Amid all the Harry Kane mania, Roy Hodgson made a typically pragmatic point after England’s 4-0 victory over Lithuania on Friday which is that given the various injuries and withdrawals, he would have been forced to play Kane in Turin almost irrespective of how he had played in his debut at Wembley. England already knew they’d be without Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, but Danny Welbeck tweaked a knee and James Milner and Leighton Baines have also had to return to Manchester City and Everton respectively for treatment.
Italy are without a number of key midfielders. Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi both withdrew from the squad with injury, and then Juventus’s Claudio Marchisio broke down with a knee injury in training last week. That prompted the Juve owner Johan Elkann to accuse the national coach Antonio Conte of having pushed the player too far, and Conte has since received death threats from Juve fans, despite having led the club to three Serie A titles before taking the Italy job after the World Cup.
Both sides are unbeaten since going out of the World Cup in the group stage. England’s emphatic victory over Lithuania meant they have won seven out of seven at the start of a season for the first time in history – albeit without facing a test tougher than the away game in Switzerland.
Italy have been rather less impressive, only beating Azerbaijan 2-1 and Malta 1-0 and drawing at home with Croatia before Thursday’s 2-2 draw away to Bulgaria in qualifiers, although they did beat the Netherlands 2-0 in a friendly last September. The sides last met, of course, in Manaus during the World Cup, when England had the better of long stretches of the game but were undone by defensive laxity and were beaten 2-1.
Read Jonathan's review of that World Cup game in Manaus
Part of Hodgson’s logic in not starting Kane on Thursday was that he wanted to preserve the 4-3-3 shape that has worked so well on qualifying. The performances of Welbeck and Sterling outside of Rooney more than justified his decision and it was telling that when Kane came on it was Rooney he replaced.
The message seemed clear: if England play 4-3-3 there is room for only one central striker and at the moment Rooney is the incumbent. Hodgson has also at times, though, used a midfield diamond, with Sterling behind Rooney and Welbeck, and with Kane and Rooney starting, it is presumably to that shape he’ll return in Turin, with Ross Barkley probably taking on Sterling’s role as the number 10.
ITALY’s BACK THREE
The problem of going to a diamond is that Italy will almost certainly play a 3-5-2, a formation almost designed to combat a diamond. With three centre-backs, two can pick up the central strikers and there should always be a spare man, while Marco Verratti at the back of midfield can handle Barkley. It’s true that England can then over-man three against two in central midfield, but Italy can counter that by getting their wing-backs forward.
Away against Switzerland, England faced a similar problem of playing a narrow system against a team with very aggressive full-backs but prevailed because of the work Rooney and Welbeck did in pulling wide and occupying those players. Rooney and Kane must do something similar on Tuesday and, if they can, it’s England’s full-backs who could find themselves with space in front of them to exploit.
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ITALY AND THE COUNTER
The greater strength of England is their pace in forward areas. Admittedly that is diminished when Welbeck, Sterling and Sturridge are missing, but Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph are both adept at leading counters and Kane and Rooney have the positional intelligence to take advantage if Italy do get caught high up field, as happened repeatedly against Bulgaria.
The sense has been throughout their qualifying campaign that England will show their best form against sides who actually come at them and leave space that can be exploited; this, at last, should be a chance to prove the strength of that theory.
Friendlies are never easy games to judge given the uncertainty over who will play and how seriously each team is taking the game, but such is England’s form – and the form of one of the replacement players in particular – that 3.25 on them to win looks appealing.
The one major concern is that a narrower formation may allow Italy’s wing-backs licence, but if Rooney and Kane can close down that avenue then England have every reason to be positive. Backing them +0.25 at 1.89 on the Asian line is probably the best way to go.
Read more from Tactics Expert Jonathan Wilson