I’m very lucky to have worked closely with both Michael O’Neill and Ian Baraclough through their exploits in the League of Ireland. One thing I can tell you is that they’re both eerily similar in their pragmatism.
It might seem like the big results under O’Neill are now a distant memory, but the bedding in of Baraclough into the underage setup, akin to what the Republic did with Stephen Kenny, was wise.
It should cause minimum disruption, and they know that if they somehow get through this tough test in Sarajevo that they could have a winner-take-all clash with Stephen Kenny’s men for a ticket to EURO 2020(1).
But this Bosnian team is technically quite sound and a far cry from the outfit that Martin O’Neill’s Ireland comfortably dispatched of to reach the last edition of this competition.
If you take the Erling Haaland masterclass for Norway out of the equation, I thought Northern Ireland handled themselves quite well in their opening game of the Nations League.
There’s a definitive blueprint there and it isn’t a massive overhaul that should hamper them in the short-term. I’m genuinely looking forward to this one: here’s three of the very best for you and yours.
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While Edin Dzeko is always a threat for Bosnia and Herzegovina, there really aren’t too many goals behind him in this squad. Yes, Miralem Pjanic very much exists, but his attacking influence is often limited to set pieces.
Still, it’s enough to rely on one of the most consistent strikers we’ve had at the top level over the last 12 years to bag one against a Northern Ireland team that feature a banged-up Jonny Evans.
Northern Ireland? Well, they’ll reap the benefits of playing against a squad whose defenders’ average age is just about 24.
There’s enough pace and good leapers in this Northern Irish team to feel confident about scoring and Both Teams to Score landing. The result on the other hand is a tougher equation to crack.
The rationale here is because Baraclough will know full well that once the game settles down, his opportunities to get forward will be very limited.
Against a far more technically inferior side than Bosnia, Northern Ireland had the ball just 27% of the time against Romania, despite landing the 1-1 draw. Yes, that number was hampered by the sending off, but it wouldn’t have been a huge amount closer in the first place.
However, as the gloves come off early, expect the Bosnians to be quite surprised at Northern Ireland’s vigour and their half time lead.
Unfortunately, I can’t quite get past the notion that there’s a lot of quality around Pjanic in midfield this time, and their draw against Italy really does indicate that they can hold their own against the very best – that meaning they should have too much for Northern Ireland in the end.
They will limit them to breaks when they’re sloppy in possession, but boasting 78% passing accuracy against the Poles is quite an endorsement of the way they’re going about things.
Bosnia v Northern Ireland tips
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