The second international break of the season is here, and one of the first matches sees Italy lock horns with Ukraine in Genoa on Wednesday night.
The Azzurri‘s slump has just failed to be nipped despite the arrival of a new head coach, which usually works wonders for a struggling side. Under the tutelage of Roberto Mancini, Italy have won just one game – incidentally his first match in charge of the national side.
Since then, Italy have failed to win any of their four subsequent matches, including their inaugural UEFA Nations League tie last month. Their opponents on Wednesday, however, have shown no such signs of struggle under current boss Andriy Shevchenko.
In fact, Ukraine are unbeaten in 2018, having won four of the six games that they have played this calendar year. Their overall record under national legend Shevchenko has been solid as well, losing just three of the 18 games he has overseen since taking charge of the national side in 2016.
Roberto Mancini though, will take heart from the fact that Ukraine have never beaten Italy, with the last encounter between the two sides ending in a 2-0 win for the Azzurri. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
The going has been tough for Roberto Mancini for the most part during his stint as the head coach of the Italian National Side. While the results have been poor, Mancini’s case has not been helped by some odd decisions that he has taken thus far, as regards the team selection.
There could be an argument that he is still zeroing in on his best eleven as well as preferred formation. But, the Italy boss has also deployed some players out of position at times, which has failed to bring the best out of them. When Ukraine come visiting though, the experimentation should stop from Mancini in a bid to get a positive result.
With that in mind, the 4-3-3 should be the formation of choice for Mancini, with Ciro Immobile being his first-choice striker, and Patrick Cutrone being his backup. Giving the Lazio front man company upfront, should be the in-form duo of Lorenzo Insigne and Domenico Berardi. Although, Federico Chiesa has usually been the preferred player for the right flank.
In midfield, Jorginho seems to have become the player Mancini is building his side around. And, the Chelsea schemer should start as the no. 6, with Roberto Gagliardini and Lorenzo Pellegrini being his partners in the middle of the park.
As far as the defence is concerned, it will be surprising if Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are not reinstated to the side after they were named on the bench for the loss to Portugal. Flanking the veteran duo at the back, should be Alessandro Florenzi and Domenico Criscito, who will be playing in familiar territory.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Chiellini, Criscito; Pellegrini, Jorginho, Gagliardini; Berardi, Immobile, Insigne
While Mancini is struggling to find his feet as the Italy head coach, stability has been the name of the game for Ukraine under Andriy Shevchenko. The 42-year-old’s confidence in his core group of players is also evident from the fact that he has retained the bulk of the squad that was picked last month.
Shevchenko sets his side up to be solid at the back, with Yaroslav Rakitskiy and Mykyta Burda forging a formidable central defensive partnership. Alongside them, Bohdan Butko and Mykola Matviyenko are also known to be solid on the defensive front while also posing a threat while advancing forward.
Behind the back four, captain Andriy Pyatov is an assured pair of hands that will be tough to get past on Wednesday. Taras Stepanenko is likely to sit at the base of the midfield, providing the cover to defence, with Ruslan Malinovskyi aiding him in central areas with his relentless pressing.
The key men for Shevchenko though, will be wide men Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, who have been ever present for Ukraine over the last two years. Meanwhile, Marlos provides the cutting edge to the Ukrainian attack, linking up with the wide men and the striker by playing in a free role.
Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Pyatov; Butko, Rakitskiy, Burda, Matviyenko; Stepanenko; Yarmolenko, Marlos, Malinovskyi, Konoplyanka; Yaremchuk
- Italy dominate their head-to-head record with Ukraine, having won six of the seven meeting between the two sides (D1).
- The famed Italian defensive solidity has been nowhere to be seen in the last one year, with the Azzurri keeping just one clean sheet in their last nine games.
- Ukraine have been formidable in 2018, having not been beaten in the six games they have played this year (W4 D2).
- In fact, it has been tough to keep the visitors from scoring as well, with Andriy Shevchenko’s men only failing to find the back of the net in one of their last seven games.
- By contrast, Italy have struggled a lot under Roberto Mancini, who has overseen just one win in the short time he has been in charge of the national side (D2 L2).
Player to Watch
The shining light of the Ukrainian National Side, Yarmolenko has been on a roll of late, kicking on since scoring the winner for his side against Slovakia. The 29-year-old has since been contributing in prolific fashion at club level with West Ham, including a brace against Everton last month.
Against Italy his powerful presence on the right flank will hold key for Ukraine, if they are to break their duck against the struggling Italy. Expect Yarmolenko to wreak havoc against a nervy Italian defence to possibly pave the way for a popular win.
Italy 1-1 Ukraine
It has been a forgetful year for Italy, first missing the trip to Russia for the World Cup and then starting the rebuilding phase in an extremely slow fashion. That Roberto Mancini has been unable to zero in on his core group of players has been a big contributing factor, and the apprehension could be palpable on Wednesday as well.
Ukraine, on the other hand, are a confident bunch under Andriy Shevchenko, which should shine through on the pitch against the nervy Italian defence. Expect a keenly contested affair, which should not have a lot of goal mouth action. The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-1 draw between the two sides in Genoa.