We could look at tonight’s match at San Siro, England’s first visit to Milan since 1939, in two ways. The most significant and obvious one is that it’s their penultimate match before they open their World Cup campaign in Al Rayyan on 21 Nov and they need to find some form after those chastening two defeats and two draws in June, matches in which they scored only one goal (and that a penalty) while conceding six.
The other way is that today and Monday’s match against Germany gives them an opportunity to drag themselves off the bottom of Group 3. That may not seem all that important to the increasingly vocal critics of the Nations League but it will save them from a potentially trickier Euro 24 qualification draw and dropping down into League B for the third renewal of the Nations League and opponents that may struggle to draw the kind of sizeable Wembley crowds the FA needs to bridge the Covid grass-roots funding gap.
Last time out England were humiliated by Hungary at Molineux, the players seemingly jaded, muddled and typically vulnerable when sent out with a back four. All the reports suggest that Gareth Southgate will revert to tournament mode and play an extra central defender henceforth with Harry Maguire, despite his long decline at Manchester United, lining up alongside Eric Dier in the absence of the suspended John Stones, with Kyle Walker as the right-sided centre-half.
There should be a start for Jude Bellingham alongside Declan Rice in midfield and another opportunity for Aaron Ramsdale in goal but that should be the extent of the experimentation unless Bukayo Saka is preferred to Kieran Trippier at left wing-back. Up front Southgate has tried a few things in the past 12 months but with time running short and Ivan Toney not in the matchday squad, the expectation is that he will go back to his default of Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Phil Foden.
Italy, by contrast, are in full experimentation mode following their failure to qualify for Qatar. They’re trying out the Brazil-born Luiz Felipe, who is eligible by virtue of his Vicenza-born great grandfather, at centre-back, Sassuolo’s hard-running Davide Frattesi in midfield, SPAL’s Salvatore Esposito, the Serie B Pirlo, and Leeds United’s livewire diddyman forward Wilfried Gnonto all in the squad. Some or all may not start but there is a sense that Mancini, temperamentally disposed, like most Italian managers, to trust/favour his veterans, is wholeheartedly committed to rebuilding the European champions.
The match kicks off at 7.45pm and team news should drop around 75 minutes before then.