The Hard Tackle lists three key players to watch out for ahead of the much-anticipated game between Italy and England on Thursday.

The international break is back for the first time in 2023 as national teams in Europe begin their campaigns to qualify for UEFA Euro 2024. The marquee fixture this week will feature the finalists of Euro 2020 as Italy and England lock horns at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium on Thursday night.

Italy endured a rapid fall from grace only a few months after the triumphant UEFA Euro 2020 campaign. The Azzurri could not seal an automatic berth at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and failed to get past playoffs. So Roberto Mancini now has the task of rebuilding his squad again.

On the other hand, England enjoyed another somewhat impressive campaign at an international tournament under Gareth Southgate. The Three Lions reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup, where they gave France a run for their money. But Southgate will be determined to steer England to a first major trophy in 15 months in Germany.

Neither team will like to begin the qualification campaign for UEFA Euro 2024 slowly. So both managers will look upon a few players who can singlehandedly turn the tie. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle lists three key players for the upcoming fixture between Italy and England.

Declan Rice

Jude Bellingham will invariably be under the spotlight in a game featuring England. But while the teenage sensation will again look to make his mark for the Three Lions, we have picked another crucial figure in the midfield battle. The player in question is Declan Rice.

The 24-year-old has risen in stature considerably since snubbing the Republic of Ireland to turn out for England. And he has also come leaps and bounds at the club level, becoming the West Ham United captain this season following Mark Noble’s retirement.

So apart from being the midfield general for England, Rice is also a leader for them. That is a big reason why he is one of Gareth Southgate’s trusted lieutenants. In addition, his performances speak for themselves. And Rice, a target for Arsenal, Chelsea and several other clubs, will need to be at his best to contain Nicolo Barella.

The Italian midfielder can wreak havoc if he is on song. But Rice can help England come out on top in the midfield battle if he is in his element. However, Italy might clinch another win over England if he fails to turn up.

Nicolo Barella

Moving on to the other side of the crucial midfield battle, we come to the second name on our list. This player is the most pivotal figure for Italy and needs to be at his best to deliver a win for the Azzurri. We are, of course, talking about Nicolo Barella.

The Italian midfielder has been the leading light for his national side for several years. And in a team bereft of out-and-out creativity, Barella is one player who can slice open the opposition’s defensive units with slick moves.

He will have a solid Declan Rice-shaped wall in front of him on Thursday night. But Barella has the ability to bypass the West Ham United captain and create chances for a young and budding Italian attack.

Like Rice, Barella is a target for several Premier League bigwigs and has attracted Chelsea and Manchester United in the past. And a game-changing performance will help him attract even more suitors this midweek. For the time being, he is a crucial figure for  creating the chances for Italy on the night.

Bukayo Saka

The match will feature several attacking powerhouses despite missing the in-form Marcus Rashford. And names like Harry Kane and Domenico Berardi spring to mind. But the final candidate on our list is Bukayo Saka, Arsenal’s talismanic winger.

The young winger was on cloud nine two years ago when he was growing in stature and establishing a foothold in the English national squad. And he was deservedly a member of England’s UEFA Euro 2020 squad. But then he missed a decisive penalty against Italy in the final, which did not help him for a few weeks.

However, Saka has bounced back since then, becoming a talismanic figure for Arsenal. And he is leading the charge for the Gunners as they chase the Premier League title. As for the international stage, the 21-year-old brings the x-factor for England. And he was arguably the most impressive performer for the Three Lions at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

As for what he will bring to the game, Saka will target a vulnerable Azzurri defence. And he can trouble them to no end on Thursday and script his redemption with a game-changing display. Expect the youngster to shine bright at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

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