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Feature | Immobile vs. Belotti: the race to be Italy’s no. 9

Serie A returned after the international break this weekend and normal service resumed for Lazio striker Ciro Immobile. The Azzurri front-man, fresh from the national team’s qualification for Euro 2020, found the net with a stoppage-time penalty to grab a point for his team whilst solidifying his place at the top of the Capocannoniere classifications.

Immobile failed to find the net in his 79-minutes on the pitch against Greece as the Azzurri clinched a place at next summer’s finals. He then sat out the demolition of Liechtenstein as an unused substitute, whilst his rival for the number 9 shirt Andrea Belotti netted a double.

The central striking role continued to be something of a problem position as Roberto Mancini’s national side safely negotiated qualifying Group J and Immobile’s form between now and next May could see him finally grab the first-choice starting berth.

As a Torino player in 2014, Immobile was handed his first call-up by then national team boss Cesare Prandelli. At the end of a season where the striker scored 22 goals in 33 appearances for ‘I Granata’, Prandelli gave him his international debut before selecting him for his World Cup squad in Brazil. At the age of just 24, it seemed like Italy had found a goalscoring frontman on which they could rely for at least the next few major tournaments.

Things didn’t quite turn out that way though, a big money move to Borussia Dortmund saw Immobile struggle to find the net which resulted in an apparent loss of confidence.

A short-lived spell at Sevilla followed but there was no up-lift in the Italian’s fortunes as he once again struggled to find the form that he had appeared to leave behind in Turin. After a 33-goal season for Torino, Immobile had only managed five league goals in an eighteen-month spell in Germany and Spain.

A brief loan back at Torino was curtailed by injury before he joined Lazio in 2016 where he would regain his previous form. He has since scored 76 Serie A goals, ten more than any other player over the same time period. At the age of 29, next summer may provide Immobile with a last chance to lead the line for his country at a major tournament.

As central strikers go, it would seem that it will be a straight fight between Immobile and Torino hitman Belotti. The majority of Mancini’s striking options favour playing from wide areas whilst Mario Balotelli remains out of favour and Moise Kean has suffered a stuttering start to his time at Everton. 

A goal in September’s qualifier against Finland saw the Immobile end a goal-drought for the national side stretching back just over two years. The prolific Lazio match-winner admitted that a weight had been lifted by breaking his poor international run and that confidence boost may just push him to the front of the queue for the number 9 shirt next summer.

The goal against Finland was Immobile’s 8th in 37-appearances for the Azzurri, far removed from his impressive Serie A strike rate. If it does come down a straight shoot-out between the Lazio man and Belotti, few would bet against Immobile coming out on top given his start to this campaign.

Nine goals and three assists in his opening eight Serie A matches is an impressive return, even from a former Capocannoniere. His tally sits at 96 goals in 146 appearances for the Capital-club as his return to Italy from his 18-month spell in Germany and Spain led to the return of his killer instinct.

Italy have a history of strikers hitting a purple-patch during major tournament finals and if Immobile can carry his Lazio form with him to the Euro’s, he may well follow in the footsteps of Paolo Rossi and Salvatore Schillaci and take the tournament by storm. His form and confidence appear at an all-time high which Lazio are profiting from and if he hasn’t already, he should force his way to the front of Roberto Mancini’s list of strikers by next summer.

MG

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