MARK STINCHCOMBE (@MarkStinchcombe) delivers his favourite fancies from Sunday’s UEFA World Cup qualifying coupon.
Macedonia v Spain | Sunday 19:45 | Sky Sports 2
Halfway through the European qualifying campaign for the World Cup and Spain sit top of Group G, albeit level on points with Italy.
And with the Italians at home to minnows Liechtenstein, the Spaniards will be looking to keep top spot ahead of their huge clash with the Azzurri in Madrid in the next round.
Spain have made this group look comfortable so far, beating Liechtenstein 8-0, a 2-0 win in Albania, 4-0 and 4-1 wins over Macedonia and Israel respectively, with a point in Torino in-between.
Bar their big defeat in Granada, Macedonia haven’t been disgraced, they were leading Italy 2-1 at one point, but ultimately lost, as well as defeats to Israel and Albania.
Julen Lopetegui was installed as Spain manager after Euro 2016, the man who won the U21 and U19 European Championships, and looks to have made La Roja more potent.
They’ve beaten both France and Belgium 2-0 away from home, as well as draws in Italy and England, but it’s the data behind their performances which has been impressive. Against France their Expected Goals output was 2.31 and v Italy and England it was 1.61 and 1.56 respectively.
All of the strikers in the squad come into this game on the back of great seasons for their clubs, Diego Costa scored 21 goals, Alvaro Morata 18 despite the majority from the bench and even Iago Aspas contributed an impressive 26 goals for Celta Vigo.
Backed up by schemers Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Pedro and Isco, they should be able to create excellent opportunities.
Spain can be backed at -2.0 on the Asian Handicap at 5/6 (BetVictor) and that looks the play with money back if they only win by two.
Italy v Liechtenstein | Sunday 19:45 | Sky Sports 3
Italy will be looking to maintain level points with Spain and may even see this as a chance to cut the goal difference between the two with that potentially being the separator between automatically qualification and a spot in the play-offs come October.
And they have already pummelled 13 goals in five games which is stark contrast to their qualifying for the Euro’s where they only managed 16 in all 10 matches.
When these two met in Liechtenstein, Italy were 4-0 up by half-time, and in the last couple of weeks the Italians have impressively beaten Uruguay 3-0 as well as San Marino 8-0.
Similarly to the Spanish, Giampiero Ventura who replaced Antonio Conte after the Euros, has improved Italy’s proficiency in front of goal. He’s helped by the excellent seasons had by the Azzurri’s goal getters in Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile.
Playing for Torino and Lazio respectively, not one of the big teams in Serie A, Belotti hit 26 goals in 34 games and Immobile, likely encouraged by Lazio manager and ex-striker Simone Inzaghi, refound his scoring touch with 23 in 35.
Backed up by exciting wingers Lorenzo Insigne who hit 18 goals and nine assists for Napoli, and Federico Bernardeschi who bagged 11 goals, Italy look outstanding offensively to match their impressive defence.
Liechtenstein however, have lost five out of five, conceding 19 and scoring just one, including an 8-0 thrashing in Spain. Going further back, they’ve lost 5-0 in Denmark, 4-0 in Iceland, 7-0 v Russia and 5-0 against Austria.
This looks to be a case of how many for Italy, and like Spain, their underlying numbers are impressive. Against Uruguay in Nice, their 3-0 win was justifiably impressive, rating their Expected Goals output as 2.25, as well as 2.92 v Albania and 2.39 v Israel.
They should have too much to beat the -4.5 Asian Handicap at 5/6 (Bet365) if they don’t take their foot off the peddle.