With the international friendlies set to kick off soon, one of the more interesting match-ups coming our way will be Argentina taking on Italy at the Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
Argentina, led by their talisman Lionel Messi, just about managed to make it through to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The South Americans will be hoping to get their preparations for the showpiece event underway with a positive performance in the upcoming set of friendly fixtures against Italy and Spain.
Italy, on the other hand, failed to qualify for football’s premier competition after falling at the hands of Sweden in the playoff stages that resulted in the sacking of manager Giampiero Ventura. Italy U-21 boss Luigi di Biagio has been handed the responsibilities for the time being with a permanent manager yet to be appointed. He will be hoping to turn things around for the Azzurri over the next week and get the team’s confidence back up again.
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero has been picked in the squad by manager Jorge Sampaoli but the striker is a doubt owing to a knee injury he has been carrying. Elsewhere, La Albiceleste will also go into the game without the services of young defender Emmanuel Mammana who has been ruled out for the season and is likely to miss out on the plane to Russia as well.
Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo, who has recently returned to full fitness, is a part of the squad but is unlikely to be involved, while Eduardo Salvio misses out with an injury as well.
Sampaoli is once again expected to set his team out in his preferred 3-3-3-1 setup that he has regularly used in the past few games for Argentina.
Probable XI (3-3-3-1): Sergio Romero; Javier Mascherano, Federico Fazio, Nicolas Otamendi; Leandro Paredes, Lucas Biglia, Giovanni Lo Celso; Angel Di Maria, Lionel Messi, Diego Perotti; Gonzalo Higuain.
The biggest news following the announcement of the Azzurri squad for the upcoming games was the non-selection of Mario Balotelli, who has been in terrific form for his club OGC Nice. Legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon returned from retirement and is likely to be in action on Friday.
Defensive mainstay Giorgio Chiellini has been ruled out of both the games with an injury and West Ham United centre-back Angelo Ogbonna has been drafted in as the Juventus centre-back’s replacement. AC Milan striker Patrick Cutrone has been handed his first international call-up by the manager and is in line to make his debut on Friday night.
While Ventura relied on a 3-5-2 system for the Azzurri, Di Biagio is likely to set his team out in a classic 4-4-2, much like he does with the Italy U-21 side.
Probable XI (4-4-2): Gigi Buffon; Alessandro Florenzi, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele Rugani, Mattia De Sciglio; Antonio Candreva, Marco Verratti, Jorginho, Lorenzo Insigne; Ciro Immobile, Patrick Cutrone.
Argentina did not have the easiest of the routes to the summer’s main event in Russia and once again, had to be bailed out by the brilliance of their captain, Lionel Messi. However, given Italy’s current situation, it is unlikely that they will be able to bounce back immediately from the disappointment of having failed to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 1958.
The Azzurri do have a formidable defence but I expect the Argentine attack to breach through and emerge 2-1 winners, with Messi getting on the scoresheet.
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