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Preview: Italy and Belgium Square Off In Intriguing Friendly

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The Azzurri take on the top ranked nation in the world in friendly action on Friday.

Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Projected Lineups

Talking Points

1) Italy Switches To 4-4-2

After experimenting with a 4-3-3 and a 3-5-2 in recent months, Antonio Conte has decided to go with the old 4-4-2 against Belgium.  Fans of the Azzurri have been clamoring for Conte to revert back to Italy's "historical" formation after the 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 were unconvincing in the final Euro qualifiers.  While formations are more often than not "just numbers" that people love to get passionate about, Italy's pool of players looks to be more apt to a 4-3-3.  Players such as Giacomo Bonaventura, Alessandro Florenzi, and Antonio Candreva are all players who aren't out-and-out wingers, but at the same time aren't stay at home midfielders.  With these versatile players at his disposal, Conte's 4-4-2 could surprise opponents by giving them different looks and setups within games.  It will be fascinating to see how the 4-4-2 experiment fares against quality opposition.

2) Attack versus Defence

Belgium's front four are flat out terrifying.  Italy's back five headed by Superman himself, Gigi Buffon are as strong as it gets in international football.  Watching this two awesome forces go head to head in a game, even if it's just a friendly is going to be must see TV. The slippery and technically gifted trio of Hazard, Mertens, and De Bruyne are going to cause Italy's back four lots of problems.  One match-up to look for is going to be Giorgio Chiellini clashing with Romelu Lukaku.  The Juventus centreback is at his best when he's going at it with a big, physical centre forward, and that is exactly what he will be facing in Romelu Lukaku.  Look for those two to have some intense physical battles as Chiellini is always one to play on the edge and get under an opponent's skin. See Luiz Suarez, 2014 World Cup.

3) Italy Plays A Top Team

It's been a while since Italy played a team who could really push them.  In Belgium they're facing an opponent who despite being less experienced, is probably more talented; and seeing how Italy come out against a team like that will tell us a lot about their makeup.  The Azzurri were efficient if unspectacular in qualifying.  They were expected to win every game, and for the most part they did, but they did so in unconvincing fashion.  The narrative that always gets used  with Italy is that they always play to the level of their opposition.  Despite the fact that the Azzurri are also notorious for not showing up for friendlies, it will be interesting to see if they can boss the game against a top side, since we haven't really seen Conte's Italy be a protagonist for 90 straight minutes.