The U21 European Championship begins on Wednesday, June 17 and The Set Pieces’ new signing Phil Costa has previewed every team.
MANAGER: Luigi Di Biagio
FIXTURES: Sweden (June 18, 1700GMT), Portugal (June 21, 1945GMT), England (June 24, 1945GMT)
OUR VERDICT: After finishing as runners-up in the 2013 European Championships, Luigi Di Biagio and Italy will be looking to go one step further this time around. With a deep and talented 23 man squad, there is no reason why the Azzuri could not be on the podium come June 30.
Daniele Rugani :- Despite spending the last two seasons on loan at his boyhood club Empoli, centre-back Daniele Rugani is actually on the books of Juventus. Rugani is not blessed with raw pace, so he relies mostly on his impressive mental attributes to defend, such as concentration and reading of the game. At 6ft 2in tall, he is also effective in the air, proving himself to be a force in both his own and the opposition box. His former manager at Empoli, Maurizio Sarri once said of Rugani, “he’s like a computer, and that will surely lead him to good things.” He is very composed in possession, as well as averaging an incredible 7.39 clearances a game.
The 2014/15 season was a record breaking campaign for the 20 year-old defender, who became the first Serie A player ever to play every single minute of the domestic season (3420). Just to rub it in, he did this without receiving a single yellow card. He played a vital part in Empoli’s promotion to Italy’s top division in the 2013/14 season, and was just as effective last season helping to stave off their relegation.
With two seasons of consistent first team football under his belt at Empoli, Juventus are now insistent on keeping the centre back in and around their first team, rejecting loan offers from Sampdoria and Genoa. In January, there was reported interest from Arsenal, but again that seemed to fade away. Rugani is an excellent centre back who could be one of the defenders of the tournament as he looks to make his mark on the national side as well as on Juventus manager Max Allegri.
Daniele Baselli :- Daniele Baselli is a highly rated 23 year-old central midfielder who plays for Atalanta. Baselli is 6ft tall and weighs around 70kg, which is a good build for what his role on the field desires. He is able to exert himself physically in tackles as well as aerially, but is also not too stocky to restrict his stamina or movement. His main strengths are intercepting the ball and tackling, before quickly distributing to more creative players. He provides a nice physical balance in the Atalanta midfield with the more technically orientated Luca Cigarini.
Baselli moved to Atalanta from Cittadella in 2013 and has not looked back, establishing himself as a key member in the Nerrazuri midfield. He is the typical central midfielder, always looking to be involved in everything that’s going on with a well-rounded skills set. He has also represented Italy at U-18 and U-19 level.
At 23, Baselli will be one of the older players in this Italian side, and after a very good second half of the season he will be looking to make an impact in the centre of midfield. After featuring consistently for Atalanta, his aim now will be to make a case for himself to be considered for the Italian senior squad after featuring for all of the youth sides. He is a very energetic and driven player, who will always give 100% as well as having the personality to motivate those around him.
Danilo Cataldi :- Danilo Cataldi is a 20 year-old central midfielder and a product of Lazio’s youth system. For the 2013–2014 season he was sent on loan to Serie B club Crotone, where he gained valuable experience playing as a starter making 35 appearances and scoring four goals. He made his return to Lazio’s first team for the 2014-2015 season, becoming an ever-present in the side post-January, after impressing manager Stefano Pioli.
Cataldi is an excellent passer of the ball. He performs well in the deep lying playmaker role, almost single-handedly dictating the tempo of the game. Whether he needs to make 40 yard diagonals, short five yard passes or quick one-twos, the 20 year-old is capable of doing them all and his composure and presence on the ball really helped turn around Lazio’s form towards the end of the season. He also likes to shoot from range, but the defensive aspect to his game can definitely be improved upon. The Italian is also prone to yellow and red cards, which is another characteristic to his game that he will need to restrain as top clubs can’t afford to have players with discipline issues.
Whether or not Cataldi will be given a starting role for Italy is unclear, but he would certainly merit one after playing at a very high level for Lazio in their quest for Champions League football. The more he plays, the more he will improve and this is a very positive sign for Italy – especially with the retirement of Pirlo just around the corner. The Azzurri have a very talented group of youngsters coming through, and perhaps Cataldi will be another able to make his mark on the side.
Domenico Berardi :- Domenico Berardi, another young player on the books of Juventus (Ed’s note: 50% on the books), has played on loan at Sassuolo (Ed’s note: where the other 50% is registered) for the last two seasons and has made a considerable impact. He is deployed on the right wing, but plays almost like a secondary striker to compatriot Simone Zaza. Cutting in on his wicked left foot is a predictable move of his, but stopping him is an entirely different matter. Able to score a variety of different goals, whether they be screamers from range, back post headers or poachers’ tap ins – this makes him so difficult to defend against. Always looking to drive forward, his creativity in the final third and consistent end product has been vital for Sassuolo and they would have certainly struggled without him.
Last season was another productive one for the Italian, scoring 15 goals and getting 10 assists in only 32 appearances for an inconsistent Sassuolo side. For the talented 20 year-old forward, success has always felt inevitable. Praise has followed him around from a young age and he has always shown that something special which he now seems destined to deliver on consistently.
Berardi is not the finished product just yet, as he can sometimes hold onto the ball for far too long and he has a temper which can be targeted by opponents. But there is no doubt about it that the 20 year old is one of the most exciting Italian prospects, and he now has a chance to show that he can be consistent in a national tournament in addition to club level. Similarly to Daniele Rugani, Allegri seems to want him around the Juventus first team next season and, if that’s the case, this will only benefit him, being around and learning from such an impressive squad.
You can follow Phil Costa on Twitter (@Costafc_)