The first international break of the 2019/20 season is upon us, much to the apathy of Premier League fans. But once you get over the loss of a weekend of club football there are actually some very interesting games to look forward to as the race heats up for Euro 2020 qualification.
This is a make or break week for several nations, with Ireland desperate to continue their good start against Switzerland and Wales needing to recover against Azerbaijan. Along with Scotland’s crunch match against Russia, three of the home nations will more or less have their fates decided this weekend.
Ireland v Switzerland
Thursday, 05/09/19, 19:45
Ireland have won all four of their qualifying matches so far but face their first big test on Thursday against the Nations League semi-finalists Switzerland. Mick McCarthy’s side will be forced into a deep formation in the hope of absorbing pressure, but with Shane Long and Robbie Brady unavailable for selection, Ireland will probably lack the pace to get up the pitch and launch counter-attacks.
Switzerland are not in good shape themselves, lacking a cutting edge in a 3-5-1-1 formation in which Xherdan Shaqiri remains their most creative player. Young striker Breel Embolo has a big role to play but could be bullied by an experienced Irish defence, while Granit Xhaka will need to move the ball quickly to avoid a stale match. The Swiss will probably edge it, but either way it will be low on quality and goals.
Germany v Netherlands
Friday, 06/09/19, 19:45
Northern Ireland’s 100% start to Group C puts the two favourites under some pressure, and victory for Germany on Friday will leave the Netherlands in trouble. The hosts should win this one having already beaten their opponents 3-2 in the away fixture, particularly because Ronald Koeman’s young side are vulnerable down the flanks.
Germany have serious pace on the counter with Serge Gnabry joined by flying wing-backs in a 3-5-2 formation. That should be enough to outscore the visitors, who are beginning to play fluid possession football again thanks to the introduction of Frenkie de Jong in midfield. They will hold most of the ball but will be too open, leaving space for Germany to break quickly into the final third.
Scotland v Russia
Friday, 06/09/19, 19:45
New Scotland manager Steve Clarke faces an uphill battle to get the nation qualified for the Euros after his predecessor oversaw a 3-0 defeat to Kazakhstan in the first game. They simply must beat Russia on Friday, which seems unlikely given the defensive sturdiness of the visitors.
Russia are very well organised, while Scotland do not have the quality in attack needed to break them down. What’s more, AS Monaco’s Aleksandr Golovin and Valencia’s Denis Cheryshev have the attacking quality to overcome a very poor Scottish back four.
Wales v Azerbaijan
Friday, 06/09/19, 19:45
Wales have looked dreadful ever since Ryan Giggs was appointed manager. Their tactics are non-existent and their football is ambling; a stark contrast to the organisation of his predecessor Chris Coleman. Their 1-0 defeat in Hungary probably ended their hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020.
However, even Wales should be able to beat Azerbaijan, who have lost all three matches so far – and were beaten 5-1 at home to Slovakia last time out. Harry Wilson has enjoyed an excellent start to the season at Bournemouth, plus Aaron Ramsey returns to the squad for the first time in 2019. These two, along with Gareth Bale, will have far too much for the visitors.
England v Bulgaria
Saturday, 07/09/19, 17:00
Gareth Southgate’s attempts to move England away from a 3-4-3 and towards a 4-3-3 have provided mixed results so far, but clearly he has no plans to revert to three at the back given Kyle Walker was omitted from the squad. England’s formation hardly matters for this one, mind, with Bulgaria having been beaten by Czech Republic and Kosovo so far this campaign. They are a poor side.
England’s attack looks considerably faster than it did at the World Cup, with Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, and Harry Kane creating a lively front three bound to hurt Bulgaria. The visitors will sit deep and await the onslaught, potentially creating space on the right flank for Trent Alexander-Arnold to pepper the box with crosses. He will lead England to an easy win.
Serbia v Portugal
Saturday, 07/09/19, 19:45
Arguably the most interesting game of the international break is in Serbia, where Portugal are hoping to record their first win in the group following disappointing draws against Ukraine and Serbia. Their place at Euro 2020 was secured by winning the Nations League, but nevertheless this is an important fixture; their confidence will drain away should the qualification campaign continue to go badly.
Cristiano Ronaldo has not had a particularly good start to the season at Juventus, meaning we could see a repeat of the frustrating 1-1 draw when Serbia came to Portugal. Aleksandr Mitrovic has already scored twice in qualifying, and along with Dusan Tadic’s crossing ability gives Serbia a direct approach that should hurt an ageing Portugal back line.