Two things to watch for in Euro 2024 qualifier between Italy and England

Defending European champions Italy will take on England in a massive match in Group C of the Euro 2024 qualifiers. The match will take place at the Diego Maradona Stadium in Napoli on Thursday. It will be a repeat of the Euro 2020 final, which Italy won in penalties.

Gareth Southgate’s England has not been able to beat Italy in their last six matches and will look to improve their record on Thursday. Roberto Mancini’s Italy squad will try to put the disappointment of not being able to qualify for the 2022 World Cup behind them and start the qualification campaign on a good note.

There are two notable elements to look out for during the match.

Mouth-watering clash in the midfield on the cards

Both teams have sets of very good midfielders in their ranks. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that the midfield could decide the fate of Thursday’s match. Both teams are likely to go into the match with 4-3-3 formations.

Italy will have seasoned players like Marco Verratti and Jorginho in their midfield. Both players are quite adept at playing probing forward passes. Nicolo Barellà will play in the box-to-box role and try to put some additional pressure on the English defense.

Barellà also has the tendency to attack through the inside-right channel. As a result, the Azzurri will depend greatly on him for their attacks in the absence of Federico Chiesa and Ciro Immobile. On the other hand, England has a fine, young midfielder in the name of Jude Bellingham who has set the Bundesliga on fire this season. Bellingham will venture forward quite often.

Add Jordan Henderson’s ability to play long passes and Declan Rice’s tendency to shepherd the defense, and one has a very strong midfield trio. Barellà’s battle with Rice and Bellingham’s clash with Jorginho might go a long way towards deciding the match’s outcome.

Italy will rely on their right-winger Domenico Berardi to build their attacks. The inexperience of Argentinian-born striker Mateo Retegui will likely play to England’s advantage. One can assume that Italy will start a bit cautiously, given their inexperienced attack. They may rely on counter-attacks early on in the match.

English attack vs. Italian defense

England boasts a very strong attack, with the formidable Harry Kane playing as the number 9. The in-form Bukayo Saka, who has impressed for Arsenal, is expected to start on the right-wing. Saka’s tendency to cut in through the inside-right channel and Kane’s ability to drop back and help create attacks will only help England.

Either of the Manchester City duo of Jack Grealish and Phil Foden should start as the left-winger. As a result, the Italian defense will have the unenviable task of containing them. With Giorgio Chiellini no longer there, the onus will be on the center-back duo of Alessio Romagnoli and Francesco Acerbi to deal with the threat of Kane and Saka.

However,  Leonardo Spinazzola – who had a very good Euro 2020 before getting injured midway through the tournament – should be a key player in Italy’s defensive set-up. Spinazzola will have a part to play in containing Saka’s runs and will have to shift inside at times to do so.

Romagnoli is strong in the air and will have to deal with Kane’s aerial prowess. Luke Shaw is quite comfortable making overlapping runs and playing crosses into the box. Thus, Kane’s aerial prowess might come in handy for the visiting side. It remains to be seen how well the Italian defense will be able to deal with the Three Lions’ attacking prowess.

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