Italy are well on track to top Group J in their bid to secure a place at UEFA Euro 2020, and Roberto Mancini's side travel to Armenia on Thursday hoping to make it five wins from five in qualifying.
The Azzurri hold a three-point lead at the top of their pool and are the only team in Group J yet to surrender a point, though Armenia look more intimidating after discovering form of late.
Coach Armen Gyulbudaghyants has led his team to successive wins over Liechtenstein and Greece in their last two outings, with the country hoping to clinch three straight victories for the first time since 2016-17.
Italy are unbeaten in two meetings with Armenia and emerged 3-1 victors the last time they travelled to face them on their own soil (Oct. 2012).
Date: Thursday, September 5
Time: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET
Venue: Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium, Yerevan, Armenia
TV Info: Sky Sports Football (UK), ESPNews (U.S.)
Italy manager Roberto Mancini has happened upon a thriving talent pool since he was appointed Italy manager in May 2018. So much so, in fact, that he could afford to leave a number of stars out of his latest squad.
Young forwards Moise Kean, 19, and Patrick Cutrone, 21, have both been omitted after they completed summer transfer to the Premier League with Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively. AS Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo also failed to earn a call-up this time.
Kean and Cutrone are both likely to figure in future Italy squads given their clear potential. However, Mancini said ill discipline while away with Italy's under-21 squad was the reason behind their omission, per journalist Paul Brown:
Paul Brown @pbsportswriter
In news that will be music to the ears of Graeme Souness, #ITA boss Roberto Mancini has questioned the attitude of Moise Kean & Nicolo Zaniolo, who turned up late for an U21 team meeting & have now been axed from the senior squad. "They must learn to behave well," he said. #efc
The Azzurri have had some absences forced upon them ahead of their meeting with Armenia, however.
Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini recently underwent successful surgery on a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and will be sidelined for around six months. Meanwhile, Lorenzo Insigne had to withdraw from the squad due to injury.
The man set to replace Napoli star Insigne is Vincenzo Grifo, who has only one cap but is drawing interest following his recent permanent transfer to Freiburg:
The only uncapped outfielders in Mancini's squad are Brescia playmaker Sandro Tonali and defender Luca Pellegrini, who joined Cagliari on loan this summer following his move to Juventus from Roma.
As for Armenia, Thursday's hosts are nowhere near as well-resourced in terms of the top-tier talent in their midst.
Captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan will encounter plenty of Azzurri faces this season after the Arsenal midfielder joined Roma on loan. However, journalist James Benge recently highlighted his talent isn't what it used to be:
James Benge @jamesbenge
Henrikh Mkhitaryan's final season at Dortmund 23 goals, 32 assists Henrikh Mkhitaryan's three seasons in England 22 goals, 24 assists Where it all went wrong for Mkhitaryan and why it might have been different. Contains crowbared Indiana Jones reference. https://t.co/ZNnK6zowXh
Mkhitaryan has scored once in Euro qualifying thus far, but three Armenians have netted more: Tigran Barseghyan, Gevorg Ghazaryan and Aleksandre Karapetian each have two goals to their name.
A surprise win for the hosts in Yerevan would open up Group J considerably as we reach the halfway stage in qualifying, while an Italian victory will further enforce their status as most likely to top the pool.