Italy will be aiming to bounce back to winning ways when they lock horns with minnows Estonia in a friendly encounter in Florence this week.

The final international break of the year 2020 is upon us and Roberto Mancini’s Italy will be in action on Wednesday at Stadio Artemio Franchi, as they gear up to host a lowly Estonia side in a friendly clash.

During the last set of international fixtures in October, Italy racked up a highly-impressive 6-0 win against Moldova in a friendly. However, the Azzurri then went on to draw both their UEFA Nations League fixtures against Poland and Netherlands. With important games against Poland and Bosnia & Herzegovina coming up, it is important that Italy get into their groove with a win.

Estonia are without a win in their previous five games, losing three of those. The two draws came last month in the Nations League against North Macedonia and Armenia, following a defeat to Lithuania in a friendly encounter. Manager Karel Voolaid will be hoping to build on those results when his team takes the field in Florence this week.

This will be the first meeting between Italy and Estonia in over nine years, with the Azzurri winning their previous clash 3-0 back in June 2011. And ahead of their latest meeting on Wednesday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.

Team News & Tactics

Italy

Three players have withdrawn from the squad due to injuries, with Angelo Ogbonna, Domenico Criscito and Francesco Caputo the ones missing. Alessio Romagnoli is also a doubt for the game after picking up an injury at the weekend. Alessandro Bastoni, Mattia Zacagni and Gian Marco Ferrari have been drafted in as replacements.

Roberto Mancini will set his team up in a 4-3-3 formation, with several fringe players getting an opportunity to prove themselves on Wednesday.

Salvatore Sirigu, who started in the friendly against Moldova last month, is likely to feature against Estonia. Alessandro Florenzi ought to be the right-back for the hosts while Fiorentina’s Cristiano Biraghi should slot in on the left. Gianluca Mancini and Francesco Acerbi are likely to form the centre-back pairing for the Azzurri.

Bryan Cristante is likely to get the nod at the base of the three-man midfield. The AS Roma man will look to turn over possession and initiate attacks from the middle. He is likely to be partnered by Manuel Locatelli of Sassuolo and Inter Milan’s Roberto Gagliardini in the centre of the park.

With Caputo out and Moise Kean a doubt for the game, Mancini might have to use ace striker Andrea Belotti against Estonia. The striker will have support from Domenico Berardi on the right and Stephan El Shaarawy, who scored a double against Moldova last month, on the left.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Sirigu; Florenzi, Mancini, Acerbi, Biraghi; Locatelli, Cristante, Gagliardini; Berardi, Belotti, El Shaarawy

Estonia

Siim Luts, Mattias Kait, Ken Kallaste and Henri Anier all miss out with injuries for the visiting side, while Sergei Zenjov will only be available for the UEFA Nations League fixtures against Northern Macedonia and Georgia. Goalkeeper Marko Meerits and defenders Karol Mets and Joonas Tamm are in the squad, after not being called up last month.

Manager Karel Voolaid usually sets his team up in a 4-4-1-1 setup and that is unlikely to change in Florence on Wednesday. Like Mancini, the Estonia manager may also opt to give some of his second-string players a go, keeping in mind the crucial Nations League fixtures coming up.

So, Matvei Igonen is likely to start between the sticks over first-choice Karl Jakob Hein. He will need all the protection he can get from the centre-back partnership of Nikita Baranov and Marten Kuusk. Taijo Teniste and Henri Jarvelaid ought to be the full-backs on the right and left sides respectively.

Frank Liivak and Pavel Marin ought to be the two wide men in the four-man midfield unit. The duo will need to put in a shift to help out the full-backs when not in possession while springing quick counters when Estonia have the ball. Georgi Tunjov and Mihkel Ainsalu will form the central midfield partnership and look to disrupt the hosts’ rhythm.

Mark Anders Lepik is likely to start in behind the main striker Rauno Sappinen, who was on target for Estonia in their last game against Armenia.

Probable Lineup (4-4-1-1): Igonen; Teniste, Baranov, Kuusk, Jarvelaid; Liivak, Tunjov, Ainsalu, Marin; Lepik; Sappinen

Key Stats

  • Italy have won all six of their previous encounters against Estonia. They have conceded just two goals while scoring 16 themselves.
  • Estonia have not picked up a win in their last 13 fixtures. The last time they picked up a victory was in March 2019, when they defeated Gibraltar 1-0.
  • Italy, on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last 19 fixtures (W14 D5). However, they have registered a win just once in their previous five encounters.
  • The Azzurri have kept three clean sheets in their previous five encounters, letting in just two goals in the process.
  • Estonia have not managed to keep a shut-out in any of their last eight outings. In this run of games, they have shipped in as many as 19 goals.

Player to Watch

Andrea Belotti

Belotti will be itching to add to his goal tally for Italy (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Belotti will be itching to add to his goal tally for Italy (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

The 26-year-old has made a fine start to the 2020/21 campaign at club level, already netting six goals in seven games for Torino, while also registering a couple of assists. This kind of form could spell major trouble for the Estonian defence, that has been anything but solid of late.

Belotti has featured in just two of Italy’s five games in 2020 and is yet to score a goal. He will be keen on adding to his tally of nine international goals and on current form, will back himself to get a goal or two on Wednesday.

Prediction

Italy 5-0 Estonia

Given the respective forms of the two teams, this should be a fairly easy one to call. Italy have gone unbeaten in their last 19 games, while Estonia haven’t been on the winning side for well over a year now. So, it should be a rather easy win for the hosts on Wednesday and given the visitors’ porous defence, the Azzurri could end up scoring quite a few on the night, as they did against Moldova last month.

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