Conte, Verratti back NYCFC’s Andrea Pirlo despite poor MLS and Italy form

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Andrea Pirlo hasn’t started his MLS career the way many had anticipated upon the bearded legend’s arrival in the United States, but his national team boss isn’t taking criticism of Italy’s favorite midfielder kindly.

Italian national team manager Antonio Conte told RaiSport, “I’m mortified by the criticisms of Pirlo. Before every game they say he’s irreplaceable, then if his game is a 6.5 instead of an 8, people evaluate him poorly. He knows what I think of him and I don’t have to explain that to anyone else.”

Pirlo, currently with the Italian national team as they sputtered to a 1-0 win over Malta in Euro 2016 qualification, has struggled in Major League Soccer with New York City FC. The MLS side has won just one of Pirlo’s six starts while losing four, and he has looked impactful at times, but at the same time has become a massive defensive liability in midfield and even occasionally going forward with loose passes and stretches of invisibility.

But while Conte continues to back his midfield rock, so too does fellow midfielder Marco Verratti.

When asked if Verratti, just 22 years old compared to Pirlo’s 36, is in line to replace his elder in the distributor role, Verratti replied that no replacement is necessary just yet.

“I get along well with Pirlo,” Verratti told Gazzetta dello Sport. “He plays in a deeper role and constructs the play, while I move closer to the opposition goal.”

“Pirlo must be the first choice in midfield, then we’ll see about the rest. When he decides to retire, then we’ll think about how to replace him. I have played in every midfield role and have no problems, but the most important thing is that Pirlo carries on for as long as possible.”

Italy, tied for the lead in Group H, takes on Bulgaria later today looking to distance themselves from Norway and Croatia. There are reports that either Pirlo, Verratti, or both could be benched for the match after the sluggish Malta win.