Analysis: Can Italy win back-to-back European Championships?

Italy are not among the frontrunners to win Euro 2024, but recent history has told us they can defy the odds. How far can they go in Germany?.

After the disappointment of failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar as reigning European champions, Italy are aiming to make up for it by accomplishing an impressive feat; becoming just the second team to win back-to-back European Championships, after Spain did so in 2008 and 2012.

Although the Opta supercomputer does not consider the Azzurri among the favourites – they went all the way in only 5% of simulations, behind six other teams – Italy have already shown that they can overcome the supercomputer’s pre-tournament estimations.

In fact, before the start of Euro 2020, they were given just a 7.6% chance of winning the tournament, yet still managed to lift the trophy at Wembley after beating England in the final on penalties.

What’s more, the last major international tournament hosted exclusively in Germany brought Italy success.

Marcello Lippi’s side lifted the World Cup in 2006 at Berlin’s Olympiastadion, and that will also be the venue for the Euro 2024 final.

If they win, Italy will join Germany as the men’s national team to have won the most major tournament titles among European nations.

The Azzurri boast six trophies (4 World Cups, 2 European Championships) while Germany have seven (4 WCs, 3 Euros).

Euro 2024 Predictions - Tournament Winner
  • The Azzurri’s Journey: From Mancini to Spalletti

After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) chose Roberto Mancini as the man to usher in a new era of Italian football, with a particular focus put on developing young players.

Today, many of the players Mancini gave opportunities to are now mainstays of the team.

Nicolò Barella (45 appearances under Mancini), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (28) and Alessandro Bastoni (17) all made their debuts for the Italian national team with him as coach.

As well as them, the former Manchester City boss has overseen the flourishing careers of players like Gianluigi Donnarumma, who has made 49 of his 61 appearances for Italy under his management, and Federico Chiesa (41/46).

In a run that included their Euro 2020 triumph, Italy went 37 games without defeat (W28 D9) between October 2018 and September 2021, with Mancini eventually becoming the third-most successful manager in Italy’s history with 37 wins – fewer than only Vittorio Pozzo (63) and Enzo Berazot (40).

However, with the failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, something broke and the paths of Mancini and the Italian national team diverged.

Luciano Spalletti, the architect of Napoli’s first Scudetto in 33 years in 2022-23, was appointed.

He immediately focused on the cohesion of the group, enhancing the main protagonists of Mancini’s management and gradually introducing new players.

Those new players include Raoul Bellanova – the defender who provided the highest number of assists in Serie A last season (7) – and Andrea Cambiaso, a full-back who recorded the second-highest carry distance of all Juventus players in the Italian top-flight in 2023-24 (4,391m).

This will be Spalletti’s first major international tournament as a manager. He follows in the footsteps of 10 other Italian coaches who have taken charge of Italy at a European Championship, with no non-Italian manager ever doing so.

In a bid to encourage the “spiritoAzzurro ” in his team, Spalletti has chosen to recall the glorious history of the Italian national team, inviting some of his country’s legendary number 10s of yesteryear – Gianni Rivera, Giancarlo Antognoni, Roberto Baggio, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero – to the FIGC Centre in Coverciano.

  • Spalletti’s Six Commandments

Spalletti wants his football ideology to be crystal clear. So much so that he has a board with his six “commandments” listed out for his players in the changing room. They read as follows:

  • Constant pressing (removes the confidence of the opposition)
  • Game control (keeping the ball)
  • Tied (distance between players to be short and close)
  • Fierce re-aggression once the ball is lost
  • Restoration (if not in a position to counter-press, regroup behind the ball)
  • Order, study and preparation (restart pressing once structure allows)

These “laws” that Spalletti has imposed to his players are the manifesto of his playing style.

They can be easily understood after looking at how his Napoli team played in 2022-23.

With the ball, Spalletti wants to dominate the game through ball possession and a carefully nurtured passing approach.

Without it, he wants to immediately win it back through high pressing.

Thanks to these dogmas, Napoli scored the most goals (77) in 2022-23 and conceded the fewest (28), while averaging the highest possession (62%) and recording the most high turnovers (370 – eight ending with goals).

Serie A most possession 22-23

In addition, Spalletti is a meticulous worker from dead-ball situations, a facet of the game that can be especially decisive in knockout tournaments.

His Napoli team scored the most goals from dead-ball situations in Serie A in 2022-23 (24) and conceded the fewest (4).

  • An Intriguing Mix of Experience and New Blood

There are some players in the squad that will be looking to right some wrongs.

One of those is Jorginho, who will want to make up for his two missed penalties against Switzerland that ultimately cost Italy in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, as well as his disappointment for finishing second in the 2023-24 Premier League with Arsenal.

Barella and Chiesa, both protagonists of the Azzurri’s triumph at Euro 2020, are also now set to have a massive impact at Euro 2024.

Barella scored one goal and provided two assists during Italy’s European Championship triumph, following that up by recording more assists than any other Italy player during qualifying for Euro 2024 (3), and creating seven more chances than any of his teammates (15).

In the last two seasons, Barella has stepped up for club side Inter too, helping them reach the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League final and establishing himself as one of the pillars of his team this season as the Nerazzurri won their 20th Scudetto.

The 27-year-old registered more open-play attacking sequence involvements than any other midfielder in 2023-24, and third overall, behind only Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Matías Soulé.

Midfielders attacking sequence involvement Serie A 23-24

As for Chiesa, after being one of Italy’s best players at Euro 2020, he’s suffered from injury issues for much of the last two years.

Despite those difficulties, his minutes-to-goal ratio in 2023-24 was the best in his Serie A career, with his nine goals coming on average once every 245 minutes.

Those nine strikes were his best goal return in Italy’s top flight since he scored 10 in 2019-20.

Spalletti also wants to leverage the hunger of players who are about to have their first experience in a major international tournament, such as Riccardo Calafiori and Gianluca Scamacca.

Calafiori impressed for Bologna this season, with the 22-year-old defender recording seven goal involvements in Serie A (2 goals, 5 assists).

Remarkably, no defender has produced more assists for Bologna across the last two decades of top-flight football.

In a recent press conference, Spalletti applauded the defender’s qualities, suggesting he could also play as a number 10 in future.

Finally, Scamacca scored more goals this season in one of the major European competitions than any other Italian, firing six times in Atalanta’s successful Europa League campaign.

The last Italian player to score more goals in Europe was Ciro Immobile in 2017-18 (eight goals for Lazio, also in the Europa League), and Scamacca will likely be Italy’s starting striker in Germany.

Despite the Azzurri not being among the favourites for Euro 2024, and their glaring absence from the last World Cup, the strength of the domestic game in Italy continues to progress.

In the last two seasons, five of the six European finals have featured an Italian team: Fiorentina twice in the Europa Conference League, Roma and Atalanta in the Europa League, and Inter in the Champions League.

It is now down to Spalletti and his new Italy to cap that with a strong showing this summer.

History shows us that successfully retaining the European Championship is extremely hard, but would anyone really be that shocked if Italy were left holding the trophy again come July?

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