By Sean Sedacca
On Monday, June 27th, Italy will play Spain in the Euro 2016 round of 16. That fixture is already locked in stone and great deal of attention is already being paid to this exciting matchup of European giants, which leaves today’s match against Ireland in something of a twilight zone.
The result is completely meaningless to Antiono Conte’s side, and so he only has one important decision to make: do I rest my star players to keep them as fresh as possible for the next round, or do I give them another match together to further gel as a team?
Initially, based on his comments to the media, he seemed to be favoring the latter. He implied that there wouldn’t be any major changes to the lineup he fielded against Belgium and Sweden, but close observers of Italian football took this statement with more than a grain of salt. If you follow Serie A, you know that there is something of an obsession with what they call the “turnover.”
Italians are fixated on the idea that playing more than one match per week will a player far from his peak form, and they are often mystified at seeing the likes of Ronaldo and Messi playing champions league matches during the week, and then getting the starting nod for games against mid-level La Liga opponents. This is often the reason why Italian teams fare poorly in the Europa League, since it is viewed as a lesser competition than the champions league, and so they normally use numerous reserve players, but that’s a story for another time.
Getting back to today’s match versus Ireland, we now see that Conte will indeed use a heavily revised lineup where he is expected to change 8 out of 11 starters from the previous match. The two holdovers will be the backline pillars Bonucci and Barzagli. In goal, it will be PSG man Salvatore Sirigu getting the start for captain Gianluigi Buffon, while Angelo Ogbonna will take Giorgio Chiellini’s place alongside his former Juventus teammates.
In the midfield it will be Thiago Motta giving De Rossi a much needed rest, while Alessandro Florenzi (who didn’t start against Belgium) will move to the middle and partner up with Stefano Sturaro to replace hard workers Marco Parolo and Emanuele Giaccherini. The midfield flanks will be covered by Matteo Darmian (a starter against Belgium, but replaced by Florenzi against Sweden) and Federico Bernardeschi. Antonio Candreva, who has been one of Italy’s best players thus far, will not only be resting, but also recuperating from a minor injury, so he is unlikely to see any time at all.
Up front it will be what the media calls the “ignorant couple” of Zaza and Immobile. Deemed somewhat less technical than starters Pelle and Eder (yes, we are talking about Italy), the pairing from Turin are both incredibly physical and tenacious players. They also happen to be desperate to earn starting spots, so it should be enjoyable to watch them go to work up front.
And that is essentially the theme of the day for Italy. With nothing to play for in terms of their second round placement, their main motivation against an Irish team that does need a result is to try and gain favor in the eyes of Conte for consideration in future matches. Spain, Germany and France were all unimpressive in similar circumstances when their third matches were essentially meaningless, but Italy has thus far been one of the more entertaining and impressive teams to watch in this tournament. Today should be no different, where a lineup of mostly reserves should prove enough to beat a feisty but ultimately inferior Irish side.
Follow Sean Sedacca on Twitter @LazialeaNY