European champions Italy will battle it out with Spain on Wednesday night at San Siro for a spot in the finals of the UEFA Nations League.

With the second international break of the 2021/22 season gets underway on Wednesday night and we kick things off with a blockbuster contest as UEFA Euro 2020 winners Italy face off against semi-finalists Spain in the penultimate stages of the UEFA Nations League. The winner will face either France or Belgium in the finals later this week.

The past three years under Roberto Mancini have been nothing short of a dream for Italy. Having been crowned the champions of Europe earlier this year, the Azzurri will be relishing the promise of winning another title with a triumph in the Nations Lague having made it to the final four after topping Group A1 that also has Poland Bosnia & Herzegovina and the Netherlands.

As for form, Roberto Mancini’s men are unbeaten in a record 38 games and head into the semi-finals on the back of a thumping 5-0 win over Lithuania in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier, although it must be noted that Italy failed to win any of their four matches prior to that within 90 minutes, including the semi-final and the final of the Euro 2020.

Spain, meanwhile, topped a difficult Group A4 that also involved Germany, Ukraine and  Switzerland, to set up yet another semi-final meeting with Italy. Having lost out to the Azzurri on penalties at the penultimate stage of the European Championships, Luis Enrique and his men will be gunning for revenge when they step out at San Siro.

Last month’s international break saw Spain lose 2-1 to Sweden in a World Cup Qualifier but they mounted a strong recovery immediately, going on to beat Georgia 4-0 and Kosovo 2-0. And La Roja will be aiming to carry that momentum into the upcoming clash and take a step closer to lifting their first major trophy since the UEFA Euro 2012.

Ahead of this much-anticipated encounter coming our way from San Siro on Wednesday night, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Italy

In a major blow for Italy, star goalscorer Ciro Immobile has withdrawn from the squad with an injury, as has the Atalanta duo of Matteo Pessina and Rafael Toloi. Leonardo Spinazzola is still sidelined after the serious injury he picked up during the Euros. Roberto Mancini is expected to line his team up in a 4-3-3 formation on Wednesday with Gianluigi Donnarumma manning the goal.

Defensive stalwarts Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are expected to pair up at the heart of the Italy defence as usual, with the duo likely to be flanked by Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Emerson Palmieri. The latter will have the licence to push forward regularly and his link-up with Lorenzo Insigne on the left can prove dangerous for Spain.

At the base of the Italian midfield, there is no looking past UEFA Best Player of the Year, Jorginho, who will be aiming to add the Nations League winners’ medal to his collection as well. He will be tasked with breaking up play and shielding the defence and setting the tempo for Italy. Nicolo Barella and Marco Verratti will be the remaining two midfielders for the Azzurri.

Federico Chiesa, who was one of the stars in the Euro success and has started the season well for Juventus, is a nailed-on starter on the right flank while the same applies for Insigne out on the left. With Immobile unavailable, Moise Kean is in line to start as the No.9 for Italy with Giacomo Raspadori an option from the bench.

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

Spain

Like Italy, Spain have also had some withdrawals from the squad as Pedri, Marcos Llorente and Brais Mendez have been sidelined with injury. In addition, the likes of Adama Traore, Jordi Alba, Dani Olmo, Thiago Alcantara and Alvaro Morata are other notable absentees. There have been call-ups for the uncapped duo of Yeremi Pino (Valencia) and Gavi (Barcelona).

Luis Enrique will also set his team up in a 4-3-3 formation at San Siro, with Unai Simon likely to be retained in goal ahead of David de Gea in spite of the latter’s improved form for Manchester United. Pau Torres and Aymeric Laporte ought to form the centre-back pairing for La Roja with Cesar Azpilicueta and Sergio Reguilon lining up as the two full-backs on the right and left sides respectively.

Sergio Busquets has not been in the best of form for Barcelona heading into the international break. However, given his experience, he will be a guaranteed starter in the middle of the park for Spain. The remaining two slots should be taken up by Atletico Madrid captain Koke, while young Gavi could be in line to start to provide the forward thrust from the centre.

Up top, given the lack of a natural No.9 at Enrique’s disposal, Ferran Torres is likely to play through the middle as the false-nine, while support from the wide areas ought to come from Pablo Sarabia and Mikel Oyarzabal, with Pino likely to be an option from the bench.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Simon; Azpilicueta, Laporte, Torres, Reguilon; Koke, Busquets, Gavi; Sarabia, Torres, Oyarzabal

Form Guide

Italy: WDDWW

Spain: WWLLW

Key Stats

  • Italy are on a whopping 38-game unbeaten run since a defeat to Portugal in 2018 in the inaugural UEFA Nations League.
  • This will be the 35th meeting between Italy and Spain. Of the previous 34, La Roja have won 12 games while the Azzurri have picked up 10 wins (12 draws).
  • However, Spain have won only one of their last five encounters with Italy – a 3-0 triumph in a World Cup qualifier in 2017.
  • Should he feature on Wednesday, Lorenzo Insigne will be making his 50th appearance for Italy. With 10 goals to his name, he is the highest goalscorer for the Azzurri in the current squad.

Player to Watch

Federico Chiesa

It has been a big year for Federico Chiesa, who, having made the switch from Fiorentina to Juventus has set course to superstardom. Since his move to Turin in the summer of 2020, the 23-year-old has been one of the best players on display in Serie A and that was the case at the Euros as well, as the winger, with his energy, pace and skills mesmerized fans and played a key role in his side’s success.

Among Chiesa’s scalps during the Euros were Spain, with the former Fiorentina ace grabbing a fine goal in the semi-final against La Roja on their way to the shootout win. He will be hoping to make a similar impact for Roberto Mancini’s men in the coming week and help the Azzurri lift another international title.

Prediction

Italy 2-1 Spain

The last time these two teams played at the Euro semi-final, Spain should have edged Italy out, but were let down by some profligate finishing in front of goal. The Italians, meanwhile, showed great resolve to hang on, and eventually came out on top via penalties. It could be more of the same on Wednesday as well with very little to separate the two teams, with it being likely that the tie goes into extra-time yet again.

However, given Spain’s poor record in Italy and their lack of experience and goals at the top – could prove their undoing yet again. The Hard Tackle is predicting Italy to pick up a hard-fought, narrow win to book a place in the UEFA Nations League final.

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