WTonight’s game at the San Siro, England’s first visit to Milan since 1939, could be viewed in two ways. The most important and obvious one is that this is their penultimate game before they begin their World Cup campaign in Al Rayyan on November 21 and they need to find form after those heavy two defeats and two draws in June, games in which they scored only one goal. goal (and a penalty), but conceded six.
Another way is that today’s and Monday’s games against Germany give them a chance to drag themselves off the bottom of Group 3. This may not seem so important to increasingly vocal critics of the Nations League, but it will save them from a potentially more difficult Euro 24 qualifying draw and relegation to League B for the third renewal of the Nations League and opponents who may struggle to attract the sizeable Wembley crowds the FA needs to bridge the funding gap due to Covid.
Most recently, England were humiliated by Hungary at Molineux, with the players looking tired, confused and usually vulnerable as they were sent out with the back four. All reports suggest that Gareth Southgate will return to tournament mode and henceforth play additional centre-back with Harry Maguire, despite his long spell at Manchester United, lining up alongside Eric Dier in the absence of the suspended John Stones, with Kyle Walker at right-back central pole.
Jude Bellingham should start alongside Declan Rice in the middle and another chance for Aaron Ramsdale in goal, but that should be the extent of the experimentation unless Bukayo Saka is preferred to Kieran Trippier at left-back. Upfront Southgate has tried a few things over the last 12 months but with time running out and Ivan Toney out of the matchday squad, expect him to fall back on his defaults of Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Phil Foden.
In contrast, Italy are in full experimental mode after failing to qualify for Qatar. They are testing Brazilian-born Luiz Felipe, who is eligible because of his Vicenza-born great-grandfather, at centre-back, Sassuolo’s tough Davide Frattesi in midfield, SPAL’s Salvatore Esposito, Serie B side Pirlo and Leeds United’s livewire diddyman striker Wilfried Gnonto everyone on the team. Some or all of them may not start, but there is a sense that Mancini, temperamentally inclined like most Italian managers to trust/favor his veterans, is wholeheartedly committed to rebuilding the European champions.
The game kicks off at 7.45pm and team news should be out around 75 minutes before that.