Roberto Mancini’s Italy will look to continue their unbeaten run when they take on Bulgaria this weekend in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

Matchday 2 of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers in Europe take place this weekend and Italy will be hoping to go to the top of Group C when they travel to Sofia to take on Bulgaria at the Vasil Levski National Stadium on Sunday.

Italy, having missed the boat to the last World Cup, started their quest to achieve qualification for next year’s event with a solid 2-0 win over Northern Ireland earlier in the week. Currently second in the group, behind leaders Switzerland due to fewer goals scored, the Azzurri will be hoping to clinch the top spot with a statement win, which would make it 24 games unbeaten in a row.

Bulgaria, meanwhile, were at the receiving end of a 3-1 defeat versus Switzerland in their qualifying opener, meaning they are now without a win in their last three games. And manager Yasen Petrov will be hoping to avoid a defeat on Sunday and get off the mark in the Qualifiers, although that will be easier said than done against Roberto Mancini’s mighty Italians.

The last time these two teams clashed was in September 2015 with Italy eking out a narrow 1-0 win. And ahead of their latest encounter at Sofia, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both sets of squads.

Team News & Tactics

Bulgaria

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Bulgaria have no fresh injury concerns to contend with after their defeat to Switzerland. Manager Yasen Petrov, in his first match in charge of the national team, opted to switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation, departing from the 4-2-3-1 that was used by his predecessor during the Nations League campaign and is expected to stick with his trusted shape on Sunday.

In goal, Plamen Iliev ought to continue ahead of the uncapped duo of Ivan Karadzhov and Daniel Naumov. He will be protected by a three-man defensive unit of Daniel Dimov, who made his debut against Switzerland, alongside Vasil Bozhikov and Petar Zanev, who is the most experienced member of the current squad.

Strahil Popov and Cicinho ought to be the two wing-backs on the right and left sides, respectively. Although the duo is likely to operate much closer to the three centre-backs when Italy are in possession, essentially forming a five-man backline.

Captain Georgi Kostadinov and Kristiyan Malinov will take up the defensive responsibilities in the centre of the park and tried to keep a lid on Italy’s creative output. Kiril Despodov and Georgi Yomov will be the two attacking midfielders who will look to provide support to the sole striker and vice-captain Dimitar Iliev.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): P. Iliev; Dimov, Bozhikov, Zanev; Popov, Malinov, Kostadinov, Cicinho; Despodov, Yomov; D. Iliev

Italy

Following the last game against Northern Ireland, Italy have lost captain Giorgio Chiellini, Francesco Caputo and Domenico Berardi, who was on target in the opening game, to injuries with the trio withdrawing from the squad. The likes of Moise Kean, Bryan Cristante and Jorginho were already out with injuries prior to the midweek contest.

Roberto Mancini will make a few changes to the side that took the field against Northern Ireland. No change is expected in goal, though, with Gianluigi Donnarumma set to feature from the start. Chiellini’s absence should pave the way for Alessandro Bastoni to start alongside Leonardo Bonucci in defence.

Alessandro Florenzi had a good game last time out and could continue at right-back from where he will provide an attacking outlet while Emerson Palmieri could make way for Leonardo Spinazzola on the opposite flank.

Manuel Locatelli is expected to hold on to his spot at the base of the three-man midfield again for Italy in Jorginho’s absence while Marco Verratti is also a certain starter. One change is on the cards though, with Nicolo Barella set to replace Lorenzo Pellegrini and act as the ball-carrier from the middle for Mancini’s side.

Berardi getting ruled out should open up a starting berth for Juventus’ Federico Chiesa on the right flank but Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne are expected to hold on to their places in attack with the likes of Andrea Belotti and Stephan El Shaarawy providing cover from the bench.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Bastoni, Spinazzola; Barella, Locatelli, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne

Key Stats

  • Following their win over Northern Ireland, Italy are now unbeaten in their last 23 matches (W18 D5) – a run that dates back to September 2018.
  • Bulgaria have picked up just two wins in their last sixteen matches (D3 L11). Their last victory came against Gibraltar in a friendly in November last year.
  • Italy and Bulgaria, till date, have clashed 19 times with the former picking up 10 wins and the latter just 2 (D7). The Azzurri haven’t lost a game to Bulgaria since 1991, going on an eight-game unbeaten run.
  • Bulgaria have won just one of their last six home matches, keeping only one clean sheet during that run.
  • Italy have managed to keep a clean sheet in seven of their last nine matches, not conceding in their previous four consecutive games.

Player to Watch

Federico Chiesa

Federico Chiesa will be aiming to make the most of his chance (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Federico Chiesa will be aiming to make the most of his chance (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

The 23-year-old has been one of Juventus’ best players in Serie A this term and is enjoying a really productive campaign that has seen him score twelve goals and assist ten more in all competitions. And, Chiesa will be hoping to carry that form to the national team as well, where he hasn’t been able to make quite the same impact as of yet.

Indeed, in his 22 appearances for Italy, Chiesa has managed just the solitary goal which came against Armenia back in 2019. Since then, he has gone five games without scoring or assisting a goal. Domenico Berardi’s injury opens up an opportunity for the winger to potentially start on Sunday and he will be hoping to make the most of it.

Prediction

Bulgaria 0-2 Italy

Bulgaria are starting on a new journey under a new manager and are still getting accustomed to the changes in setup and tactics. Italy, on the other hand, are a well-oiled unit under Roberto Mancini and haven’t lost in over two years. Given the quality of the players that they possess, the Azzurri should be able to pick up a straightforward victory in Sofia.

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