Spain v Italy
Saturday, 19:45
Live on ITV4

Home comforts key for Lopetegui's men

Spain already have one foot at Russia 2018, having cruised to five wins in their six Group G matches to date. But there's a lingering feeling of unfinished business as far as Italy go, meaning that Julen Lopetegui's side will be keen to put down a marker when the sides do battle at the Bernabéu on Saturday evening.

It was the Azzurri who put paid to Spain's hopes at Euro 2016 last summer, and more frustration followed for La Furia Roja when the sides met in Italy in October: Vitolo's strike looked to have put Spain on course for victory, only for Daniele De Rossi to level late on. They will be hoping a return to home soil helps them get the job this time: they haven't lost a competitive game in Spain since March 2013.

The squad has been lent a vintage sheen with the recall of David Villa, some three years after he last played for his country. He is one option to replace the absent Diego Costa, although Álvaro Morata is probably the more likely stand-in. Tucked in behind will be the usual battalion of pint-sized creators, with David Silva and Marco Asensio in especially good form in the opening weeks of the European season.

Italy eyeing Madrid upset

Few teams came into this week's World Cup qualifiers in better nick than Italy. The Azzurri have won seven of their last nine matches, with the other two results respectable draws against Spain and Germany. Confidence in the camp should be high, not least because they've racked up 16 goals in their last three games (albeit eight of those were scored by an experimental side against San Marino).

There has been fighting talk ahead of the match from the camp, with De Rossi insisting that Italy will be going for the win in Madrid. "There's nothing to lose against Spain but it's a final for us," the Roma stalwart said. "It's difficult to play for top spot. We're playing for a lot, as the play-offs are filled with pitfalls."

Giampiero Ventura has been testing out a 3-4-1-2 formation in training ahead of this game, with Leonardo Bonucci reunited with former Juventus team-mates Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini at the back. Marco Verratti is expected to be given licence to roam behind a front two of Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile. That means that Lorenzo Insigne, who has made a flying start to the campaign with Napoli, will drop down to the bench.

Value may lie with the draw

Given Spain's imperious home form, it's no huge surprise that they are 1.83 favourites to win at the Bernabéu. Yet given that their goal difference is four goals superior to that of Italy, plus the fact that their remaining fixtures are a shade kinder, a draw would not be a disastrous result by any means. The main priority may just be avoiding defeat.

That being the case, the draw comes into our consideration at 3.50. Seven of the last 13 meetings between the sides have ended all-square at full-time, with most of those remaining games - the Euro 2012 final blowout being the obvious exception - being close affairs.

Thriller may not be on the cards

Recent games between these sides have tended to go low in terms of goals: since that Euro 2012 showdown (Spain won 4-0 on that occasion), all five meetings have gone under 2.5 goals. With Italy likely to try to keep things tight, another attritional match could be on the cards, meaning the unders is the way to go, even at skinny odds of 1.59.

Asensio can make capital gains

No bets have jumped out as unmissable so far, but that changes when we arrive at the Anytime Goalscorer market on the Sportsbook: the 16/5 available on Asensio to notch on Saturday night looks too good to turn down.

The 21-year-old has only made one start for Spain's senior team so far, but looks likely to get the nod off the back of his superb Real Madrid form and should feel right at home at the Bernabéu. He scored twice there against Valencia at the weekend and once in the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona.

Recommended Bet
Back Marco Asensio to score at 16/5

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