England U21s to expose fragile Italian U21 defence
Both sides helped themselves to an adult portion of goals in the qualifying stages of the UEFA Under-21 Championship, but with a positive result in this fixture likely to go a long way towards ensuring qualification for the tournament’s latter stages, received wisdom would suggest a tight affair is in the offing.
England and Italy blasted their way out of their five-game qualifying groups with hauls of 27 and 24 goals across the eight games respectively, but their defences were also hardy enough.
The young Lions allowed their defence to be breached just three times, with Italy slightly more generous in shipping eight goals.
Although Italy’s goal-a-game concession rate seems reasonably parsimonious, it was the worst goals against total of any of the winners of the eight eight-game qualifying groups by three clear strikes, suggesting England may be able to profit from facing a far from infallible backline at this higher level.
The young Azurri’s qualifying goal-haul of 27 may warn against taking them lightly, but 14 of those were plundered against the youth wing of Lichtenstein’s footballing freebie fund.
Italy will be further hindered in the goal-getting department in Israel by the call up of Milan hotshot Stephane El Shaarawy to the senior team’s Confederations Cup squad.
So strong has England’s defence been in qualification that they’ve won their last five games in that sphere without conceding and it may be worth chancing Stuart Pearce’s men for a clean sheet win – England are a monster 18/5 to shutout their rivals on their way to victory.
That commitment to defensive rigour has come with an understandable downturn in goal-scoring fireworks and Wilfried Zaha and co have managed two goals or less in their last four fixtures, with the only two-goal haul in that period coming against Azerbaijan.
With this and Italy’s fallible defence – which includes players from such ill-starred footballing outposts as Citadella and Grosetto – in mind, a 2-0 result in favour of Pearce’s bucks fits the facts and that tally can be backed in the correct score market at 11/1.