Nations League Spotlight
The early September international break has often been a nuisance as club sides start to find their rhythm in the domestic game, but in this year incomparable to any other, it symbolises the return to something at least resembling normality.
Gareth Southgate’s squad features new additions in the form of; Jack Grealish, Kalvin Phillips and Connor Coady , as England begin their Nations League campaign in pursuit of two consecutive finals appearances and another opportunity for England supporters to descend upon mainland Europe (pending travel restrictions), after tens of thousands attended last summers semi finals and third-place play-off in Portugal.
The Nations League concept was shrouded in controversy when it was coined in 2018 due to its complicated format and taking Euro qualification spots from the conventional qualification methods, but it has proved to be a success as a competitive alternative to friendly matches and the chance for fans to attend a mini-tournament sandwiched between the World Cup and European Championship finals.
There are some very tasty ties from Thursday to Wednesday and this week Sparta Spotlight will look at some of the goalkeepers to keep an eye on in the first two rounds of fixtures, with every game live on Sky Sports.
Ibrahim Sehic- Italy v BOSNIA & HERZEGOVNIA
Fighting off competition from Asmir Begovic, Konyaspor goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic has been Bosnia’s first choice for the past two seasons, where the Balkan nation have catapulted themselves into the top pool for the Nations League and in contention for Euro 2020 qualification via the play-offs.
Bosnia & Herzegovina finished top of their group in the 2018/19 Nations League and earned promotion into Group A and the chance to battle it out Europe’s elite for a place in the finals this time around.
Sehic & co conceded just once in four games in a group with Austria and Northern Ireland (who they also face in the European Championship Play-Offs) and the ‘keeper who has plied his trade in Azerbaijan , Turkey and his home country will be an interesting watch as he faces Ciro Immobile et al in Florence on Friday evening in what will be a huge test.
Yan Sommer - SWITZERLAND v Germany
Switzerland were the overachievers of the 2018/19 Nations League and only missed out on third place at the hands (and feet) of Jordan Pickford.
The Swiss booked their place in Portugal by the virtue of goal difference after thrashing Belgium 5-2 in the final round of fixtures and will be itching for another stab at the Nations League trophy.
Their goalkeeper, Yan Sommer has enjoyed a successful six seasons with Borussia Monchengladbach after sweeping up domestic honours with Basel and on Sunday has the chance to pit his wits against the best in his field, Manuel Neuer.
A good performance in Ukraine on Thursday night will fill Vladimir Petkovic’s men with confidence, but Sommer and his defensive line will have to be on form to keep a Germany side at arms-length, with several key men fresh from a Champions League Final victory.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell - Romania v NORTHERN IRELAND
Bailey Peacock-Farrell hasn’t featured for Burnley in the Premier League after arriving from Leeds last summer, put he has played a key part in Northern Ireland’s Euro 2020 Qualification campaign and is likely to feature in Ian Baraclough’s first game in charge of the senior side on Friday night.
At twenty-three, Peacock-Farrell is very highly-rated and is likely to compete with Nick Pope for the number one jersey at Turf Moore in the coming years. His experience as Norn Iron’s first choice will stand him in good stead for that.
Friday evening’s Group B match away to Romania will be fascinating as Northern Ireland adjust to life without Michael O’Neill for the first time since 2011 and their only match practice ahead of the crucial Euro Qualifiers in October.
It will also make for interesting viewing for Burnley and Premier League fans, as they get a glimpse of a potential Premier League star.