England v Italy preview

After beating Holland last Friday England continue their World Cup preparations with a date at Wembley against another fallen superpower of world football; Italy.

Whereas Holland and in full rebuild mode under Ronald Koeman, Italy arrive at Wembley with much the same veteran squad that failed to qualify for the World Cup now under the stewardship of caretaker boss Luigi Di Biagio.

After previously declaring his international retirement the legendary Gigi Buffon is back in the fold and could win an incredible 177th cap and lead out a side currently in a holding pattern whilst a new long-term manager is found- many cameramen will be spending this evening at Wembley trying to spy Chelsea boss Antonio Conte in the crowd, could he be tempted back into the international fold after leading an impressive Euro 2016 campaign?

Italy v Sweden - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: Second Leg
Gli Azzurri in disbelief as their World Cup dream ends in Milan last November


Can England keep the momentum going?

England will arrive in buoyant mood having comfortably beaten the Dutch in Amsterdam and will be keen to maintain their momentum. Much as friendly results are of relatively minor importance England will be wary that exactly 2 years ago they built up momentum with a 3-2 over Germany only to deflate expectations 3 days later with a loss at Wembley to Holland, Gareth Southgate will be anxious to avoid a repeat.

England celebrate in Amsterdam

The England team will likely be much changed from Friday with Southgate already confirming Jack Butland will start in-goal after Jordan Pickford gave an impressive audition for the number 1 jersey on Friday night.

Elsewhere Eric Dier is likely to start in the back 3 and it will be curious to see if Kyle Walker continues in the right-sided centre back role or reverts to right wing-back. Opportunity will likely knock for Ashley Young on the left after Danny Rose fluffed his lines against the Dutch whilst Lewis Cook looks likely to make his debut in midfield.

Jamie Vardy seems likely to start in attack whilst Adam Lallana will be keen to show he’s worth a place at the World Cup after an injury hit season with Liverpool. Dele Alli has no such worries but needs a big game to get in England’s starting 11 this summer after Jesse Lingard impressed on Friday night.

One player who won’t feature is Jack Wilshere. I mentioned in previous articles this pair of England fixtures represented Wilshere’s big chance to make his World Cup case but he’s blown it in trademark fashion by pulling up injured and although Southgate insists he could still make it that big chance is now there for others to seize.

Recent history favours Italy

Italy did for England at both Euro 2012 after Andrea Pirlo’s masterclass and panenka penalty and in the last World Cup thanks to Mario Balotelli. But neither Pirlo nor Mad Mario are still around for Italy and the last encounter came in Turin 3 years ago with Andros Townsend hitting a spectacular equalizer in a 1-1 draw. In all England have beaten Italy just 8 times in 26 meetings and tonight represents a good opportunity to claim a 9th. However Italy will be tough and with both sides natural counter punchers I’m expecting a cagey encounter at Wembley.

Pirlo’s magic moment deflates England at Euro 2012

Prediction: England 1-1 Italy

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