Italy host Lithuania in a crucial FIFA World Cup qualifier as the Azzuri look to bounce back from disappointing draws.

Italy created history with their goalless draw to Switzerland last week, as they set a new record for being unbeaten in 36 international games. The sequence began in October 2018, five months after Roberto Mancini took over as manager, and the Azzuri have now eclipsed the previous record of 35 games shared by Brazil and Spain.

The achievement will have no bearing in their pursuit of qualifying for the World Cup, especially having missed out on the last edition played in Russia. Given the World Cup happens next year, there’s a sense of optimism in the Italy camp after their superb triumph at the UEFA Euro 2020, beating England on penalties in the final.

However, there are some concerns for the Italians after drawing their last two games. Despite that, Azzuri remain on top of Group C. The seven points they earned from five games keeps them on top, although Switzerland are breathing down their neck in second, with two games in hand. However, the Lithuania game comes as a chance to get their goalscoring form back after recent struggles.

Meanwhile, Lithuania are hoping to cause an upset by beating Italy and getting some points on board. Even a draw will help the side gain some momentum and motivation after losing all of their four games in the group so far. The bottom-placed side in the group have lost both their encounters during the current international break.

The first defeat came against Northern Ireland, who hammered in four goals past Lithuania. Two days later, they narrowly lost to ten-man Bulgaria to kill off any hopes of progression. Lithuania will be hoping to start getting results as a matter of pride, though as things stand, even a draw seems difficult to achieve.

Team News & Tactics

Italy

Roberto Mancini has a squad with abundant quality and in numbers. Many of his top stars could potentially miss out against Lithuania, but it won’t cause too much concern for the manager. Italy have a solid squad depth to ensure top-rated players feature even without Mancini’s preferred first choice stars.

Marco Verratti will be unavailable for Italy (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Marco Verratti will be unavailable for Italy (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

As many as six players are potentially out of the Lithuania clash. Four of these stars are missing through various injuries, while the other two, Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Pellegrini, have returned to their clubs. The links of Manuel Lazzari, Andrea Belotti, Alex Meret and Gianluca Mancini are all injured.

After two straight draws, Mancini is expected to shuffle his pack and experiment with his lineup against Lithuania. He could include the likes of Alessandro Bastoni, Matteo Pessina, Giacomo Raspadori and Nicolo Zaniolo into his starting lineup.

Mancini will retain experienced star Giorgio Chiellini as Bastoni’s partner centrally to have some level of familiarity in defence. Emerson Palmieri and Giovanni Di Lorenzo will likely be preferred as full-backs.

Mancini will keep the shape of his midfield despite the absence of Verratti and maintain a three-man unit. Jorginho will assume his role at the base, with Manuel Locatelli and Pessina taking roles besides the Chelsea man. There are enough options on the substitutes bench if at any point they need to change personnel.

Mancini could keep Federico Chiesa as his key star in the front line, with the Juventus ace expected to take up the right-wing berth  Raspadori could start the game as the side’s central striker, with support from the experienced Lorenzo Insigne on the left side of the attack.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bastoni, Chiellini, Emerson; Pessina, Jorginho, Locatelli; Chiesa, Raspadori, Insigne

Lithuania

Lithuania manager Valdas Urbonas does not have too many problems with his squad, while the injury list looks empty. However, he will miss key playmaker Fedor Chernykh, who has accumulated too many yellow cards to get himself suspended for the Italy clash.

Urbonas is expected to draft in Arvydas Novikovas in Chernykh’s advanced position to keep the attacking side of things fluid. However, the main concern for the manager would be his defence, which has been leaky, leading to the team losing ten games out of their last eleven.

A 4-2-3-1 system is anticipated from Urbonas against Italy. Rolandas Baravykas and Vaidas Slavickas could begin in full-back roles, supporting Edgaras Utkus and Markas Beneta in central defence.

A two-man midfield comprising Vykintas Slivka and Linas Megelaitis could prove underwhelming in light of Italy’s quality in the area with three midfielders. However, Novikovas, who is expected to start in the no.10 role, could also come into central midfield to provide extra cover when Lithuania defend.

Wide attackers Eligijus Janakauskas from the left and Donatas Kazlauskas from the right will look to exploit any spaces in the final third. Upfront, Edgaras Dubickas will take up the central striking role, hoping to end a bad scoring run for his country.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Setkus; Baravykas, Utkus, Beneta, Slavickas; Slivka, Megelaitis; Jankauskas, Novikovas, Kazlauskas; Dubickas

Key Stats

  • Italy have taken 37 shots in their previous two games but scored just once.
  • Italy are undefeated in their last five games against Lithuania in all competitions.
  • Italy are undefeated in a record 36 international games under manager Roberto Mancini.
  • Lithuania have failed to score in six of their last eight games.
  • Lithuania have lost ten of their last eleven matches in FIFA World cup qualifications.

Player to Watch

Federico Chiesa

Embed from Getty Images

The Juventus winger had a terrific Euros to help Italy win the tournament and is already considered a key cog in Mancini’s system. While the attacker is yet to kickstart his Serie A season in full swing, games such as the one against Lithuania will be a presentable opportunity to get the season going.

Chiesa can have an impactful game against the European minnows and gain some form in the final third. A few goals should help him restore his flying form in attack and help Italy maintain a decent distance in Group C over rivals Switzerland who are closing down the gap from second place.

Prediction

Italy 4-0 Lithuania

When they get on song, Italy are a fluid attacking unit, and Lithuania could prove the perfect opponents to shrug off their goal-shy form in recent games. After scoring just once in the last two games, despite taking a massive 37 shots, Italy could find their rhythm against Lithuania, with Chiesa and Insigne in attack.

The European champions are overwhelming winners in this game, and expect them to score a few good goals. Lithuania could continue their dreadful form in defence and could find the Azzurri a difficult prospect to handle. The predicted scoreline may be a bit harsh, but Italy have the quality to punish opponents in this manner.

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