Antonio Conte won’t be at Stamford Bridge throughout June and July frantically immersing himself in the West London club’s culture and calculating how he can strengthen the under-performing side.
Instead, he’ll be in France trying to guide Italy to Euro 2016 success. The Azurri have been a mixed bag in recent months and Conte will surely like to bow out on a high note.
Italy faced two tricky friendlies at the end of March as they looked to test themselves ahead of the tournament this summer. A 1-1 draw with Spain was quickly followed by a 4-1 defeat to Germany. But can we read too much into these? For one, they’re friendlies. And secondly, Italy were beset by all sorts of injury problems.
Having watched their 3-1 defeat to Belgium in November, they looked decent going forward, but struggled to contain the lively frontmen of the Red Devils. They will come across the same opponents once more in June as they have been drawn with Belgium, Rep of Ireland and Sweden in Euro 2016 Group E. Possibly one of the easier groups on paper, but any points dropped against Sweden or Ireland and they could have a struggle on their hands to make it through to the knock-out stages.
Conte used the aforementioned friendlies as an indicator ahead of deciding his Euro 2016 Italy squad. Despite the enforced changes, Italy rarely threatened Germany at the end of March and were 4-0 down before Stephen El Shaarawy pulled one back. It was a fairly strong line up with Buffon, Motta, Bonucci, Insigne and Montolivo all named in the 11.
Watch highlights of Italy's recent friendly with Germany
There are plenty of new faces for this tournament. Striker Federico Bernardeschi was given his first call up but the Fiorentina frontman has a fight on his hands with plenty of other offensive options. Graziano Pelle, Simone Zaza and Lorenzo Isigne will give many defence nightmares and they should score plenty of goals. There could also be a late call up for MLS star Sebastian Giovinco.
Bonucci picked up an injury in the warm up matches, but has been back during Juventus’ title race in Serie A and Conte will be relying on the trusty backline which also includes Buffon and Chiellini. Claudio Marchisio has been ruled out of the tournament though after he suffered cruciate ligament damage. It means there could be a recall for Andrea Pirlo. Conte had previously said it would be difficult to call up the cultured midfielder if he didn’t return to Serie A on loan.
Mario Balotelli is unlikely to feature, which could be a blessing in disguise. At the back, Gianluigi Buffon needs no introduction and at 38, this could be his last major tournament.
Despite the injury problems, it would be wrong to write Italy off completely after going through qualifying unbeaten. Some of the performances looked a little lethargic, but major tournaments are very different beasts
Expectation isn’t high in Italy, with many fans believing the national team is on the decline. The group they’ve been given at Euro 2016 suggests they should make it to the knock-out stages, but if they finish behind Belgium, they may be given a difficult assignment in the next round.
In conclusion, the Italian squad is a mixture of ageing, but talented individuals and upcoming young stars, who may lack big game experience. There is plenty of hope surrounding the next generation of Italian players who are bedding into Serie A and come the Euro 2020, they should be force to be reckoned with.
Don’t be surprised if Conte arrives at Stamford Bridge a couple of weeks earlier than expected…
Our best Euro 2016 prediction for Italy is the 6/5 for them to rach the quarter finals of Euro 2016 with Betfair. Even if they finish second in their group it should give them a winnable match against the winners of Group F. That is likely to be Portugal who are not the force of old despite having Ronaldo.