Four key battles from England's clash with Italy

CHRIS SUTTON: Rice and Bellingham must neutralise Verratti and Jorginho in the midfield battle, while Maguire could come under pressure… four key battles from England’s Euro 2024 qualifer with Italy

  • England face Italy in a European Championship qualifier on Thursday evening 
  • Gareth Southgate’s side will be keen to avenge the Euro 2020 final, in Naples 
  • Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton analyses his four key battles from the game 

England face Italy on Thursday evening in their first competitive game since the Qatar World Cup last winter.

It is a fixture steeped in history and tradition, with the Azzurri beating Gareth Southgate’s side on penalties in a fractious European Championship final in July 2021.

Thursday’s match will be the first round of qualifiers for the next tournament, with the Three Lions keen to get revenge on Roberto Mancini’s men in Naples.

It promises to be a dramatic and passionate encounter, with plenty of thrills and spills.

And below, Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton looks at his four key battles from the clash.

England face Italy on Thursday in their first competitive game since the 2022 Qatar World Cup

The Three Lions will be looking for revenge in Naples for the Euro 2020 final, which Italy won

And below, Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton analyses his four key battles from the clash


The sight of Saka and Ben White flying down Arsenal’s right has been frightening this season. They have been combining like crazy for Mikel Arteta as a real source of creativity for the Premier League leaders. 

But White has fallen out of favour with Gareth Southgate and England, after leaving the last World Cup camp. 

Instead, it will be either Kyle Walker or Reece James supporting Saka. Whoever starts, Roma left back Spinazzola will have his hands full. 

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka is in red-hot form and Leonardo Spinazzola will need to stop him


Rice has not had the greatest season for West Ham but he is so important to England. He protects the back line and steals possession in midfield, albeit I’d like to see him a little snappier on the ball. 

Verratti has faced criticism in France. When PSG exited the Champions League, he was the one who gave the ball away before both of Bayern Munich’s goals. 

Verratti is a good player, though. He is aggressive, he goes all-in, and a good battle awaits. 


Bellingham did not play the Euro 2020 final. Now you could not imagine an England team without him at the heart of it. 

Italy dominated the ball at Wembley with 61 per cent possession and Jorginho was a major part of that, completing 94 of his 98 passes. He is Italy’s pivot and England will not want him to dictate the play. 

Instead, Bellingham will want to be the dictator and part of his job will be to stop his opposite number from having any joy in midfield. 

Jude Bellingham’s tussle with Jorginho could go a long way in deciding midfield supremacy


Italy cannot call on Ciro Immobile or Giacomo Raspadori, so they have a decision to make. Scamacca isn’t starting for West Ham but he may on Thursday night. Strikers cannot pick and choose when to turn it on but Scamacca will want to prove a point against England. 

Mateo Retegui is another option. He is an Argentinian lad with an Italian granny, and I’m sure he would feel at home in the appropriately named Diego Armando Maradona Stadium. 

I was against Maguire going to the World Cup as he wasn’t playing for Manchester United but he didn’t let us down, so let’s see how he goes here. 

Harry Maguire (right) and Gianluca Scamacca (left) will look to put poor club form behind them

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