EURO 2016 QUALIFIERS
Gareth Bale vs Israel’s deep defensive shell
Wales v Israel
Monday, 7 September 02:00
In the last two Wales internationals Chris Coleman has switched to an interesting 3-4-2-1 formation aimed at unshackling Gareth Bale who, seemingly supercharged in a Wales shirt, is driving his nation towards qualification with some ridiculously good performances.
The tactical tweak proved most successful in their 3-0 victory over Israel in Haifa, when Bale – drifting from an inside right position – consistently found pockets of space within which to terrorise the opposition.
The tactic utilises three centre-backs and two defensive midfield shields as protection, with wing-backs providing the width as Aaron Ramsay sows the lines together behind the lone striker Hal Robson-Kanu. The formation is balanced and structured, and allows Bale to roam freely in the final third and, using his intellect and technical ability, play wherever he wants.
Back Wales to win and Bale to score any time
Hutton v Ozil
Scotland v Germany
Tuesday, 8 September 04:45
If Scotland record a victory in Georgia, they will face the world champions with an extraordinary chance of leap-frogging them into 2nd place and an automatic qualification spot; although victory over the Germans remains unlikely, Gordon Strachan will be desperate to put points on the board in their more realistic bid to finish as the best third-placed team.
Germany’s stuttering post-World Cup form has seen them struggle to break through deep-lying teams, but if they are to pierce the Scottish defence then it will most likely occur on their left hand side where Mesut Ozil – rediscovering confidence this season at Arsenal – will link with Andre Schurrle.
Scotland’s compact midfield five showed great strength in holding off Germany in their narrow 2-1 defeat last Autumn, and arguably Alan Hutton’s side remains the only area vulnerable to Germany’s stilted threat.
Hutton has re-established himself at Villa Park in recent months, but his lack of pace could lead Schurrle – pealing left as part of a 3-5-2 formation – to outflank him on that side. Ozil’s driftingmovement will be crucial against this rigid and highly structured Scotland team, and it could be his presence alongside Schurrle that ultimately yanks Strachan’s defence apart.
Back under 2.5 goals
Shaqiri/Lichtsteiner v Kieran Gibbs/James Milner
England v Switzerland
Wednesday, 9 September 04:45
The explosive speed and trickery on Switzerland’s right hand side could be problematic for England, particularly considering their narrow diamond 4-4-2 offers little natural support for Kieran Gibbs; with the energetic duo of Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph unable to start this game, James Milner will have to work extremely hard to nullify this threat.
An attack-minded full-back, Juventus’s Stephan Lichtsteiner recorded five assists last season as part of his team’s title winning campaign. His marauding runs on the right are particularly incisive when alongside Stoke’s new signing Xherdan Shaqiri (1.9 key passes per match last season). Although principally playing in a number ten role, Shaqiri often drifts over to the right and cuts inside on the ball, pulling defenders central before finding Lichtsteiner on the overlap.
England will be wary of this threat, and as such should field James Milner on the left side of Hodgson’s midfield diamond. Milner has performed a similar role admirably at Liverpool so far this season, swinging from centre to left and covering huge areas of the pitch (2.4 tackles per match, 59.5 passes).
Kieran Gibbs has underwhelmed in recent months and finds himself without much first-team playing time this campaign, whilst Hodgson’s alternative option, Luke Shaw, was criticised for defensive indiscipline against Swansea last weekend. England are vulnerable in the area Switzerland most like to attack; Milner must perform at his best to ensure safe qualification for his team.
Back England to win by one goal
Davis v N. Ireland’s nerves
N Ireland v Hungary
Hungary sit just two points behind Northern Ireland in third place in Group F, and assuming Northern Ireland beat the Faroe Islands on Friday, this match is likely to decide which of the two nations gains automatic qualification. Michael O’Neill’s team are more than capable of beating Hungary, but as a monumental achievement draws closer nerves may topple the momentum gathered over the past 12 months.
Northern Ireland are an ageing squad, but their fantastic form so far has been characterised by a hunger and determined defensive discipline. It is important that this desire is not undermined by nerves – as were seen in their the 0-0 draw with Romania, when N. Ireland regularly squanderedpossession and struggled to build attacks consistently through midfield. The performance of Steven Davis, the calmest and most experienced midfielder, will be crucial.
Davis is a hugely underrated footballer and integral member of Southampton’s first eleven, averaging 49 passes per game at an 86% pass accuracy. His intelligence and composure in possession has been a subtle but vital aspect of Southampton’s rise, and will – without doubt – be the key to Northern Ireland remaining calm and confident as they welcome the Greeks to Windsor Park.
Back Northern Ireland to win