Mario Balotelli back in Italy fold, but Conte cannot compromise
Controversial Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli is back in the Italy squad, despite scoring just twice in 14 games across all club competitions for the Anfield outfit.
Azzurri head coach Antonio Conte, an 11/10 chance with Coral to steer his team to a Euro 2016 qualifying victory over Croatia on November 16th, will be giving no favours to the former Manchester City, Inter and AC Milan forward, however.
“Balotelli is a normal footballer, just like the others,” Conte said. “He has significant experience with the national team, but that’s not enough. He needs to catch my eye and I have to see if he can adapt to our type of football.”
Competition for places in Conte’s favoured 3-5-2 formation will be cut-throat, though, with seven forwards named in the Italian squad to face Croatia and then Albania in friendly action. Balotelli’s fellow Premier League frontman Graziano Pelle grabbed the winner in the last Azzurri outing against Malta.
Borussia Dortmund striker Ciro Immobile partnered the Southampton striker from the start in that encounter, while Sassuolo star Simone Zaza is also included. These out-and-out centre forwards are joined by diminutive Juventus player Sebastian Giovinco and wide attackers Stephan El Shaarawy, Balotelli’s former Rossoneri teammate, and Alessio Cerci.
Add in eye-catching World Cup performer Antonio Candreva, and Conte has mouth-watering options in this area of the pitch. Defence is more of a concern, however, as uncapped Torino veteran Emiliano Moretti, who played his best football at Valencia between 2004 and 2009, has been drafted in.
Giorgio Chiellini is the only experienced international at the back, alongside Azzurri skipper Gianluigi Buffon in nets. There are chances for Juventus colleague Angelo Ogbonna and Inter Milan captain Andrea Ranocchia to impress Conte.
Midfield enforcer Daniele De Rossi is set rack up his century of caps against Croatia and, with playmaker Andrea Pirlo sitting these matches out with a hip problem, there is a chance for young pretender Marco Verratti. Conte may wait until the Albania friendly to hand debuts to maiden call-ups Andrea Bertolacci (Genoa) and Sampdoria’s Roberto Soriano.