Italy will be keen to get back to winning ways and solidify their lead at the top of Group C in the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers when they take on Switzerland on Sunday.

Following a surprising midweek draw, European champions Italy will be focused on winning a vital game against Switzerland on Sunday to move one step closer to reaching the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals. While the Azzurri were held to a 1-1 draw by minnows Bulgaria in Florence, their Alpine opponents, who they played just a few months ago in the Euro Group stages, were competing in a friendly owing to an unequal number of teams in Group C.

The hosts welcome the Italians to the St. Jakob Park in Basel after coming on the back of a comfortable 2-1 friendly midweek win over Greece. The Swiss side halted Greece’s 14-game undefeated record registering a confident victory as they showed no signs of a hangover in their first game after being knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Euro 2020 by Spain in a dramatic penalty shootout.

Though things have changed drastically in the background, former Basel head coach Murat Yakin has taken over the reins from Vladimir Petkovic, who was praised for transforming Switzerland into a giant on the International stage during his tenure. Yakin now has the responsibility to lead his country into key qualifiers against Italy and Northern Ireland.

They have won all of their qualifier games so far, including victories against lowly nations Bulgaria and Lithuania, but they still have a lot of ground to catch up. Italy, meanwhile, only had one point to show for their dominance in midweek as they played out a surprising 1-1 draw at home against Bulgaria. Euro 2020’s breakout star Federico Chiesa was again on the scoresheet, capping off an incredible individual performance.

Despite the frustrating result in Florence, the Azzurri are now only one victory or draw away from setting a new longest unbeaten record in international football history, having already equalled the streaks from Brazil (1993-1996) Spain (2007-2009) with their 35th undefeated result.

Team News & Tactics

Switzerland

Ruben Vargas and Steven Zuber were on the scoresheet on Wednesday win as Murat Yakin’s reign as manager was well underway, but the real task is waiting ahead with the Swiss side gearing up to face Italy and Northern Ireland in quick succession.

Yakin’s side has multiple concerns, with Xherdan Shaqiri, Kevin Mbabu, Mario Gavranovic, Loris Benito, Breel Embolo, and Eray Comert all sidelined due to respective injuries. In addition to it, Granit Xhaka missed the friendly against Greece after being tested positive for COVID-19 and is serving the mandatory isolation.

Yakin deployed a 3-5-2 setup in his first game as the Nati boss; he has no reasons to tinker with formation. Although he fielded some fresh faces with youngster Cedric Zesiger making his Switzerland debut in three-man defence, the senior players will be restored for Sunday’s game as regular keeper Yann Sommer, defenders Nico Elvedi and Manuel Akanji are all set to return to the playing XI.

With Xhaka unavailable, either Michel Aebischer or Djibril Sow should start in a three-man central midfield alongside Remo Freuler and Denis Zakaria. Sow may have to act as a deep-lying playmaker in the absence of Xhaka, with Freuler and Zakaria predominantly being energetic ball-winners.

Silvan Widmer and Ricardo Rodriguez should operate as attacking wing-backs and will aim to offer the creativity for the attackers and bomb the opponent’s box with loads of crosses for Haris Seferovic – who will lead the frontline as a target-man for the Swiss side. Partnering him will be Steven Zuber in a supporting role.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Sommer; Elvedi, Schär, Akanji; Widmer, Freuler, Zakaria, Sow, Rodríguez; Seferović, Zuber

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Italy

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini has no injury headaches but might make some changes based on the team’s mixed performance against Bulgaria.

Between the sticks would be the undisputed No. 1 Gigi Donnarumma who will be called upon to make a fair few saves in this tie after a quiet outing in the last one; Francesco Acerbi had a solid game against Bulgaria but might be replaced by warhorse Giorgio Chiellini who will pair up with his usual partner in crime, Leonardo Bonucci to shield the goal.

Alessandro Florenzi had a game to forget as he was partly to blame for Bulgaria’s goal and barely provided an outlet going forwards, he needs to be careful owing to the strong competition for his place with Rafael Toloi, Davide Calabria, and Giovanni Di Lorenzo all waiting on the wings to replace him.

Emerson becomes an automatic choice at left-back in the long-term absence of Leonardo Spinazzola, while Di Lorenzo may get a nod on the other flank. Fresh from winning UEFA Men’s Player of the year, Jorginho will be at the heart of the midfield trio consisting of PSG’s Verraitti and energetic Inter sensation Nicolo Barella. The Chelsea star will have the job to keep things ticking from the centre of the park while orchestrating the play.

Ciro Immobile will almost certainly lead the line after Andrea Belotti’s late withdrawal due to injury concerns. Still, Sassuolo livewire Giacomo Raspadori has proven to be a surprise package and will push for a start. Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa are expected to assist in wide areas.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne

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Key Stats

  • Italy have a stellar record against Switzerland, securing 29 wins in 58 matches while only facing seven defeats in response. It was  no different when these sides last met at Euro 2020 as Italy walked over the Swiss side to register a comfortable 3-0 victory.
  • The Rossocrociati haven’t won a single game in the last nine meetings between these sides – a run spanning over 27 years losing five and drawing four in the process.
  • The Swiss side are in good form at home as the Nati are unbeaten in the last nine international games over the course of normal time.   (Note:- Excluding the Euro 2020 Spain defeat which was on penalties).

Player to Watch

Federico Chiesa

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Chiesa is steadily becoming a crucial part of that front three for Italy. The Juventus wide-man was the standout performer against Bulgaria. He can play on both flanks and equally capable of striking the ball from both feet makes him a potent goal threat in and around the box. He is agile, progressive and can contribute both offensively and defensively, which is a significant advantage for the Italians.

His strong 1v1 dribbling and ability to create and exploit spaces in the final third are an asset for the Azzurri. He already has four goals and five assists in just 21 starts for his national side. Judging by his talent, this tally is only going to increase in future.

Prediction

Switzerland 1-1 Italy

Under Vladimir Petkovic, Switzerland had a strong focus on retaining possession and build-up, so it would be interesting to observe whether the philosophy changes under the new regime. The Swiss are the underdogs going into the fixture and are missing their key midfield players in Xhaka and Shaqiri; maybe they will be more pragmatic and will put a spirited display to frustrate the Italians, similar to Bulgaria.

The Switzerland defence and midfield, full of energy, may produce a gritty resolute performance to earn a valuable point. Italy, meanwhile, are in a strong position in group C and will be keen to break the long-standing unbeaten record. The Hard Tackle predicts both teams will play out a 1-1 draw, with Italy dominating the proceedings.

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