It has been ten months since Northern Ireland last took to the pitch, in what would be Michael O’Neill’s last game in charge, with a 6-1 defeat to 2014 World Champions Germany. This came on the back of a brilliant 0-0 draw against the Netherlands, but a missed Steven Davis penalty was a big talking point leaving Windsor Park that night.
It will be a little bit different watching Northern Ireland this time around, with no fans being allowed into the stadium. It is a shame for Baracolough that he can’t get a huge Windsor Park greeting, but he will get that when the time goes, results depending that is.
The Northern Ireland squad selection was overshadowed by Mark Sykes switching allegiance to the Republic of Ireland, but in the past few days, it was announced that Derry City winger Stephen Mallon would switch from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. Mallon is on loan from Sheffield United and has experience playing in the A-League in Australia. He is an exciting talent and could become a good player for Northern Ireland down the line.
This Friday (4th September 2020), Northern Ireland travel to Romania in their opening game of the UEFA Nations League. This is followed by a home tie against Norway the following Monday (7th September 2020), again in the UEFA Nations League.
The Green and White Army will be hoping to do better in this year’s competition than they did the last time out, finishing bottom of the group on zero points after defeats both home and away to Austria and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
This time out it won’t be Alaba and Dzeko they will be facing, instead, it will be Hagi and Haaland – something that the Northern Ireland defenders will not be looking forward to. These players will be the big threats to Northern Ireland, but they have the ability to stop these players from making an impact on the match.
In the opening game against Romania, Ianis Hagi is expected to play on the right wing, coming up against Jamal Lewis. Lewis played in the Premier League last season and will have experience coming up against the likes of Mohamed Salah, and while Salah and Hagi are different players, the experience may just help Lewis out.
One thing that I could see happening is Davis playing over on the left side of midfield to help Lewis in defending, as Hagi is a teammate of Davis at Rangers. Everyone knows what Davis is about, and I don’t think Romania will be able to stop him from controlling the play.
The following game against Norway will be a real struggle for Northern Ireland. The forward options of Erling Braut Håland and Joshua King will give them options as to how much they want to top this Nations League group. The Northern Ireland defensive duo of Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart both have Premier League experience and have come up against some of the best forwards, but Haaland is something special, unpredictable, and a real goal threat. A strong defensive display is needed to keep Northern Ireland in the game.
Romania 0-1 Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland 1-1 Norway