Top spot in Group 3 of the UEFA Nations League A will be on the line when Italy welcome Portugal to Stadio Olimpico in a Matchday 5 tie on Saturday
Matchday 5 of the UEFA Nations League group stage will conclude on Saturday, with seven matches across the eight leagues. The marquee match of the day will pit Italy and Portugal against each other at Stadio Olimpico, with the two heavyweights vying for top spot in Group 3 of League A.
Group 3 of UEFA Nations League A is tantalisingly set up, with Portugal yet to book their place in the finals in June, despite winning each of their first two ties. The Seleccao are closely followed by Italy, who have four points from three games and can go into pole position with a win on Saturday. Regardless of the result though, both sides will be a part of League A in the next iteration, with Poland relegated.
Italy have been rather uninspiring over the last two international breaks, having managed to win just one of the four games they have played. But, the aforementioned win did come in their most recent outing, which meant the Azzurri avoided relegation from UEFA Nations League A and remained in contention for a place in the finals.
Portugal, on the other hand, have been quite impressive since their elimination from the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Round of 16. Fernando Santos’ men are yet to be beaten in the four games that they have played, winning three of those games. A point on Saturday will be enough to seal their passage to the finals in June.
The reverse fixture, played at Estadio da Luz on Matchday 2, with Portugal securing a narrow 1-0 win courtesy an Andre Silvs goal. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides on Saturday, The hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Nations League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Roberto Mancini has made sweeping changes to the squad he had picked for the last set of international fixtures. As many as eight players have been excluded by the Italy head coach, with the likes of Sandro Tonali, Stefano Sensi and Vicenzo Grifo receiving their first call-ups to the national side.
The major absentee for Italy though, will be Federico Bernardeschi, with the Juventus winger pulling out of the squad due to a hamstring injury. In his absence, Federico Chiesa is the only viable option to start on the right flank in the clutch UEFA Nations League tie.
But, with most of his other regulars available, only a few spots are up for grabs. One of these positions is on the left side of defence, with Cristiano Biraghi and Emerson Palmieri vying for the left-back slot. Birgahi has been a man in form for Fiorentina, and should get the nod on Saturday.
The rest of the backline should be a straightforward selection, with Alessandro Florenzi, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci completing the defensive unit that will provide cover to Gianluigi Donnarumma. Saturday’s game will be a monumental one for Chiellini in particular, with the Juventus defender set to win his 100th Italy cap.
Up ahead in midfield, Jorginho and Marco Verratti are certain starters, with the final spot being a toss-up between Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Pellegrini. Barella came into his own against Poland and struck up a fine partnership with Verratti and Jorginho in the middle of the park, meaning he is likely to start ahead of the AS Roma man.
Upfront, Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne should be the chosen men on the flanks. But, the final spot in the side could go to Kevin Lasagna, considering Ciro Immobile has struggled for the national side for a while now – the Lazio striker is yet to score under the tutelage of Mancini.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Chiellini, Biraghi; Verratti, Jorginho, Barella; Chiesa, Lasagna, Insigne
True to nature, Fernando Santos has chosen to retain the bulk of the two squads that he has picked since the World Cup. So, while Cristiano Ronaldo remains unavailable for the national side, the Portugal head coach has dropped only five other players who have not been regulars in international football.
Meanwhile, Santos has handed recalls to Raphael Guerreiro, Jose Fonte, Andre Gomes and Joao Mario, with the quartet showing some good form at club level. Gomes though, has returned to Everton due to a leg injury he sustained in the match against Chelsea this past weekend.
Gomes would likely have started on Saturday, if not for his injury. In his absence, Pizzi should continue in the midfield triumvirate alongside William Carvalho and Ruben Neves, who have both been in fantastic form at club level.
At the back, Pepe will be unavailable for Saturday’s UEFA Nations League tie against Italy due to suspension, after picking up a booking in each of Portugal’s last two games in the competition.
In his absence, Ruben Dias is likely to be partnered by Fonte at the heart of the defence, with in-form full-backs Joao Cancelo and Mario Rui starting on the flanks. In goal, Rui Patricio is a certain starter between the sticks, while the attacking trio should be completed by Bruma, Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Cancelo, Fonte, Dias, Rui; Carvalho, Neves, Pizzi; Bernardo Silva, Andre Silva, Bruma
- Portugal have won each of the last two games they have played against Italy, including the reverse fixture in the UEFA Nations League. In fact, none of the last eight games between the two sides have ended in a stalemate.
- However, Italy have a favourable head-to-head record against the visitors, having won 18 of the 26 meetings between the European heavyweights (D2 L6).
- Portugal have scored just five times in their last 11 trips to Italy.
- Italy have the worst shots on goal ratio of the 12 teams in the UEFA Nations League A – a paltry 32 percent.
- Italy have not lost a game at home in over three years, with their last defeat coincidentally coming at the hands of Portugal (W7 D6).
Player to Watch
Goals have been hard to come by for Italy in recent games, with none of the strikers managing to deliver consistently in front of goal. In fact, star striker Ciro Immobile is yet to find the back of the net under the tutelage of Roberto Mancini, which is a major cause for concern for the head coach.
Kevin Lasagna was the man to replace the Lazio superstar in the last game that Italy played, and had a role to play on his international debut as the Azzurri beat Poland. Now, with top spot in Group 3 of the UEFA Nations League A up for grabs, the Udinese man can help his side take pole position in the race to make the finals with another inspired showing.
If he indeed manages to do so, and by scoring his first international goal no less, then Lasagna could also cement his place as the focal point of the national side’s attack.
Italy 1-1 Portugal
Italy has been a hard place for Portugal to perform at their best recently – the Seleccao have only found the back of the net five times in their last 11 games in the country. Meanwhile, Italy have not been an eye catching side lately either, having scored just once in five of their last six fixtures.
Under Roberto Mancini, the Azzurri have won only twice in seven games, and the record looks unlikely to improve anytime soon. With the in-form Bernardo Silva running the show for the visitors, and marauding full-backs Joao Cancelo and Mario Rui enjoying their football lately as well, a rare win could be on the cards for Fernando Santos & co.
But, we believe Italy could harden their defence, especially with Giorgio Chiellini looking to make a mark on his 100th international appearance. In the end, there might be very little to separate the two sides, and The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-1 win that will send Portugal to next year’s finals.