Life after Michael O’Neill becomes reality for Northern Ireland as Ian Baraclough steps into some big shoes. O’Neill always managed to make this team a greater sum of their parts, epitomised by their run to the Euro 2016 knockout stages.
These two Nations League games will be vital preparation for Baraclough as their Euro 2021 play-off against Bosnia-Herzegovina comes around quickly next month.
Team news – Northern Ireland: Jonny Evans will miss Northern Ireland’s Nations League game after not travelling with the rest of the squad due to personal reasons with Baraclough remaining hopeful he would be back for Monday’s home game against Norway. It is another defensive blow for Northern Ireland, who are already without Sunderland defender Tom Flanagan.
Who could replace Jonny Evans in NI defence?
Sky Sports News reporter Paul Gilmour writes:
Daniel Ballard – The uncapped Arsenal defender is suddenly the most natural replacement for Evans after the withdrawal of Tom Flanagan. As the previous U21 boss Baraclough knows all about the 20-year-old, who recently featured for Mikel Arteta’s side in a friendly at MK Dons.
Paddy McNair – McNair was viewed by Louis van Gaal as a centre-back at Manchester United but his preferred position is in midfield. He has been part of a defence at Middlesbrough in recent times, most notably in the FA Cup vs Tottenham but three goals in his last four away games for Northern Ireland would mean his threat at the other end of the pitch would be badly missed.
Michael Smith – The Hearts full-back has also covered at centre-half and his versatility will no doubt be considered by Baraclough. He scored a stunning long-range effort in Northern Ireland’s last outing in November against Germany.
Conor McLaughlin – An experienced player at international level, he has been in and out of O’Neill’s starting line-up over the years but usually at full-back. Like Smith, he has previously covered as a centre-back but mostly in a back three.
Scotland will look to get their Nations League campaign off to a winning start when they host Israel in Friday night’s Group B2 opener. These two nations are joined in their section by Slovakia and Czech Republic, who also play on Friday night.
Under Steve Clarke, Scotland have won their last three matches and will be trying to win four in a row for first time since 2007, although many are not getting carried away with those wins coming over San Marino, Cyprus and Kazakhstan. This encounter has an added edge to it with these two teams due to lock horns in the Euro 2020 playoffs in a month’s time.
Team news – Scotland: Uncapped striker Lyndon Dykes is the only recognised centre forward in Scotland’s squad, so looks likely to feature with John McGinn in support from midfield. Oli McBurnie is sidelined through injury and Dundee United’s Lawrence Shankland (ankle) has also been forced to withdraw. Kieran Tierney and Andrew Robertson are available after missing the Kazakhstan win.
Speaking on the Scottish Football Podcast, Andy Walker says: “It’s a strange time given the leagues are out of sync, which is why I’ve gone with Jon McLaughlin, who’s playing at the moment, in goal ahead of David Marshall,” said Walker.
“I’ve gone for Declan Gallagher, Scott McKenna and Kieran Tierney as my back three. I think Tierney has shown he’s comfortable playing in a back three. My midfield four, from right to left, is Liam Palmer, Ryan Jack, Callum McGregor and Andrew Robertson. Palmer and Robertson can drop to make that a back five if we are under pressure at times, while both Jack and McGregor are comfortable on the ball and I think we’ll have the majority of the ball. I’ve not picked John McGinn because he’s not playing, but he’s someone who could come on and give us a lift.
Kris Boyd says: “I’ve gone for Liam Cooper, McKenna and Tierney as my back three. I don’t think Gallagher at Motherwell has been the same player as he was last season.
“My midfield four from right to left is Forrest, Jack, Callum McGregor and Robertson. I’ve gone with Christie and John McGinn in front of them – I can’t leave McGinn out – with Dykes through the middle.”
How to watch: Live coverage starts at 7pm on Sky Sports Main Event; Kick-off 7.45pm. Follow updates on the Sky Sports website and app via the live match blog, as well as on Sky Sports News’ Euro Goal Zone.