Who: Poland v. Italy
What: UEFA Nations League League A Group 3
Where: Chorzów, Poland
When: 2:45 Eastern Standard Time
How (To Watch): ESPN
The signs were a bit more encouraging on Wednesday when Italy hosted the Ukraine. The Azzurri looked more decisive in attack, but still only managed to find the back of the net once. The lone goal from Federico Bernardeschi, coupled with a second half goal from the visitors meant that La Nazionale remain winless since last May.
The Azzurri will have to turn things around fast if they hope to avoid being relegated to League B in the next edition of the UEFA Nations League. This may not seem like a big deal, as the inaugural Nations League has felt like a bunch of over-hyped friendlies, however, dropping down could also affect Italy’s Euro 2020 qualifying seeding. If the Azzurri are to be one of the ten seeded teams in Euro qualifying then they will likely need a result in Chorzów.
Italy are currently tied with Poland on one point in Group 3 after the teams tied 1-1, last month in Bologna. Following that match, both teams have lost to Portugal who lead the group with six points. A head-to-head win would guarantee Italy to finish at worst tied with Poland on 4 points and would consequently win any head-to-head tiebreaker. A loss would result in the opposite.
To do this Italy will have to improve both offensively and defensively and win their first competitive match in just over a year. The Azzurri have yet to keep a clean sheet since Mancini took over the squad in March; a span of eight matches. Additionally, his side has only scored more than one goal in a match once in May’s Saudi Arabia friendly victory. On Sunday, Mancini is again likely to feature a False 9 and look to build on Wednesday’s encouraging signs when Italy take on a tough Poland side.
Mancini is expected to make few personnel changes from Wednesday’s Ukraine friendly. Gianluigi Donnarumma will again start between the sticks for Italy, while Juventus duo Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini will man the center of defense. It will be up to the veteran pairing to keep Poland danger-men Robert Lewankdowski and Krzysztof Piątek. Alessandro Florenzi will retain his place on the right side of the defense and Domenico Criscito may replace Cristiano Biraghin on the left.
In the center of the park, Mancini will run out a slick passing midfield of Jorghino, Marco Verratti, and Lorenzo Pellegrini, who replaces Wednesday’s debutant, Nicolo Barella. The attacking trio will remain unchanged with Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Chiesa, and Federico Bernardeschi. The trio looked dangerous Wednesday and will look to punish the Poles with their interchange and off the ball movement.
Poland’s line-up will feature many familiar faces to Serie A fans. Wojciech Szczęsny, Bartosz Bereszyński, Piotr Zieliński, and Krzysztof Piątek all ply their trade on the peninsula and are projected to start. Genoa’s Piątek has been in sizzling form for both club and country; he currently leads Serie A with nine goals and scored Thursday for Poland in their 2-1 loss to Portugal. For Italy win it will likely mean shutting down him and the always dangerous Lewandowski, while finding a way to beat Szczęsny.
Poland (4-4-2): Szczesny; Bereszynski, Glik, Bednarek, Jedrzejczyk; Zielinski, Krychowiak, Klich, Kurzawa; Lewandowski, Piatek. Man.: Brzeczek.
Italy (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Chiellini, Biraghi; Verratti, Jorginho, Pellegrini; Bernardeschi, Insigne, Chiesa. Man. Mancini.