Four players Italy should build around
There is no question that one of the biggest disappointments during the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers was Italy's elimination against Sweden. The Azzurri were the stronger team on paper, but failed to defeat an organised Swedish side and ended losing 0-1 on the aggregate score after a one-goal loss on Stockholm and a goalless draw in Italy.
The absence of Italy in the World Cup not only will mean the country's first absence in the tournament since 1958. It also means Italy need to undergo a rebuilding process in order to re-discover their identity. And even though some players should never return to the side, there are a few that can be considered building blocks going forward. Here are three of them:
Gianluigi Buffon confirmed he will retire from the National Team, so Italy needs to find a new goalkeeper. Fortunately for them, they have two decent alternatives in Mattia Perin and Gianluigi Donnarumma, although the latter should become the starter going forward. And quite honestly, Donnarumma seems like the perfect replacement for Buffon because he is talented enough to guard Italy's goal for the next 15 years at the earliest.
The AC Milan goalkeeper not only is a regular starter at the club level, but he also has the traits needed to fill the void left by Buffon. He has personality, is mature beyond his years, and already knows what it means to play to a big team. Expect him to become a regular starter sooner than later for the Italian side.
Good teams need balance in midfield. Real Madrid has Casemiro, Manchester City has Fernandinho, Barcelona has Sergio Busquets and Bayern Munich has Arturo Vidal, just to name a few. National teams need that kind of balance as well, and Italy is lucky to have one of the best midfielders in the world in their current squad. He goes by the name of Marco Verratti.
The PSG midfielder is one of the best holding midfielders in Europe, although he can fill a number of roles on the pitch. He can operate as a more defensive presence, can act as a holding piece, and also can operate as a more attacking-minded option alongside a more defensive player. For instance, he could become a deep-lying playmaker alongside Daniele de Rossi but can play more defensively if slotted next to someone like Roberto Gagliardini or Marco Parolo, just to name a few. But his versatility and impressive talent are enough to make him a key member of the squad going forward.
Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile
Italy has plenty of attacking options for the foreseeable future. From established internationals such as Lorenzo Insigne and Stephan El Shaarawy to highly-touted prospects such as Federico Bernardeschi, Federico Chiesa or Domenico Berardi, the Azzurri side shouldn't have problems when it comes to their attacking depth in the coming years. But they also need a proven goalscorer, and that's where players such as Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti come into play.
Let's start with Immobile. The Lazio striker has been one of the most productive strikers in the world over the past two years, and there's no question he is Italy's biggest goalscoring hope in the immediate future. He has not performed as well with the NT in comparison to what he does for the club, but he is a talented forward who should break out sooner than later. On the other hand, Belotti is an exciting young player who should only get better with time. The Torino star can be Italy's next great forward if he continues to progress at the rate he has done it in his career so far.