety of roles in midfield, Roberto Mancini preached empathy for the players missing the tournament and respect for the opponents in front of them, knowing full well that if Italy plays their game, everything will fall into place.

And that's precisely where Mancini's Azzurri reimagining comes into play. Rather than implementing a passive, reactionary brand of football, Mancini's 4-3-3 seizes the initiative through its emphasis on passing and pressure. By taking control, particularly in the midfield via Jorginho, Nicolo Barella, and Locatelli, Mancini's tactics should ensure that Çalhanoğlu is rendered obsolete.

It's not a simple as it sounds, but, as is so often the case, matches are won or lost in the midfield. Italy may be down a few key pieces in the middle of the park, but the Jorginho-Locatelli-Barella trio is capable of winning the battle for time and space in midfield; they have the pace, stamina, skill, and tenacity to keep Çalhanoğlu on the back heel tomorrow.

And if the possession battle swings Italy's way, Mancini's forwards should see a steady supply of passes into the box tomorrow.

Who Starts Up Front?

Italy Training Session And Press Conference Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

As we outlined in our Italy preview yesterday, Lazio's Ciro Immobile and Torino's (and maybe soon Roma's) Andrea Belotti have shared the striker duties for most of Mancini's tenure as Italy's head coach. While they ostensibly have the same responsibilities in Mancini's 4-3-3, the space they occupy in the attack and the location of their touches differs slightly.

Where Belotti saw more touches closer to the box and was slightly more clinical in front of goal, Immobile appeared to have more freedom to operate on the edges of the area, picking and choosing his spots around the 18-yard-box. With Turkey likely to set up a five-man midfield tomorrow, Immobile's greater...uh...mobility may tip the scales in his favor when Mancini sets his lineup Friday evening.

No matter who starts, Italy's strikers have to make the most of their chances. Whether it was Immobile, Belotti, or even Moise Kean, strikers in Mancini’s system saw roughly 2.5 shots per match throughout Euro 2020 qualification—but those numbers should climb if Italy wins the midfield battle.

Stick with us throughout the tournament as we track Italy's progress with match previews, viewing guides, and mini-recaps and/or highlights.

So, it is with great pleasure that I can present to you the first significant Il Canto degli Italiani in nearly five years!