Euro 2024

Italy v Albania: Euro 20 star Federico Chiesa to pick up where he left off

Italy lift the trophy after final victory at EURO 2020
Italy set a high bar at EURO 2020, but will be bold in their trophy defence

Defending champions Italy get their EURO 2024 campaign underway on Saturday night, and Jamie Kemp is backing Federico Chiesa to be one of the catalyst behind a MD1 victory...

Italy v Albania
Saturday 15 June, 20:00
Live on BBC One

Spalletti's side to attack the tournament

Italy have 66 wins to their name across their history at the World Cup and European Championships combined, which is 65 more than Albania have managed themselves. As you can imagine, the Azzurri would be the big favourites here on history and reputation alone - almost regardless of any current context.

Of course, the actual context sees Italy arrive as the defending champions of the trophy. Hitting the same heights as they did in 2021 under Roberto Mancini seems unlikely, but Luciano Spalletti will enter the tournament high on ambition and intent on getting a tune of attractive football from his side. "As we say in our anthem, 'We are ready to die' for these matches," he remarked last week.

Whether Italy's football does hit - or come anywhere close - to the high notes of 2021 is another matter, but that shouldn't impede them getting off to a good start on matchday one. According to Opta's prediction model, opponents Albania are the side who are least likely to make it out of the group stage at EURO 2024 (33%).

In a game which Italy should be able to dominate territorially and ensure Gianluigi Donnarumma is far from the action for prolonged spells, I think an Italy side who've only conceded one goal across their last five matches should be able to keep the door shut while they go about establishing a lead. Indeed, in qualifying, Albania averaged just 0.88 xG per game.

Spalletti is a fanatical coach when it comes to creating and finding spaces in the opposition shape, and I'm sure he'll have some tricks up his sleeve for finding solutions in attack come tournament time. His system with wing backs and lots of positional rotations won't be easy to prepare for from Albania's perspective.

Federico Chiesa to agitate Albania

One of the few returning stars of their EURO 2020 triumph, Federico Chiesa looks set for plenty of attacking responsibility in Italy's attempts to defend their crown this summer. Indeed, within Spalletti's fluid attacking system, it is Chiesa they'll most want to find when they can find advantageous spaces.

Expect to see the 26-year-old mixing up his positions throughout the tournament, and particularly in his team's opener against Albania - a game in which they'll no doubt have to navigate through plenty of opposition defenders. In combination with Federico Dimarco on the left side, their rotations between central and wide areas should be one of the main avenues of attack for Italy.

Since Spalletti took charge of the Azzurri, the Juventus man has been directly involved in 6.6 shots per 90 across all competitions (shots and chances created combined) - the most of any player to have played 300+ minutes under the current boss.

Along with Chiesa to score or assist anytime here, I'll add in a shot on target for attacking midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini. The Roma man has been earmarked by Spalletti as a key player ahead of the tournament, and the fact he's been allocated the no. 10 shirt ahead of EURO 2024 all but confirms his prominence from the off.

In a game where Italy might have to mix in some crosses and shots from range - with Albania no doubt content to sit in deeper positions - Pellegrini looks a good candidate to apply the pressure around the opposition box.

The set piece specialist has scored in three of his last six starts for Italy (three goals), while he averages 1.5 shots per 90 for his country in games when named in the starting XI.

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