Italy will be aiming to continue their perfect start to the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers when they take on Lithuania in Vilnius this midweek.

The final set of games of the current international break will be played out on Wednesday night. And Italy will be in action at the LFF Stadium in Vilnius as they lock horns with Lithuania in their third Group C encounter of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers.

Italy, having missed the boat for the previous World Cup, have made a perfect start to their qualifying campaign, registering back-to-back 2-0 victories over Northern Ireland and Bulgaria to take the top spot in their group, level on points with second-placed Switzerland but ahead on goal difference. And Roberto Mancini will be hoping that his side carry that momentum forward.

Lithuania began their international break with a friendly against Kosovo which they lost 4-0. Following that, Valdas Urbonas’ men succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in their qualifying opener but are still placed third in Group C, owing to a better goal difference than Northern Ireland and Bulgaria. Going up against the mighty Azzurri, however, could be an insurmountable task for them.

The last time Italy faced Lithuania, they won 2-0, way back in 2007. Ahead of their latest meeting in Vilnius on Wednesday night, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Lithuania

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Lithuania manager Valdas Urbonas has no fresh injury or suspension concerns as he prepares his team for the visit of Italy. Having lost just 1-0 to Switzerland, despite having conceded just two minutes into the game, the manager might be tempted to stick with the same personnel on Wednesday.

Lithuania will set up in a 4-5-1 formation with their aim being to sit deep and compact, deny Italy any spaces and exploit any opportunities on the break or from set-pieces. Tomas Svedkauskas will man the goal for the home team, guarded by the backline comprising of Saulius Mikoliunas, Vytas Gaspuitis, Markas Beneta and Egidijus Vaitkunas.

The second line of press will consist of Domantas Simkus sitting as the deepest of the three central midfielders supported by Martynas Dapkus and Vykintas Slivka, who will also have the added task of pushing forward if and when Lithuania break with the ball.

Arvydas Novikovas and Justas Lasickas should be the two wide men for Lithuania who will carry the attacking threat along with striker and captain Fedor Cernych.

Probable Lineup (4-5-1): Svedkauskas; Mikoliunas, Gaspuitis, Beneta, Vaitkunas; Novikovas, Dapkus, Simkus, Slivka, Lasickas; Cernych

Italy

Italy will go into Wednesday’s game without PSG duo Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi who have left the squad due to injury issues. In addition, manager Roberto Mancini also hinted at the possibility of resting Lorenzo Insigne after handing him starts in the last two matches.

So, there are likely to be a few changes made to the lineup that took the field against Bulgaria. In goal, however, Gianluigi Donnarumma is expected to hold down his place. Leonardo Bonucci, who has started the last two games, could be given a breather, with Rafael Toloi set for his debut in his place. Alessandro Bastoni should partner him, with Francesco Acerbi dropping out.

With Florenzi ruled out, Giovanni Di Lorenzo becomes an automatic pick at right-back while Leonardo Spinazzola is likely to be retained on the left after he impressed in the last game. The duo will be tasked with bombing up their respective flanks to support the attackers.

Manuel Locatelli, who scored his first goal for the Azzurri after coming on from the bench last time out, should start at the base of the midfield while Nicolo Barella and Matteo Pessina occupy the remaining two slots in the middle and act as the creative outlets.

Andrea Belotti, who scored against Bulgaria could be given a rest along with Ciro Immobile, with Italy likely to go in with Federico Bernardeschi as a false-nine, as hinted by Mancini ahead of the game. Federico Chiesa should be retained on the right but Stephan El Shaarawy, whose selection in the squad raised some eyebrows, could replace Insigne on the left flank.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Toloi, Bastoni, Spinazzola; Barella, Locatelli, Pessina; Chiesa, Bernardeschi, El Shaarawy

Key Stats

  • This will be the seventh meeting between Italy and Lithuania. The Azzurri have never lost any of the last six matches against their Wednesday’s opponents (W4 D2).
  • After their win over Bulgaria at the weekend, Italy are now undefeated in their last 24 matches (W19 D5) – a run that dates back to September 2018.
  • Lithuania have won four and lost four of their last ten fixtures (D2). However, only one of those victories has come in their last four games.
  • Italy have kept a clean sheet in each of their last five matches in a row. They have managed to secure a shut-out in eight of their last ten games.
  • Should he score on Wednesday, Arvydas Novikovas will go past Antanas Lingis and become the outright second-highest goalscorer of all-time for Lithuania. Currently, both men are tied on 12 goals apiece.

Player to Watch

Federico Bernardeschi

The Italy international hasn’t had the best of seasons at club level with Juventus, having often been in and out of the side and having played out of position on quite a few occasions. So, it mustn’t come as a major surprise that he is yet to score a goal this season in 27 games and has only three assists to his name.

Nevertheless, Bernardeschi made it to the Italy roster and on Wednesday, Roberto Mancini could be set to hand him a starting berth as a false-nine against a Lithuanian side that is known for their physical, dogged defensive approach. The 27-year-old showed some promise in his 15-minute cameo vs Bulgaria, creating three chances.

But, quite how he fares in a role that he is not entirely familiar with could have a major bearing on the outcome of the game while it could also end up playing a key role in his selection for the upcoming Euros as well.

Prediction

Lithuania 0-1 Italy

Lithuania gave a decent account of themselves against Switzerland and will try and make things difficult for Italy on Wednesday. The Azzurri may have won two in two but didn’t exactly hit top gear in either game. Add to that, the absence of Marco Verratti and the potential benching of Lorenzo Insigne could hurt their creativity going forward. Despite that, there is enough quality in the ranks for Roberto Mancini’s men to pick up a narrow victory.

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