Stadio San Nicola is the venue as Italy and Malta go head-to-head in Saturday’s UEFA Euro 2024 qualifier. Let’s look at our match preview for this contest.

Seeking an eighth consecutive appearance at the European Championship finals after missing out on back-to-back FIFA World Cups, Italy head into proceedings as odds-on favorites to tighten the noose on a runner-up spot in qualifying Group C. Despite having a game in hand on section-leaders England going into the qualifying finale, a top-place finish already looks like a pipe dream for Gli Azzurri

With six points separating the sides at the start of this round and a challenging trip to Wembley Stadium waiting in the wings, Italy should focus on grabbing a landslide victory against continental minnows. Since taking Roberto Mancini’s place in the dugout over the summer, new manager Luciano Spalletti has struggled to improve Italy’s form. Going unbeaten in his first two games in charge doesn’t tell the whole story.

Italy drew 1-1 against North Macedonia on Spalletti’s touchline debut, showing the same weaknesses that haunted them down the final stretch of Mancini’s reign. Profligacy in front of goal and rookie mistakes at the back left a bitter taste in the ex-Napoli manager’s mouth after the Italians’ stomach-wrenching experience in Skopje in September. 

Though a 2-1 home triumph over Ukraine last time out served to lighten the mood around the camp, it’s fair to say Italy’s performance against the war-devastated country flattered to deceive. Malta’s upcoming visit to Bari, therefore, looks like the ideal opportunity for the reigning European champions to increase their confidence ahead of next week’s trip to the United Kingdom.

Match Preview

Italy

After kicking things off in Group C with an underwhelming 2-1 home defeat to England, the Italians have gained a foothold in the ongoing qualifying cycle. The abovementioned stalemate against North Macedonia, sandwiched by a brace of victories over Ukraine and Malta, has lifted Italy to second in the group. 

However, there’s no room for complacency. Spalletti’s men commence this matchday level on points with Ukraine and North Macedonia, albeit with a game in hand on both. Saturday’s clash should be another day in the office for Italy, considering they’ve won their last nine matches against Malta.

If that’s not enough to boost their spirits, you’d need to go back to 1993 for the last time Italy conceded a goal against the Mediterranean outfit. 

Player to Watch: Davide Frattesi

With Federico Chiesa unavailable through injury and other Italy forwards enduring rough spells with their clubs, the Inter midfielder could be Spalletti’s savior again. His first-half double made the difference against Ukraine last time out, which qualifies him for our ‘Player to Watch’ section.

Malta

Malta’s bid to reach the European Championship finals for the first time in the nation’s history is already dead in the water. Nailed to the bottom of the standings after losing all five qualifiers in the build-up to this trip, the visitors will more likely seek damage control over a potential upset. But even that looks far-fetched. 

Michele Marcolini’s men were 2-0 down within the first half an hour of play in a 2-0 loss to Italy in the reverse fixture before succumbing to a 4-0 defeat to England. Malta’s dreadful results against continental heavyweights are long-standing. Yet, they can draw confidence from an honorable 1-0 loss on their last visit to Italy in September 2015.

That doesn’t change the fact the so-called Knights of Malta are nowhere near the Italians’ high standard. 

Player to Watch: Teddy Teuma

As the only Malta player to ply his trade in Europe’s top-five leagues, the Reims midfielder will probably pull all the strings in the visitors’ midfield. His playmaking skills will require some attention. 

Team News

Besides Chiesa, Spalletti cannot count on Lazio duo Ciro Immobile and Mattia Zaccagni this month. Both players are on the sidelines injured, with Atalanta’s Gianluca Scamacca in the same boat. Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo have left the Italy camp amid betting-related accusations, narrowing Spalletti’s options. 

As for Malta, Notts County forward Jodi Jones is out of contention due to injury, while captain Steve Borg serves a one-game ban after accumulating a third yellow card against North Macedonia in September. 

Italy vs Malta Potential Lineups

Italy (4-3-3): Gianluigi Donnarumma; Matteo Darmian, Gianluca Mancini, Alessandro Bastoni, Federico Dimarco; Nicolo Barella, Manuel Locatelli, Davide Frattesi; Domenico Berardi, Giacomo Raspadori, Moise Kean. 

Malta (3-4-2-1): Henry Bonello; Jean Borg, Zach Muscat, Enrico Pepe; Paul Mbong, Bjorn Kristensen, Matthew Guillaumier, Ryan Camenzuli; Teddy Teuma, Jurgen Degabriele; Kyrian Nwoko. 

Italy vs Malta Prediction

Anything other than a multi-goal margin win for Italy would be an underachievement. After failing to net more than once in five of their last seven home outings, Spalletti’s men have a perfect chance to lace up their scoring boots again. We back them to do just that.

Prediction: Italy Win

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