2020 (2021)’s festival of football gets underway tonight, as Italy host Turkey at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
The heavily backed Azzurri are currently on a remarkable 27-game unbeaten run under former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini – a turnaround which is made even more impressive given he took over a side underachieving so badly that they failed to even qualify for the World Cup in 2018.
The Turks on the other hand are often known for rating their national side highly. By looking at their squad this year though it’s easy to see why punters are keen to label them the dark horses.
Burak Yılmaz and Yusuf Yazıcı join up after spearheading a shock title winning season at Lille, AC Milan’s Hakan Çalhanoğlu is a known threat from set-pieces, whilst Çağlar Söyüncü at the back has become one of the highest rated central defenders in the Premier League.
With both teams fancying their chances, the opening game should help to determine how seriously each sides ambitions are to be taken.
Here’s three things Brig Sport will be looking out for!
Battle of the Goalscorers
One thing both Italy and Turkey have in common is their marquee forwards that lead the line.
For the ‘home’ side, it’s expected that Ciro Immobile will be given the nod – the 31-year-old has two goals in his last two starts for his country and found the net 20 times for Lazio in Serie A last season.
Mancini has been known to rotate the former Dortmund striker with Torino’s Andrea Belotti from time to time but reports in the Italian media seem to indicate they expect Immobile to be given the nod tonight.
As for Turkey, they don’t quite have the same selection headache.
Veteran striker Burak Yılmaz is almost a certainty to front their attack. The 35-year-old is his country’s second all time leading scorer and at 6″2′ tall, him getting on the end of a Çalhanoğlu corner might be something the Italians are fearful of.
Whilst national tournaments are officially played on neutral ground, tonight’s match will take place in the Italian capital, Rome.
There may be only 16,000 fans in the almost 70,000 capacity stadium but playing in the home den of their opponents could well have a mental impact on the Turkish players – and in contrast will no doubt be a boost to the home side.
Of course there is an argument to be made that states the opposite, the longer the heavy favourites are held the more vocally frustrated the home crowd could become, hence why it’s interesting to see how this home advantage plays out.
Italy’s Midfield Three
With Marco Verratti struggling for fitness, particular attention has been cast to who Roberto Mancini will field as his three central midfielders.
Brazilian-born Jorginho is expected to play a deep sitting role similar to where he plays for club side Chelsea. Technically superb the Champions League winner is an expert at threading needles through the opposition defence, but his lack of pace can at times lead to rash tackles and yellow cards.
Manuel Locatelli and Nicolo Barella may be rivals in domestic football – but as a more advanced duo they have proven to be an effective paring in the famous dark blue shirt.
With this trio playing their part in the recent 4-0 dismantling of Czechia at the start of the month many think the Azzurri will look to keep things as they were, though if a change were to be made Matteo Pessina of Atalanta has proven he can play an adequate replacement if called upon.
Brig Sport’s Prediction
We do fancy Turkey’s chances of progression from group A – though the opposition of their opening fixture might just be too strong. Italy 1-0 Turkey.
Featured Image Credit – 90 min + Uefa
Other Image Credit – The Guardian + Marca + Talksport