Although just a friendly, this fixture could give England a better idea of where they stand as they face a team that caused them difficulties in the summer World Cup. Both teams have been in fine form since the competition, but this will be the first proper test for England since their disappointing showing in Brazil.
It has been confirmed that Tottenham’s Harry Kane will be given his first start for country, and this follows his remarkable debut goal which came just 79 seconds after coming on in the 4-0 victory over Lithuania. The whole nation eagerly awaits to see how Kane will fare for a full 90 minutes and against a quality international side such as Italy. There is an immense amount of pressure on Kane, and he could also appear in the U21’s European Championship this summer after helping the team to qualify with 8 goals in 10.
The other storyline for England fans is seeing if captain Wayne Rooney can equal Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time scoring record. He edged closer in Friday’s game with Lithuania, and could have even levelled after twice striking the woodwork. Just 2 goals shy of Charlton’s 49, tonight could be the night that Rooney makes history.
With Kane and Rooney partnered up front, Hodgson will see this as an opportunity to use some of the squad players to see how they fare and to give the nailed on starters some competition. This is the last international fixture for England till June, and many of the players will already by eyeing the weekend’s crucial Premier League fixtures as the season enters the final stretch.
Italy are unbeaten since the World Cup and will be keen to keep this run going against a rival like England. The Italians currently sit 2nd in Group H, winning 3 out of their 5 matches. Antonio Conte has already announced his starting 11, and it is a team vastly different to the one that defeated England 2-1 in the World Cup. Defender Giorgio Chiellini is the only survivor from the team, and other notable inclusions are legendary keeper Gianluigi Buffon and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle.
It may just be an international friendly, but this poses England’s toughest test yet and could prove to be a telling match.
Hodgson has a number of injury concerns and will therefore field a team vastly different to Friday nights. Danny Welbeck, Raheem Sterling, James Milner and Leighton Baines will all miss out. With Baines out, Ryan Bertrand has been called up and could earn his third cap, but he will face competition from Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs.