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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

In-form England should land Wembley win over Italy

Gareth Southgate can make it back-to-back victories

The England team and manager Gareth Southgate celebrate their win over the Dutch
1 of 1

International friendly
ITV, 8pm Tuesday

England kicked off their 2018 schedule with a comfortable 1-0 victory over Holland in Amsterdam on Friday and they look solid favourites to follow up with a Wembley win over Italy.

There were plenty of positives for Gareth Southgate to take out of his side's performance against the Dutch.

England carved out a 52 per cent share of possession and had control of the game for long periods.

There was a cutting edge to the side with Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling causing the Dutch problems with their pace and movement.

However, there was no disguising how poor the opposition were.

England's experimental back three of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Joe Gomez (who was injured early on and replaced by Harry Maguire) were rarely tested as Holland showed just why they have failed to qualify for successive major tournaments.

Beating such an ordinary team does not suddenly transform England into one of the World Cup favourites and there is only so much they can gain from the contest against Italy - another former heavyweight side who have fallen on hard times.

The Italians finished a poor second to Spain in their World Cup qualifying group, five points adrift of the Iberians, and they failed to score in two playoff matches against Sweden, losing 1-0 in Stockholm and drawing 0-0 in Milan.

Giampiero Ventura resigned as manager and his replacement, caretaker-boss Luigi Di Biagio, has a huge rebuilding job on his hands as he attempts to mould a side capable of qualifying for and contending at Euro 2020.

His main problem is a lack of genuine quality in attacking positions.

Of the original squad selected for the March friendlies, veteran central defender Giorgio Chiellini was the top scorer with eight goals.

Chiellini has since withdrawn from the squad with a thigh injury and it was his defensive ability rather than goalscoring instincts that were missed as the Azzurri lost 2-0 to Argentina in Manchester on Friday.

Argentina achieved that success despite leaving star striker Lionel Messi on the bench and England can follow in their footsteps despite the handicap of Harry Kane's absence.

England don't have an abundance of firepower with 15-goal striker Danny Welbeck the only player in the squad on double figures.

But Jamie Vardy and Deli Alli - who are primed to start after cameo roles in Amsterdam - are obvious threats and Sterling is looking more comfortable on the international stage.

Sterling is the player with the most potential to take England's game to a higher level.

He has flourished under Pep Guardiola and is fourth in the Premier League scoring charts with 15 goals in 26 appearances.

Defensively, England are still getting used to the back three which seems to be favoured by the manager.

And Southgate is short of options for the left-sided centre-back position with Gomez and Maguire picking up injuries against the Dutch.

It is an area Italy may look to exploit but the Azzurri were fairly toothless against Argentina and another defeat is on the cards.

1pt 11-10 bet365

Match odds

England v Italy head-to-head 

Team news
Joe Gomez (ankle) has withdrawn from the squad and Harry Maguire (hamstring) is a doubt.

Giorgio Chiellini (thigh) withdrew from the squad before the 2-0 loss to Argentina on Friday.

Key stat
Italy have not scored more than one goal in any of their last seven matches.

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The Italians finished a poor second to Spain in their World Cup qualifying group and they failed to score in two playoff matches against Sweden
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