Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne: (@JobJobBinks):
Italy's first two matches under new manager Giampiero Ventura showed little change from Antonio Conte's Euro 2016 team. Ventura seems content to slowly bring his own identity to this Italy team over the course of World Cup Qualification play. Italy will be expected to qualify either as group-winners or through the play-off format as anything less would be an absolute failure. So after a 3-1 friendly loss to France and an important 3-1 win away to Israel in the first qualifying match, we learned a lot about Ventura's Italy and what to expect from the Azzurri.
There wasn't too much debate over the selections in Ventura's first squad as Italy manager. New faces such as Daniele Rugani, Alessio Romangnoli, Andrea Belotti and the young Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma were called up. Giacomo Bonaventura made a return to the squad while Manolo Gabbiadini and Graziano Pellé were called up to some people's surprise. Domenico Berardi must have been expecting a call-up given his recent form but he was unfortunately ruled out due to an injury. The inclusion of out-of form- midfielder Riccardo Montolivo may have been a slight surprise. However Ventura's first Italy squad was similar to the one Conte brought to Euro 2016 and there were not any wholesale changes in his debut squad.
Ventura suffered a 3-1 defeat to France in his Azzurri debut however the performance was more important than the result and Italy played well in parts of the game. The former Torino coach started with Conte's 3-5-2 formation with Bonaventura and Astori being the only new faces to the line-up. One of the positives to take from the match was Italy's transition from attack to defense. The Italians did well going forward and Ventura's emphasis on wing play was evident with Italy putting 35 crosses into the box, 25 more than their French counterparts. Italy's defense, which is usually reliable, was poor against France with many errors made at the back, however nothing that Ventura shouldn’t be able to solve. Another positive was the debut of Donnarumma as he became Italy's youngest ever goalkeeper aged 17 and while he was at fault for one of the goals, he will no doubt be Italy's number one after Buffon's retirement.
Up next for Ventura was his competitive debut. A tricky trip to Israel for the Azzurri. Ventura stuck to a 3-5-2 line up for the Israel match with the Juventus trio of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini in defense; Candreva, Parolo, Verratti, Bonaventura and Antonelli in midfield and Eder and Pellé up top. After a shaky start Italy scored with their first threatening attack as Pellé got his second goal in as many games under Ventura. Soon after Bonaventura was brought down in the box and Candreva tucked home the penalty. Italy looked set for an easy night only for Ben Haim to cut the lead in half by scoring a delightful chip. Shortly after half-time Chiellini, who had an awful night, was sent off forcing Italy to play with 10 men for the last 35 minutes. Israel looked dangerous however substitute Ciro Immobile came to Ventura's rescue with a goal in the final 10 minutes. A vital victory for Italy and one that gets Ventura off to a great start in the qualifying campaign.
It was a good start for Ventura who has promised that he will make this team his own in the future. Ventura's first two games in charge were reminiscent of Conte's Italy. However, Italy looked a lot more fruitful going forward under Ventura and hopefully we can look forward to him implementing his favored 4-2-4 formation with the Azzurri. For his 4-2-4 to work Ventura will surely call on the likes of Insigne, Berardi and El Shaarawy to get the best of out Italy's attack force. Italy should qualify for the World Cup and under Ventura it looks set to be a thrilling qualifying campaign for the Azzurri on their long road to Russia…