With Pickford, Kalvin Philips injured, Gareth Southgate will look at best-of-the-rest for England’s Nations League clash vs Italy

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The men’s football world will be bereft of league action till October 2 but fans need not worry as the international break will throw up a lot of mouth-watering clashes in the meantime, both in the Nations League as well as in regular friendlies. As we edge closer to the World Cup, beginning in November, these international fixtures might provide us with a rough idea of what to expect from all the teams. So, here are some match-ups which you should keep an eye out for, in the coming week

Italy vs England (Saturday, 12.15 AM)

England, the team playing in the World Cup, take on Italy, the team who are not in Qatar 2022. But here in the UEFA Nations League clash between the two European powerhouses, the Azzurri are 3 points better off than the Three Lions. The England team, which is teetering on the edge of Nations League relegation is unlikely to field their strongest XI here, just two months away from the World Cup.

With a spate of injuries already in their ranks with goalkeeper Pickford and Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips on the treatment table, coach Gareth Southgate would look to the best of the rest in this fixture. The England squad is in a state of flux at the moment with just striker Harry Kane the only one who seems to be a guarantee in the starting lineup for the squad.

Other guaranteed starters Mason Mount, Declan Rice, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw have had a very below par season thus far and it will be interesting to see if Southgate persists with them all. After the 4-0 humbling against Hungary in their last international fixture, the coach will hope that a rather out-of-sorts England can at least hold out a draw. Italy, meanwhile, have nothing to lose. They will not be playing the World Cup and they are a long shot away from a Nations League final berth, though it still might be possible. Expect the Italians to start a rather strong playing 11 and hope to wash away the bitter aftertaste of a Germany thrashing in their last encounter.

England vs Germany (Tuesday, 12.15 AM)

Old rivals England and Germany will renew hostilities again on Tuesday in another Nations League clash. Germany, who are second in their group, trailing Hungary by a solitary point, will take on the Group leaders on Saturday, the same time England clash with Italy. If the Bavarians defeat Hungary, they will face England as Group leaders. However, if they fail to defeat Hungary and Italy defeat England on Friday, Germany will drop down to 3rd while Hungary and Italy stay above them.

It might very well be a real possibility of that happening as Manuel Neuer and Leon Goretzka have tested positive for Covid recently and have been sent back home. Another important player Marco Reus is missing through injury.

In recent fixtures, even with a full-strength squad, Germany has failed to beat Hungary, drawing 2-2 in Euro 2020 and 1-1 in their last Nations League meeting. The same can be said about their recent form against England as well. The Hansi Flick-managed side have failed to beat Gareth Southgate’s side in their last two competitive fixtures. They lost to England in the Euro Round of 16 while the two teams played out a 1-1 draw the last time they met in the Nations League. England, already on the precipice of relegation from the Nations League, have nothing to gain from that match, except pride. Germany, meanwhile, are in a fix.

Portugal vs Spain (Wednesday, 12.15 AM)

Before locking horns with each other in the Nations League, Portugal and Spain will have to take on Czech Republic and Switzerland respectively on Sunday. The two European powerhouses are 1st and 2nd in their Group table with Spain on 8 points and Portugal on 7 while Czech Republic and Switzerland are at the 3rd and 4th place with 4 and 3 points to their names.

Spain and Portugal will hope to maintain the status quo on Sunday and seal their spots for the next round before facing each other on Wednesday. In case of an upset or upsets on Sunday, the Wednesday fixture will be of paramount importance to the four teams. If not, expect a rather tame game of football between Spain and Portugal on Wednesday, with both teams fielding their second-tier team to see out the match.

Spain came into the Nations League with no injury scare with Nico Williams expected to make his debut this Saturday. If Spain gets the job done on Saturday, expect Nico to play against Portugal as well. In case of an upset against Czech Republic, Portugal will be forced to contend with the likes of Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres and Alvaro Morata as well as the midfield might of Gavi and Pedri.

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Portugal won’t be sweating too much though as they have the likes of Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo in their defence. Spain, meanwhile, have to contend with a hungry Cristiano Ronaldo, who has had a sub-par start to his season, and will be absolutely chomping at the bit to respond to his critics. Their midfield has the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva who can unlock a team’s defence in a matter of moments, making this one of the better teams Portugal has had in years.

Honourable mentions

Germany vs Hungary (Saturday, 12.15 AM)

Spain vs Switzerland (Sunday, 12.15 AM)

Netherlands vs Belgium (Monday, 12.15 AM)

Chelsea vs Manchester City (Women’s Super League, Sunday, 8.30 PM)

Liverpool vs Everton (Women’s Super League, Sunday, 11.15 PM)

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