Italy will be hoping to strengthen their position at the top of Group J of the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers, when they take on Finland in Tampere this weekend.

The top two in the Group J of the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers will battle it out on Sunday night at the Tampere Stadium, as second-placed Finland play hosts to group leaders Italy.

Italy have made the perfect start to their qualifying campaign, having picked up five wins in their five matches till date. The Azzurri were last in action on Thursday night, when they came back from behind to defeat ten-man Armenia 3-1, courtesy a double from Andrea Belotti on either side of a Lorenzo Pellegrini strike.

Having failed to make it to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Roberto Mancini’s side will be eager to book a place in the next summer’s European Championships. And a win here on Sunday against their closest challengers in the group would take them a step closer to achieving just that.

Finland occupy the second place in Group J, having picked up four wins from their five matches so far. The Huuhkajat began their qualifying campaign with a 2-0 loss to Italy in March, but have maintained a perfect record since, picking up wins against Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liechtenstein and Greece, taking a big step towards a top two finish.

Having beaten Greece by a narrow one-goal margin at home on Thursday, Markku Kanerva’s side will be hoping to carry forward the momentum and exact revenge against the Azzurri for their defeat earlier this year.

Ahead of the exciting match-up between the top two teams of the group, we at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at both sets of squads and how they might set up on Sunday night.

Team News & Tactics

Finland

Finland have won four matches in a row (Photo by Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland have won four matches in a row (Photo by Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)

Uncapped defender Niko Markkula has been called up to the squad by Kanerva. Last time Finland met Italy, the manager had set his team up in a 5-3-2 formation, which did not yield the desired result as they ended up conceding two goals. However, Kanerva is once again likely to use similar tactics, changing up from the 4-4-2 setup that he uses on a regular basis.

In goal, Bayer Leverkusen’s Lukas Hradecky is a guaranteed starter for the home team. Jukka Raitala should get the nod ahead of Albin Granlund at right-back once again while 25-year-old Jere Uronen should also hold on to his spot at left-back ahead of Juha Pirinen. Both the full-backs will likely be instructed to stay deep and pick their moments carefully to bomb forward.

Joona Toivio and Paulus Arajuuri ought to start once again at the heart of the defence, having helped Finland to four consecutive clean sheets. They are likely to be joined by 22-year-old Leo Vaisanen as the third centre-back against the Italians on Sunday.

Rangers star Glen Kamara will slot in as the defensive midfielder for Finland. The 23-year-old will be tasked with cutting out the influence of Jorginho. He will be supported by captain Tim Sparv, while Robin Lod, who has started on the right flank in recent matches, is likely to move into a central role to shore up the midfield against Italy.

Star striker Teemu Pukki will lead the attack for Finland and will be partnered by Jasse Tuominen witg Rasmus Karjalainen and Lassi Lappalainen providing options from the bench.

Probable Lineup (5-3-2): Hradecky; Raitala, Toivio, Arajuuri, Vaisanen, Uronen; Lod, Kamara, Sparv; Pukki, Tuominen

Italy

Verratti ruled out for Italy (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Verratti is ruled out for Italy (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Italy will be without the services of midfield mainstay Marco Verratti as the PSG star is suspended after picking up his third yellow card of the Qualifiers against Armenia. Regulars Giorgio Chiellini, Lorenzo Insigne, Mattia De Sciglio and Bryan Cristante are all absent from the squad with injuries while Moise Kean, who scored against Finland last time, hasn’t been picked.

Manager Roberto Mancini favours the 4-3-3 formation and is likely to stick with the same setup against Finland on Sunday. AC Milan custodian Gianluigi Donnarumma is a definite starter between the sticks ahead of the experienced Salvatore Sirigu and uncapped keepers Pierluigi Gollina and Alex Meret.

With Chiellini not present in the squad, the partnership of captain Leonardo Bonucci and Alessio Romagnoli should continue at the heart of the Azzurri defence. Emerson Palmieri is a shoe-in on the left side of the backline, while Alessandro Florenzi should continue to keep Danilo D’Ambrosio out of the team at right-back.

Jorginho is a guaranteed starter at the base of the three-man midfield for Italy. The Chelsea superstar could prove to be critical for the visitors in their bid to unlock Finland’s tight defensive unit. Nicolo Barella, who scored against Finland last time out, should continue to feature from kick-off.

With Verratti ruled out, Lorenzo Pellegrini, who scored his first goal for the national team in the last game, should walk into the team, although Stefano Sensi is another solid option for manager Mancini. Andrea Belotti, who grabbed a brace against Armenia, should continue to spearhead the attack for Italy. Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi should slot in on the flanks again.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Romagnoli, Emerson; Barella, Jorginho, Pellegrini; Chiesa, Belotti, Bernardeschi

Key Stats

  • Italy have never lost a game against Finland till date. The two teams have clashed on 13 occasions, with the Azzurri winning 12 of those (D1).
  • Italy have kept a clean sheet in each of their previous six encounters against Finland. They have never once scored more than two goals in those fixtures, however.
  • After their defeat against Italy in March, Finland have won all of their four fixtures in the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers. The Huuhkajat have not conceded a single goal in any of those matches, while netting seven goals.
  • Italy have scored the most number of goals in the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers so far, having found the back of the net on 16 occasions.
  • The Azzurri have scored at least two goals in each of their last five matches in the qualifying campaign.

Player to Watch

Teemu Pukki

Can Italy stop Teemu Pukki? (Photo by Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)

Can Italy stop Teemu Pukki? (Photo by Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images)

The 29-year-old Finnish striker had been in red-hot form coming into the international break, having taken the Premier League by storm. Five goals from 4 matches in the English top-flight for Norwich City show the threat that Pukki carries. And he has managed to carry that form for his national team, scoring the only goal of the game against Greece earlier this week.

Pukki has been the driving force of the Finnish team’s good run in the qualifying campaign so far, having netted four goals and set up one more in five appearances. And given the form that he is currently in, he will pose a serious threat to the Italian defence on Sunday night.

Prediction

Finland 1-1 Italy

Italy left it late to clinch a victory against Armenia and extend their 100% record in the qualifying campaign earlier in the week. Finland, on the other hand, have racked up four victories since their defeat to the Azzurri on the opening day, sitting just three points shy of the Group J leaders.

Italy may have beaten Finland once already, but the hosts are a hard unit to breach and have not conceded a single goal in their last four matches. Plus, with the home support behind them, they will pose a difficult challenge for Roberto Mancini’s men. We are predicting this one to end in a tightly-contested 1-1 draw in Tampere.

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