20:00 BST, Friday 1st June, Allianz Riviera (Nice, France)
For the first time since 1958, the Italians have missed out on a World Cup.
As a result, they serve little purpose in this friendly beyond offering an opponent against which Didier Deschamps can experiment with his tactics and personnel as France prepare for Russia 2018.
This game does, however, represent Roberto Mancini’s second match in charge of the Azzurri and it’s important to maintain momentum and morale amongst a disheartened squad.
For France, this is the second of three World Cup warm-up matches, which could see Deschamps head towards his strongest possible XI as he looks to settle on a winning formula for Russia.
Last Time Out
France 2-0 Ireland
Les Bleus began their preparation for the 2018 World Cup with a comfortable 2-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland with Olivier Giroud scoring his 31st goal for France.
His bundled opener saw him draw level with Zinedine Zidane as France’s fourth-highest scorer.
Nabil Fekir, linked with a move to Champions League runners-up Liverpool, curled in the second and final goal in the 43rd minute.
It’s been 20 years since France last won the World Cup, but they have a squad worthy of a challenge this summer and this result, coupled with Giroud’s form, bode well for Les Bleus ahead of Russia.
Italy 2-1 Saudi Arabia
The Azzurri eased to a 2-1 victory over World Cup participants Saudi Arabia, with Mario Balotelli scoring an excellent solo goal on his first international appearance in four years.
The Nice striker has not featured internationally since the 2014 World Cup and so he will have been happy to pick up a goal.
It marked a bright start for new Italy boss Roberto Mancini, who took over from Gian Piero Ventura following the Italians’ failure to qualify for the World Cup.
Torino striker Andrea Belotti doubled Italy’s lead in the 68th minute before Yahya Al Shehri scored his side’s consolation four minutes later.
Didier Deschamps opted to experiment against Ireland and he could continue this theme, deploying a 4-3-2-1 formation. He could revert to a 4-3-3, however, to incorporate his wide forwards.
There could be starts for Ousmane Dembele, Thomas Lemar, Benjamin Pavard or Presnel Kimpembe. Benjamin Mendy could also be given a rest after completing 63 minutes against Ireland.
With Andrea Belotti also scoring against Saudi Arabia, Mancini could start the Torino forward and drop Mario Balotelli to the bench.
Key Battle: Djibril Sidibe (France) vs Lorenzo Insigne (Italy)
Despite both strikers, Mario Balotelli and Andrea Belotti, scoring in the 2-1 win over the Saudis, Lorenzo Insigne remains the key man for the Italians.
The diminutive winger was in fine form domestically in 2017/18, scoring eight goals and assisting 11 as Napoli missed out on the Serie A title, despite finishing the campaign with 91 points.
The 26-year-old will be relied on by his teammates to create scoring opportunities for the Italians and get crosses into the box for the likes of Belotti and Balotelli to attack. Insigne also created 90 chances in Serie A.
The fact that he completed 60 take-ons will stand him in good stead against Djibril Sidibe, the France and Monaco right back.
Sidibe is revered for his attacking qualities, but the fact that he was only successful in 36% of his attempted tackles will leave him exposed against the dangers of Insigne.
How well Sidibe can defend against a dangerous attacking talent will be key to how France fare in this friendly.
Looking to the future
Touted as the natural heir to Gigi Buffon, Gianluigi Donnarumma started the first game since the veteran’s international exit and will be looking to cement his position as Italy’s undisputed number one for the foreseeable future.
The AC Milan shot-stopper conceded against Saudi Arabia, though there was little he could have done to prevent the goal.
It’s in games such as these, however, that Donnarumma must forge his international reputation. He’s still a tender teenager (19), but if he truly wants to succeed Buffon, he should begin developing his leadership skills by rallying his troops in a game that, frankly, means little in the long-term scheme of Mancini’s Italy.
Moreover, it’s a chance for Donnarumma to test himself against a selection of both the world’s best and upcoming forwards in Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe.
Last chance saloon
With France only playing one more friendly after this – against the United States on June 9th -, there are limited opportunities for Deschamps’ squad to impress their manager ahead of Les Bleus’ opening World Cup game against Australia.
For instance, Giroud has to oust Griezmann from the lone striker’s role, whilst Ousmane Dembele will be looking to compete with former teammates Kylian Mbappe and Thomas Lemar in wide positions.
Mbappe’s position is likely assured in the starting XI, given he netted 13 goals and assisted eight for Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain in 2017/18, but debate rages over whether to start Lemar or Dembele.
Although Dembele is a right winger predominantly, he’s extremely two-footed, enough to play on the left. Lemar created 47 chances and assisted eight goals for Monaco, whilst Dembele grabbed five assists and a goal in 13 games for Barcelona after suffering a long-term injury.
Living up to cliches
The old cliche about Italian football is that it’s primarily a defence-first game, predicated on brave defending. In a sense, this is epitomised by former Juventus and current Milan centre-back Leonardo Bonucci, an experienced veteran.
Partnered with his younger club teammate Alessio Romagnoli, the duo will have their work cut out for them in containing the youthful exuberance of the French forwards.
Italy will most likely cede possession in the hope of countering the French, but it requires organisation, concentration and composure to quell their threat consistently, hence the importance of Bonucci and Romagnoli.
Prediction: France 2-0 Italy
Whilst Italy will be keen to show the world what Russia will be missing with a strong performance, the French are simply too good for their Italian rivals and shouldn’t have too many difficulties seeing off their threat.
Deschamps has quality in abundance to choose from and the likes of Mbappe, Dembele and Griezmann will be too overwhelming for the Italian defence.
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