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Italy Head to Armenia Looking to Continue Group J Dominance

Euro 2020 qualifying resumes with the Azzurri heading east.

Italy Training Session And Press Conference Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

The Italian National Team resumes its Euro 2020 qualifying campaign on Thursday after a summer hiatus. The Azzurri will look to pick up right where they left off in June after winning their first four qualifying matches in impressive fashion. Italy has allowed only one goal and has a plus twelve goal differential; the perfect record gives them a three point edge over Finland in the standings.

The path to Euro 2020 resumes this week with two road matches for Roberto Mancini’s side; the first of which will be in Armenia. The Armenians are on a two match winning streak after beating Group J whipping boys Liechtenstein 3-0, which they followed with a shock 3-2 victory in Greece. Those six points are good enough to put the Armenians in third place in a group that hasn’t quite gone according to the script for Greece and Bosnia.

Armenia vs. Italy: September 5th. 18:00 CET/12:00 EDT. Republican Stadium after Vazgen Sargsyan, Armenia. TV: ESPNEWS (USA)

Armenia features Roma’s newest player, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He’s the star man for his country and the Azzurri will be wise to keep close tabs on him. With the Azzurri likely to dictate the pace of play, expect the Armenians to try and strike on the counter attack. When they do, expect Mkhitaryan to be the one starting the move from the midfield, where he plays a deeper role than in his club career.

Armenia are an aggressive side, which can’t be underestimated, especially at home in front of their countrymen. Italy will be wise to stay organized and not let the home side take them out of their game. If the Azzurri stay compact in the back then they will likely be able to stave off the pacy Armenian counters and let their own skill players get to work in the attacking half. Mancini summed up what he expects when his side faces Armenia.

“Our aim is to secure qualification as soon as possible,” said Mancini at the pre-match press conference. “These are two vital games. We’ve done well so far, we’re regrouping after four months away and we won’t be at our best physically but we have other weapons that will help us to cope. Physically, Armenia are further on that we are seeing that many of them play in leagues which began earlier. They’re strongest in attack, where they have four plays with great skill and pace. They come into the game after an excellent performance in Athens and they’re en route to qualify. We’ll have to play a great game. We’ll be in trouble if we think it’s a simple fixture.”

Of the players called up by Mancini, Mattia De Sciglio, Bryan Cristante, and Lorenzo Insigne have all had to withdraw due to injury. Replacing that trio on the roster are Danilo D’ambrosio, Sandro Tonali, and Vincenzo Grifo. Mancini will hope he doesn’t lose anyone else ahead of this tricky road trip in Armenia and Finland. He also spoke on the current injuries facing the Azzurri.

“I’m very sorry about the three serious injuries that we’ve had [Chiellini, Piccini and Pavoletti] while the others are minor issues that will thankfully pass quickly. Some players, the Torino ones for example, are further ahead but the aim is to go again from the second half against Bosnia and Herzegovina and that same attacking attitude. We’ll have some difficulties like we did against Finland. We’ll have to give our best in the difficult moments.”

Expect the Azzurri to come out in their usual 4-3-3 with Gigi Donnarumma in goal. Meanwhile, with Chiellini injured expect Alessio Romagnoli to partner Leo Bonucci in the center of defense. Flanking them will be Alessandro Florenzi and Emerson. Meanwhile, the regular midfield trio of Marco Verratti, Jorghino, and Nicolò Barella are expected to start despite Stefano Sensi playing ahead of Barella at Inter.

The only real questions are in attack. Federico Chiesa looks to be a lock to start with Federico Bernardeschi and Stephan El Shaarawy battling to start on the opposite wing. Lastly, Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile are in the running to lead the attack. Belotti and Bernardeschi are currently favored.

Probable Formations (according to Sky Sport Italia)

Italy (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Romagnoli, Emerson; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Belotti, Bernardeschi.

Armenia (4-2-3-1): Hayrapetyan; Hambardzumyan, Ishkhanyan, Haroyan, Hovhannisyan; Mkrtchyan, Grigoryan; Barseghyan, Mkhitaryan, Ghazaryan; Karapetyan