Today, in Benfica’s 2-1 come-from-behind win at Estoril, Pizzi scored what proved to be the winner for the Lisbon giants. This goal comes during a tumultuous season for Pizzi, in which poor form in the early stages of the season lost him his starting spot in the team to the young, promising Gonçalo Guedes. Lately, however, Pizzi has earned back his starting berth with a series of incisive displays for Benfica. His goal today leaves me wondering if he should be considered for inclusion on Portugal’s Euro 2016 squad this summer.
Much like the season he’s experiencing currently, Pizzi’s career has been a roller coaster. A Braga player at 18, a loan spell at home at Pacos Ferreira catapulted his career abroad, where he enjoyed a relatively successful stint in Spain, first for Atlético Madrid, then for Deportivo La Coruña. His performances for Deportivo earned him a spot in Portugal’s squad for a 2012 friendly against Gabon, where he debuted and scored a penalty in a 2-2 draw. Following his spell at Deportivo, he was purchased by Benfica for €6 million. He was immediately loaned to Espanyol in La Liga for the 2013/2014 season, before returning to Benfica last season.
At Benfica last season, Jorge Jesus converted Pizzi from a winger, his preferred position, to a more central role. The Benfica coach had seemingly mastered the art of transitioning players into alternate roles, with Fábio Coentrão and Enzo Pérez superb examples. Pizzi enjoyed a successful season, all things considering, appearing 23 times in the league as Benfica won the league for a second consecutive season. But at the end of the season, when Jorge Jesus scandalously departed Benfica for Lisbon rivals Sporting CP, Portuguese football was thrown for a loop.
This season, under the ever-capable Rui Vitória, Pizzi has returned to his spot on the wing. Initially a starter, Pizzi lost his place to Gonçalo Guedes, whose early season performances were stellar, considering his young age. But since a stellar performance against a strong SC Braga team on November 21st, Pizzi hasn’t looked back. Since that game, the winger has justified his spot in Benfica’s starting eleven. A string of solid performances lead me to wonder if he can somehow find his way onto the plane to France this summer? What will it take?
First off, what are Pizzi’s strengths? His biggest strength I would argue is his versatility. For the 2014 World Cup, André Almeida was included in Portugal’s squad for his positional versatility, despite being by most accounts an average player. Pizzi is an attacking player at his core, but can operate both on the wing, just behind the striker, or even in the center of the park. This season and his season at Deportivo, have shown that he is most effective on the wing, but perhaps he could influence a game as a substitute in another position.
Pizzi’s other strength, and perhaps his most effective, is his stamina. In a period of less than two weeks in December, Benfica played four matches. Congested schedules are the name of the game around the end of the year, making squad rotation a common practice. Pizzi played 90 minutes in each of the four matches Benfica played during that period. Additionally, he scored against Vitória Setúbal and performed admirably during each of the matches. Since that run of games in December, Pizzi has played a full 90 minutes in each game Benfica has played, apart from today’s match, when he was substituted with 2 minutes remaining.
So, do I think Pizzi will be included in Portugal’s Euro 2016 squad? No, probably not. I hope that’s not too much of a buzzkill for readers, but I’m being realistic. Portugal has a plethora of talent at the moment, and his inclusion just may not happen. But what I do think is that Pizzi should be seriously considered, especially if he can continue to perform as he has since November. If he can keep that up, the decision to include him may not be a difficult one.