A place at Euro 2024 will be on the line when Ukraine and Italy lock horns in a qualifying Group C second-place six-pointer at the BayArena on Monday. Despite starting the last round of qualifiers level on points, Luciano Spalletti’s men are in firm control of their qualification hopes.
Italy eked out a 2-1 win when they met Ukraine in the reverse fixture in September to establish superiority in the H2H tie-breaker. Avoiding defeat in Leverkusen would seal automatic qualification for next summer’s tournament in Germany. However, there’s no room for complacency.
Spalletti’s men posted a statement 5-2 win over North Macedonia on Friday, picking apart a team that has been a thorn in their side these past couple of years. The emphatic victory in Rome – inspired by a sterling attacking performance – should have eased tensions within the Italy camp ahead of their ‘make or break’ clash against Ukraine.
But while there was nothing Spalletti could’ve complained about when it came to his frontline’s display, two critical changes in the two remaining departures have left the Italy boss with more questions than answers. Ukraine are expected to put Gli Azzurri to a much sterner test on Monday, where any mistakes could prove costly.
Federico Chiesa, Giacomo Raspadori, and Domenico Berardi had a field day against North Macedonia. Spalletti’s formidable attacking trident maintained their impressive club forms in the penultimate qualifying round, doing more than enough to retain their starting berths against Ukraine.
Here, we look at the two potential alterations the Italy head coach can make to bolster his team’s chances of navigating this pivotal fixture.
Federico Gatti OUT – Gianluca Mancini IN
Federico Gatti has been an integral part of Juventus’ water-tight backline at the start of the new campaign. Barring a comic own goal in a 4-2 defeat to Sassuolo in September, the 25-year-old has enjoyed an outstanding club season, contributing to the division’s second-best defensive record.
On that basis, no one can blame Spalletti for giving Gatti his first international call-up since November 2022. But the towering defender’s performance in his third-ever start for Italy flattered to deceive as North Macedonia scored twice beyond halftime. Gatti’s reactions were questionable, to say the least.
There’s no margin for error against Ukraine. Therefore, it stands to reason that Spalletti may want to go for a more experienced defensive option. Roma’s Gianluca Mancini perfectly fits the bill. He has more international minutes in his legs, while he has been nothing short of impressive at club level this term.
Jorginho OUT – Davide Frattesi IN
Jorginho’s return to the national team after a lengthy spell on the fringes didn’t go according to plan. The Arsenal midfielder wasted another penalty, which was only the tip of the iceberg. A lack of speed and reluctance to pick out progressive passes plagued his game against North Macedonia.
Having a player of Jorginho’s experience and stature cannot hurt. But he is seemingly no longer the player he once was. With Ukraine expected to play in high rhythm and try to increase the game’s pace, the 31-year-old’s shortcomings could come to the fore. That’s something Italy cannot afford.
When the Ukrainians slumped to a 2-1 defeat in Milan, Davide Frattesi ran the show. The Inter midfielder scored a match-winning brace in September. Though he’s still adapting to life at Giuseppe Meazza, the 24-year-old’s physical attributes are probably better suited for an intense game awaiting Italy in Leverkusen.
Spalleti has the final word.
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