Head-To-Head: Gareth Southgate vs Gigi Di Biagio

by Chloe Beresford / 27 March 2018, 08:34

The stage is set at Wembley stadium for an exciting friendly between England and Italy on Tuesday night.

Both Gareth Southgate and interim Azzurri boss Gigi Di Biagio have entirely different aims going into the encounter – the Three Lions preparing for this summer’s World Cup in Russia while Italy are in rebuild mode after failing to qualify – but there are plenty of similarities to be drawn between the pair.

Southgate is slightly the elder at the age of 47, his Italian counterpart born just nine months later in June 1971. Both represented their national teams as players, the former appearing 57 times for England, the latter earning 31 caps for Italy. Sadly their careers for their respective countries will be best remembered for costly penalty misses, Southgate’s Euro ‘96 semi-final miscue against Germany matched by Di Biagio’s own blunder in a France ‘98 quarter-final against the hosts.

After moving into management, Southgate cut his teeth with domestic side Middlesbrough, Di Biagio was first named Italy Under-20 Coach in 2011 after gaining his coaching badges three years before. Then in 2013, both men were appointed as Under-21 bosses for their respective nations, their work with youngsters heavily reflected as they have now taken charge of the senior sides. Di Biagio remains in temporary charge while the FIGC (Italian FA) seek the right man to take the nation forward on a permanent basis.

From a 24-man squad selected for the friendly with Italy, Southgate has picked just three players over the age of 30 in Ashley Young, Joe Hart and Jamie Vardy. A 1-0 victory over the Netherlands may not have set the world on fire, but highlighted that slow and steady progress is being made and an absence of the sensationalism that has blighted previous England outings could never be a bad thing.

“We have a different type of player coming through our academies compared to the past, in terms of their ability to play as we did tonight,” said Southgate after a first away win in the Netherlands since 1969.

“We want them to express themselves, to play with that freedom. They are capable of playing in a really composed way, which they showed. They think about the angles – some of the angles the back players made were outstanding – and they’re intelligent footballers.”

After a disastrous exit in the World Cup playoffs, Italy should hope to be in England’s position by when the European Championships come around in two year’s time. Di Biagio may indeed have reverted back to his regular position in charge of the U21s by that time, but he certainly intends to start the rebuild process while the hierarchy seek an alternative.

After handing what could be a final appearance for the Azzurri to Gianluigi Buffon in a 2-0 defeat to Argentina in Manchester on Friday evening, the interim Coach looks set to ring the changes versus England. According to Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, the tactician will stick with the 4-3-3 but will field a different lineup, starting with the supremely talented 19-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in place of Buffon.

Atalanta’s 24-year-old full-back Leonardo Spinazzola was set to be handed a start at Wembley, only to pull out with injury at the last minute, with Chelsea’s Davide Zappacosta likely to start on the other side. Lorenzo Pellegrini (21), Roberto Gagliardini (23) and Bryan Cristante (23) could all be tested in the midfield three, the front three changed from the match versus Argentina to Antonio Candreva, Andrea Belotti and Lorenzo Insigne.

“We all want to go again and make a statement, even though we know it isn’t easy,” said Pellegrini, who plays domestic football for Roma. “It doesn’t happen in one day, but hard work always pays off. We’ve had enough of thinking about what happened against Sweden. We don’t have a mental block. We are strong. All we need to do is form a group and grow together. We have to do it for ourselves, for Italy and for pride.”

With the next tournament for Italy more than two years away and uncertainty over who will take the role as permanent boss, restoring pride is the most that Di Biagio can hope from this forthcoming fixture. If defeat occurs, the Coach must take the opportunity to learn from his opposite number, a man with a similar background who is taking a band of youngsters to this summer’s World Cup.

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