Francesco Acerbi or Alessandro Bastoni: Who should partner Leonardo Bonucci vs Austria?

Harry Symeou
Roberto Mancini has a tough decision to make with regards to who should partner Leonardo Bonucci versus Austria
Roberto Mancini has a tough decision to make with regards to who should partner Leonardo Bonucci versus Austria / Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Italy take on Austria in their Euro 2020 round of 16 tie at Wembley this weekend, and Roberto Mancini has a decision to make at centre-back in the absence of Giorgio Chiellini.

Having cruised through the group stage winning all three of their fixtures, much has been made of Italy's exciting and dynamic attacking play. But they've been equally as impressive defensively even in the 36-year-old defender's absence.

Leonardo Bonucci is expected to start in the heart of the defence but the question is, who will partner him in Chiellini's absence? The candidates to deputise are Lazio's Francesco Acerbi and Inter's Alessandro Bastoni.

Acerbi is the more senior in terms of his years at 33, although he's only managed ten more caps (16) than Bastoni (6) who is 22.

When Chiellini was substituted against Switzerland after picking up an injury, Mancini turned to Acerbi but having already qualified for the knockout stages heading into their final group game, Bastoni was afforded a start against Wales and he didn't disappoint.

Finding the right blend between youth and experience has been key in Italy's progression under the former Manchester City boss and depending on who he selects, it could impact that balance negatively if he gets it wrong.

While both are highly-competent defenders, both have been at their best when deployed as part of a back three at club level. Playing as part of a centre-back pairing requires a slight adaptation in terms of positioning and a lack of pace or mobility is far more easily exposed.

Francesco Acerbi
Acerbi was called upon when Chiellini was ruled out / Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

As Italy inevitably look to pin their opponents back, Mancini's system requires one of his defenders to step forwards into the midfield as part of their aggressive press and taking that into account, Bastoni would be the better option given his greater athleticism and progressive passing ability.

The dynamism shown by the midfield has seen the Italian defence well-protected so far and on that basis, the coach will feel more comfortable going with the experience of Acerbi. The fact he was the player he turned to when he lost Chiellini earlier in the tournament suggests he is slightly ahead of the exciting Bastoni in the pecking order and so he should be given the nod.