Azzurri hero wanted: who can fill Federico Chiesa’s boots?

by | Jan 27, 2022 15:57

While Italy players are training at Coverciano, Giancarlo Rinaldi looks at the options Roberto Mancini has to replace the injured Federico Chiesa in the World Cup play-offs in March.

It was a howl of pain that echoed around the Italy-supporting world. When Federico Chiesa collapsed in agony during his club’s clash with Roma there were millions of Azzurri fans across the globe simultaneously thinking the same thing – how the hell are we going to qualify for the World Cup now?

It’s not that the squad doesn’t have a fair bit of quality, it is just that he has become such a game-changer that it is a major blow to La Nazionale’s prospects. If North Macedonia, Portugal (or Turkey) already represented a significant hurdle, it only made it a little bit higher. So who can answer their prayers now that Freddie Church is out?

The first, spontaneous answer would seem to be – the whole team. If injury to Leonardo Spinazzola was turned into inspiration at Euro 2020, why not use another talisman’s loss to fuel your determination to succeed? If history has taught us anything about the Italian national team, it is that it saves some of its finest performances for times of adversity. They need to hope for more of that in March.

Nonetheless, there is definitely a “Hero Wanted” sign hanging in the shop window at Azzurri HQ. Chiesa is a natural-born matchwinner and there aren’t that many of those around. However, some Serie A stars are showing the kind of form that could make them key figures in the upcoming play-offs games.

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First up, we need to talk about Mimmo Berardi. He has already shown what he has to offer in the colours of his country but he has been scintillating for Sassuolo so far this season. Ten goals and seven assists at the time of writing are the kind of influential displays that demand attention. Remember that time when we worried about his temperament? You can stick that back in your bedside drawer along with all those receipts for long-forgotten gifts.

Positionally, too, he makes the most sense. An attacking trio of, say, Insigne-Immobile-Berardi, is one that will appeal to Roberto Mancini for sure. If he could curl in a left-foot beauty cutting in off the wing against Portugal – North Macedonia permitting – what a sublime moment that would be.

Talking about temperament – were we? – some have touted Nicolò Zaniolo for the role. The statistics, and performances, though are less compelling in the Roma man’s case. He has the ability to change the game, for sure, but not always in a good way. You get the feeling it would be a bit like closing your eyes and hoping for the best if he got the call. The boy’s got talent, no doubt, but the risk-reward ratio of throwing him into these games would be stratospheric.

More convincing – though not in positional terms – is the case for teammate Lorenzo Pellegrini. He has been much more influential for the Giallorossi with a decent haul of goals and assists but his susceptibility to injury has to be a concern. If he stays fit, though, he could provide the drive and vision to cut open any defence.

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And if we want to go left-field? What about that other Freddie of the Bernardeschi variety? The much-maligned Juve man seems to be carving out a more consistent role in the first team of an admittedly not at its best Bianconeri side at the moment. Could he finally deliver on the promise that earned him his big-money move from Fiorentina? Will he stay on his feet instead of falling over in a puff of wind? Will one of those lovely curling shots eventually return and find the goal? We know that Mancini believes in him, so perhaps he might yet line up in these crucial clashes. Get your orders in early for an extra glass of Chianti or two – to steady the nerves – if he does.

There are good vibes, too, about Giacomo Raspadori, Gianluca Scamacca and even Empoli‘s Andrea Pinamonti at the moment. The first of these is clearly in Mancini’s thoughts and can play in a wider role while the other two would more likely be used in place of Ciro Immobile. They could be useful cards to have up the sleeve but it seems unlikely that any of them would get a starting role unless injuries open the door.

The most outlandish choices? The Italy boss trumped all our wildest speculation with a return ticket offered to Mario Balotelli who has been out in the cold so long he was at risk of hypothermia. It would make for a great redemption story if it turned out he was the man to secure a World Cup spot, but his critics could hardly wait for the opportunity to put the boot in if he messed up this opportunity.

Nobody envies Mancini his task of mapping out a route to Qatar without one of his best co-drivers. However, he has the resources at his disposal to make the journey a manageable one – if not without its potential pitfalls. It’s time for another hero to emerge while Chiesa makes his recovery. His teammates could not give him better medicine for his recovery than securing qualification without him.

@Ginkers

3 Comments

  1. me me me

    replacing Chiesa even as a young new player hes is, is pretty much impossible to do for azzurri. he was the total motor of the team.
    if anyone thinks Balotelli is the saviour you dont learn from the past. hes toxic.
    desperate times call for desperate measures. Mancini knows this even though he lied and tried to play it off as normal.

  2. Frankie

    Unfortunately, Chiesa is irreplaceable. No one has his speed, drive, intensity and match winning ability. We can only hope for an uplift of 10-15% from the other forwards to match his impact. It would be good too if we start seeing some more goals from midfield – Playing Verratti, Jorginho and Barella resulted in 1 goal between them at the Euros. He needs to rotate more as there are midfielders like Pellegrini, Locatelli, and Pessina that can score multiple goals. None of the first 3 should be automatic starts in midfield – it’s crunch time and we need more output from the engine room. And keep Jorginho away from penalties please!!!

  3. Feroli

    The whole team has to ‘uplift’ for sure. The problem are the nerves. Go into the game under too much pressure (and the pressure will be huge) and then the whole team will feel stifled. Mancini has to find a way for the team not to be overwhelmed by the pressure. At the Euros the game against Austria was probably the most tense as it was the first knock out game and Italy were expected to win. And they struggled for a long time. The subsequent games were; ‘OK, if we lose we have lost against top opponents (England excluded) and we have done better than expected’ The next two games are just pure adrenaline and pressure.

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