A maestro’s touch, impeccable control, and ruthless finishing. None of these traits can be attributed to any of the forwards in Italy’s current national team arrangement. Instead, their inconsistency could be mistaken for a desire to be kind to their opposition, as they have wasted a heavy number of scoring opportunities.
Even more alarming is their lack of inventive energy and inability to make life tough for defenders on a frequent basis. They seem content to stand around and wait for the midfielders, like the ever-present Andrea Pirlo or the dynamic Antonio Candreva, to create chances for them. This, not faulty defending, is the reason why Antonio Conte’s unbeaten reign at the Italian helm of came to an end in a 1-0 friendly defeat to Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal.
Just look at the statistics. Italy had a majority of the possession, 56 percent, and took 15 shots, three more than Portugal. However, only three of those shots were on target. That is a shamefully low 20 percent on the accuracy scale.
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In action, this translated into a virtually non-existent Stephan El Shaarawy and an MIA Ciro Immobile. Both players have struggled for time and form at the club level, and it showed. Also, the substitutes, Alessandro Matri and debutante Nicola Sansone, were equally ineffective. They asked few questions of the Portuguese defense and did little to test Beto, a goalkeeper with an inconsistent track record.
If this attacking struggle were a singular occurrence, then the Italians would have little to be worried about, but that is not the case. The game against Portugal solidified the impression that the Italians have been stuck in a rut.
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They play good defence, they are marshalled by a world-class goalkeeper, they have good possession numbers, and they struggle with scoring goals. Based on his constant switching of attackers, Conte is concerned about this pattern and is actively pursuing a solution. Will he find it in a formation and tactical change or will it come in the form of new personnel? At this point, personnel seems more likely.
Enter Domenico Berardi. Over the past three years, he has risen from the level of complete unknown to potentially being the next great Italian star. After introducing himself to the Italian public by helping Sassuolo gain promotion to Serie A for the first time in club history, Berardi was snatched up by Juventus, then under the stewardship of Conte.
He was immediately loaned back to Sassuoulo, picking up right where he left off, scoring 31 goals and assisting on a further 16 over the past two seasons. If those numbers don’t spell call-up with a capital C, then nothing does. His pace, his creativity, and his liveliness could give Italy the one thing they have been missing since Mario Balotelli left his form at Euro 2012 - a dynamic, consistent scoring threat.
Granted, his first call-up to the senior national team may have been delayed by the UEFA Euro Under-21 tournament. The experience will be an important step in his development (the next will be Champions League competition), as he will be playing against some of the best young players in Europe.
That being said, Conte need not wait much longer to bring Berardi into the fold. He has all the tools to be a legitimate game-changer for the Italians and put an end to their rut of horrendous displays in the attacking third.