In as much as the manager of the Italian national team ever has a honeymoon period, Roberto Mancini’s could come to an end in Milan this weekend, as the visit of Portugal delivers judgement day for the Azzurri’s Nations League hopes. Mancini needs a win here by two or more goals, and for Portugal not to win three days later in Poland, if an Italian side that missed out entirely on the World Cup is to make a speedy return to top-level competition.
As of this moment, Mancini has performed little in the way of major surgery to the national squad. He can call upon some very fine players, not least strikers Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne, but he faces some difficulty in rebuilding the famously obdurate Italian defence after the departure of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. For Portugal, who arrive in Milan without Cristiano Ronaldo, any positive result here would mean a place in the knockout play-off. Will they get it?
Italy vs Portugal Prediction: Italy 1-1 Portugal
For a nation that prides itself on excellence on the football field, Italy have been coasting on little more than reputation for a few years now. There’s no doubt they have stellar individuals, and selecting the core of Juventus’ back four en bloc is probably a smart move given Juve’s dominance in Serie A – but it’s going forward that they seem hesitant. In Ronaldo’s absence, Portugal may struggle to truly flourish, and home advantage will help Italy but, with Mancini still unsure of his best XI, we wouldn’t back the hosts to get the win they need here.
Our recommended tip: BTTS
Although this is likely to be a game with plenty of long spells of possession football, it’s also a game in which Ciro Immobile will be on one side, and Andre Silva on the other. These are players who just need a half-chance to put the ball in the net, and even if Immobile’s record at international level could be better, you’d never back against him – or Insigne for that matter – to score in a tight game. Silva’s record – as near as dammit to 1 in 2 – precedes him at this level, and in the absence of Ronaldo he’ll be heavily involved.
It’s something of a miracle – considering these sides have been more or less ever-present at major tournaments, often in the later stages, and share a continent – that the meeting in September was their first competitive encounter in a quarter of a century. Two months ago, in Lisbon, a single Andre Silva goal was enough to give the hosts the win. The previous competitive meeting (setting aside a welter of friendlies mostly won by Italy) took place in this same stadium twenty-five years and a day ago, Italy winning a World Cup qualifier 1-0 through a Dino Baggio goal.
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Players to watch: Ciro Immobile & Andre Silva
Since landing at Lazio in 2016, Immobile has been a revelation, scoring 20+ Serie A goals in consecutive seasons, and he’s grabbed another eight in the eleven games he’s played so far this campaign despite the loss of handy supporting forward Felipe Anderson. At international level he’s been less prolific, but the consistency of his scoring record for his club indicates that it’s an Italy problem more than an Immobile issue. If Mancini can get the alchemy right further back, the goals will come for his star striker.
Though he’s been banging in the goals for Sevilla this season, Silva is in Spain on loan from Milan. He’ll be on familiar ground here, then, and his international scoring record of 14 in 29 games means that in the continued absence of CR7, Portugal still have a reliable outlet. The kind of prolific, unfussy striker that his country lacked for decades, Silva will continue to be of huge value to the side and will be more than a handful for the Italian defence this evening.