Argentina will continue their preparations for the summer’s FIFA World Cup in a friendly against Italy, who have failed to qualify for football’s premier competition.

Argentina, led by their talisman Lionel Messi, will take on European giants Italy in a friendly at the Etihad Stadium in England on Friday night.

Argentina just managed to scrape through to qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia, thanks to some magic from Messi and they will be hoping to get some valuable preparation for the summer’s competition in the upcoming friendlies.

The fixture offers a number of players an opportunity to make an impression on manager Jorge Sampaoli to seal a place for the trip to Russia while a good result will also mean they will have confidence and momentum going into the World Cup.

Italy, on the other hand, failed to make it through to World Cup for the first time since 1958, after being beaten by Sweden over two legs in the final qualifiers, which led to the sacking of manager Giampiero Ventura.

However, interim coach Luigi Di Biagio will be hoping that his charges will be up for the challenge against the 2014 World Cup finalists and put in a solid display. It is not going to be easy however, considering the Azzurri have won just two of their last six fixtures (2D, 2L).

Team News & Tactics

Argentina

Sampaoli is expected to stick to the 3-3-3-1 setup that he has preferred to set his team out in Argentina’s previous set of friendlies towards the end of the last year.

Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero is expected to be retained as the first-choice goalkeeper for Friday night’s fixture, with the three-man defence in front of him likely to comprise of the experienced veteran Javier Mascherano, alongside Federico Fazio and Manchester City star Nicolas Otamendi.

Giovanni Lo Celso is growing into an important member of this Argentine side and he should be starting in central midfield against Italy. He is likely to be partnered up by AC Milan midfielder Lucas Biglia who will be tasked with the playmaking duties from the deep midfield area and Leandro Paredes.

Angel Di Maria has been in good nick for his club Paris Saint-Germain coming into the international break and should start on the right-flank, while 29-year old Diego Perotti could find himself starting on the opposite wing. Argentina’s little magician Lionel Messi is expected to slot in as the No.10 and pull the strings for his side.

Sergio Aguero is a doubt for the fixture owing to a knee injury, which would mean Gonzalo Higuain is likely to spearhead the attack for La Albiceleste against the Italians on Friday.

Probable Starting XI (3-3-3-1): Romero; Mascherano, Fazio, Otamendi; Paredes, Biglia, Lo Celso; Di Maria, Messi, Perotti; Higuain;

Italy

Luigi di Biagio has shown preference towards a 4-4-2 setup when in-charge of the Italy U-21 side and he is likely to scrap the 3-5-2 used by his predecessor Ventura for the upcoming rounds of fixtures.

Legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon came back from retirement and is likely to lead the team out against Argentina at the Etihad Stadium. He will definitely start between the sticks ahead of Gianluigi Donnarumma and Mattia Perin.

Alessandro Florenzi is expected to slot in as the right-back while out-of-favour Manchester United defender Matteo Darmian should be starting out on the opposite side. Both the full-backs will be in for a stern test against a dynamic Argentine attack. At centre-back, Leonardo Bonucci is expected to line up alongside Daniele Rugani after it was confirmed that Giorgio Chiellini will miss the friendlies with an injury problem.

Marco Verratti is pretty much a guaranteed starter in the middle of the park for the Azzurri but the spot alongside him will be up for grabs with the likes of Jorginho, Marco Parolo and Giacomo Bonaventura all vying for the place. However, Jorginho could get the nod owing to his impressive form for Napoli this season. Antonio Candreva and Lorenzo Insigne are expected to line up on the right and the left flanks respectively.

Serie A’s leading goalscorer Ciro Immobile is sure to start in the two-man strike-force against Argentina. He is likely to be partnered by AC Milan’s young sensation Patrick Cutrone who is set to make his international debut, having scored 15 goals in all competitions this term for his club.

Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Buffon; Florenzi, Bonucci, Rugani, Darmian; Candreva, Verratti, Jorginho, Insigne; Immobile, Cutrone;

Player to watch

Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Can the little magician weave his spell against Italy? (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Can the little magician weave his spell against Italy? (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

The best footballer on the planet – when Lionel Messi is in action, all eyes will invariably be glued to him, irrespective of the array of stars that will be on display on Friday night. The maestro has the ability to turn the tides of any game with one magical swing of his left foot and Argentina will once again be looking up to him to make the difference leading to the summer’s World Cup.

Prediction

Argentina 2-1 Italy

Argentina will have plenty of motivation coming into the game as they look to gain form and momentum ahead of the big tournament in Russia. Italy, on the other hand, have very little to play for and that can prove to be their downfall, given how short on confidence they are currently, or could work in favour of them as well, considering that they will be under no pressure.

However, Argentina’s attack has enough firepower in their ranks to punish this Italian side on Friday night and we predict a 2-1 triumph for La Albiceleste, with Messi likely to get his name on the scoresheet.

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