Predicting the XI: How Italy should line up at Euro 2016
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With Euro 2016 fast approaching, theScore is taking a fine-tooth comb to a handful of marquee squads, offering our humble opinion on who should make up the starting XI for Germany, France, Spain, England, Belgium, and Italy - the six favourites to hoist the trophy this summer. Who starts, who sits, who gets left home, and, most importantly, why.

Here we examine the options at the disposal of Italy boss Antonio Conte.

theScore's starting XI

A strong blend of defensive solidity with spots of attacking flair, the Azzurri may not be as talented - or deep - as in previous years, but the starting XI is still one of the best on the continent.

Gianluigi Buffon

There is no debate here. Gianluigi Buffon has been the undisputed starter for Italy for more than a decade, and he will take up his usual spot between the posts until he retires. None of his countrymen display more passion than the 38-year-old, who belts out the Italian anthem before friendlies, qualifiers, and knockout matches like it's a battle cry.

And it's not a matter of loyalty. Buffon is performing despite his age, going a record 973 minutes in Serie A without conceding a goal. With the league's best defence in front of him, Buffon isn't the busiest goalkeeper, but he's the most reliable.

Andrea Barzagli

The fulcrum of the Italian defence, Andrea Barzagli is the calming presence, the release valve, and the centre-back who gives the back three structure. Disciplined and always in the right position, Barzagli isn't afraid to carry the ball forward. Most importantly, he has achieved a strong level of trust with his goalkeeper.

"Even if he’s 35 years of age, I’d never hesitate once about playing him in the most important match of the season so far," Buffon said last month.

The only concern is his health. Barzagli had to withdraw from Italy's friendlies in March with a thigh injury, and he missed several games earlier in the season with muscular problems.

Leonardo Bonucci

Leonardo Bonucci is a modern-day defender in the truest sense. A midfielder in his formative days, he brings many qualities to the centre-back position: aerial ability, passing range, and poise. There are few other defenders in the world who can snuff out an offensive play and contribute to one of his own at the other end of the pitch.

He is the boldest of the Juventus backline, and although he is prone to the odd error, Bonucci brings an unquestionable air of authority to both club and country.

Giorgio Chiellini

The last of the Juventus three, Giorgio Chiellini is by no means a pushover. While Bonucci has the brains, Chiellini has the brawn. He isn't easily dispossessed, and he isn't easily taken off the field. He gives both the Bianconeri and the Azzurri the character they need.

Much like teammate Barzagli, the 31-year-old Pisa native has a questionable injury record. Chiellini has already missed nine games for Juventus this season with a variety of ailments, with Daniele Rugani filling in. Italy would desperately miss Chiellini's fighting spirit if he isn't healthy before Euro 2016.

Matteo Darmian

Italy's 3-4-3 formation is only possible because of a player like Matteo Darmian, whose versatility on the wings makes him an asset in defence and a threat in attack. Darmian, with his adventurous runs and tactical awareness, gives support to the whole system.

His partner on international duty, Alessandro Florenzi, provides the necessary width on the left side of the pitch. But it is the right wing in particular where Darmian can do damage: His pace fuels a higher tempo of football, and he can cover ground quickly if Italy loses possession.

Marco Verratti

Marco Verratti is the heir to Andrea Pirlo, and it's not a comparison the 23-year-old can't handle. Although he has started just 11 Ligue 1 matches with Paris Saint-Germain this season - a groin injury has limited his performances - Verratti is mature enough to simply slot right in and pick up where he left off.

He was one of the bright points in an otherwise disastrous 2014 World Cup campaign, showing courage on the ball and dictating the midfield with his short passes. Italy's lineup doesn't boast the same attacking potential as his PSG outfit, leaving him as the central source of inspiration this summer in France.

Claudio Marchisio

Juventus is at its best with Claudio Marchisio in its starting XI, and the same can be said for the national team. Marchisio, one of the more underrated players of his generation, provides the right balance to the midfield. He does in the middle of the pitch what Barzagli does at the back, keeping things clean, calm, and organised.

It's no coincidence that Juve has won 19 of the 26 matches in which Marchisio has started this season. He was injured during the club's poor start, and many point to his absence as a reason why.

Alessandro Florenzi

Florenzi has played virtually every outfield position over the course of this season for Roma. Naturally a winger, the 25-year-old has served a large stint in the full-back role. But he hasn't lost his attacking instincts, and with six Serie A goals so far, he's proved that.

Florenzi isn't the most defensively sound player, as he can sometimes lose possession cheaply and cough up a giveaway. He would also have to find comfort on the left side as opposed to his usual right. But Italy can draw inspiration from his forward thinking and relentless work rate.

Lorenzo Insigne

Shunned by Conte for several months, Lorenzo Insigne found himself among the Italy call-ups in March after putting in irresistible performances for Napoli. Supporters of both his hometown club and country didn't hide their anger at his exclusion from recent squads, but any wrongs were made right last week. Insigne scored Italy's lone goal in a 1-1 draw against Spain on Thursday, and he could've had another.

With 11 goals and 10 assists in Serie A this season, Insigne couldn't be ignored any longer.

Antonio Candreva

Antonio Candreva seems to save his best performances for Italy. He had to wait until November to net his first Serie A goal of the current season, but since then, he has rediscovered his form.

Players like Federico Bernardeschi and Giacomo Bonaventura have enjoyed better overall seasons, but Candreva has a familiarity with the Azzurri that neither of them do. He also fits naturally into the right-winger role in the 3-4-3 formation, giving Conte less of a tactical headache.

Graziano Pelle

Italy's weakest position is indeed the No. 9 role. Graziano Pelle isn't a terrible option by any means. He just isn't the most reliable of scorers.

Pelle has found the back of the net again - his goals against Stoke City and Liverpool helped Southampton achieve consecutive victories before the international break - but he only recently regained his spot in the club's starting lineup.

The last few games of the season are crucial. Pelle is a starter for Italy now, and it's his place to lose.

Substitutes

Italy's bench isn't bad, but injuries to the defence would severely hamper the team's chances in June and July. The midfield is probably the strongest area of reinforcement, considering the width Bernardeschi and Bonaventura can provide and the security of Thiago Motta and Jorginho. Up front, it's light: Simone Zaza can have an impact off the bench, while Stephan El Shaarawy is only now coming back to life.

Goalkeepers: Salvatore Sirigu (PSG), Mattia Perin (Genoa)

Defenders: Luca Antonelli (AC Milan), Davide Astori (Fiorentina), Daniele Rugani (Juventus), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan)

Midfielders: Motta (PSG), Jorginho (Napoli), Bernardeschi (Fiorentina), Bonaventura (AC Milan)

Forwards: Zaza (Juventus), El Shaarawy (Roma/AC Milan)

Left Home

The biggest name left out is Mario Balotelli. He hasn't exactly transgressed this season - Balotelli sat out several months with a nagging groin injury - but he also hasn't done enough to merit a place. Gianluigi Donnarumma is simply too young to make the trip, and Sebastian Giovinco will likely be the unhappiest of the bunch.

Goalkeepers: Donnarumma (AC Milan), Marco Sportiello (Atalanta)

Defenders: Andrea Ranocchia (Sampdoria/Inter), Lorenzo De Silvestri (Sampdoria), Francesco Acerbi (Sassuolo), Alessio Romagnoli (AC Milan)

Midfielders: Riccardo Montolivo (AC Milan), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Roberto Soriano (Sampdoria), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Emanuele Giaccherini (Bologna)

Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Liverpool/AC Milan), Eder (Inter), Ciro Immobile (Borussia Dortmund/Torino), Giovinco (Toronto FC), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo)

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Predicting the XI: How Italy should line up at Euro 2016
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