UEFA Nations League preview: Germany, England, Russia in focus
One of the unique challenges presented by the three-team groups of the League A and B of the UEFA Nations League is the seriousness of two-match weeks for one team in each group per international break.
With the tournament in its first edition, perhaps the strategy will change over time. But for now, the results have been mixed for the “two-fers.”
[ PL ROUNDTABLE: The story so far ]
Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ukraine both went 2-0 and are enjoying the driver’s seats. Italy went 0-1-1 and put itself in a deep hole, while Turkey and Wales came away with a win and a loss. Iceland went 0-2, but was probably the long shot of a group with Belgium and Switzerland.
There aren’t conclusions to draw yet, so let’s take a look at the eight teams playing two matches over the next week within the top two leagues.
Germany: Joachim Loew will have been accepting of a home draw with France, but it puts pressure on the Germans to get at least that at the Stade de France on Oct. 16. First, though, a Saturday trip to Johan Cruyff Arena to face a Dutch side which really needs to find a win. After the World Cup failure, there’s special attention on Loew’s men even in a nascent competition.
Switzerland is off to Brussels and Reykjavik for a four-day span. The first one could make the second must-win as opposed to draw-acceptable: Belgium has already won at Iceland, and is home for two of its remaining three tilts.
Poland is home for both of its matches and will stay in Chorzow for visits from Portugal and Italy. There’s still no Ronaldo in the Portugal side, something that may well change when the reigning EURO champs have their two-match week. The time is now for Poland to go atop the table, and hope Portugal slips up in Italy come November.
England will not have Dele Alli and Jamie Vardy, and will have a host of green players during visits to monsters Croatia and Spain. Gareth Southgate is going to have a very good idea of where his project’s depth and youth stand -- as well as Harry Kane’s energy levels -- as it hopes to cement its spot in League A for another cycle by defeating both. Tall asks, for sure, and England may be content to put its eggs in the Croatia basket since both sides lost to Spain in the first week.
Czech Republic is away to Slovakia and Ukraine in a group which staged a pair of tight encounters to start the league.
Russia can clinch the Group 2 with home wins over Sweden and Turkey.
Northern Ireland is away to Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Winning the former is almost as important as challenging perfect BNH in the latter.
Republic of Ireland is home to Denmark and Wales after getting thrashed by the Welsh in Cardiff during Week 1. Handing L’s to both feels necessary.