Having both suffered defeats to Bosnia and Herzegovina in their opening games, Austria host Northern Ireland in the UEFA Nations League as both teams look to bounce back.
Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna, Austria
Key Stat: Northern Ireland are without a win in their last five competitive matches, losing four and drawing one.
Expert Verdict: Austria were in excellent form until the defeat to Bosnia last time out, but this is a big chance for them to bounce back against a Northern Ireland team whose bubble seems to have burst in the past year. They are now without a win in five competitive matches and a tough away game is the last thing they need. Austria can bounce back to winning ways.
Austria have been consistent with their squad selection, with nobody missing from the squad which faced Sweden and Bosnia in September. The defeat to Bosnia was a surprise considering the form Austria had been in, and they are unlikely to make any knee-jerk changes as a result. Injured captain Julian Baumgartlinger remains sidelined.
Marko Arnautovic – The in-form West Ham striker has scored 19 goals in 74 matches at international level – both of which are more than any other player in the current squad.
David Alaba – The Bayern Munich wing-back scored in the win against Sweden last month and offers plenty of experience of playing at the highest level.
Alessandro Schopf – His four international goals include the winners in friendlies against both Germany and Russia in the summer.
Austria were unbeaten in eight matches and on a seven-match winning streak – including friendly wins against Russia and Germany in which Alessandro Schopf twice scored the winner – before a 3-0 loss to Brazil in Vienna in June. They bounced back as an own goal and a David Alaba strike earned a 2-0 win against Sweden in a friendly last month but they suffered a 1-0 defeat in Bosnia at the start of their UEFA Nations League campaign.
Defenders:Stefan Ilsanker, Sebastian Prodl, Martin Hinteregger
Midfielders:Stefan Lainer, Marcel Sabitzer, Florian Grillitsh, Louis Schaub, David Alaba
Forwards:Alessandro Schopf, Marko Arnautovic
Rangers striker Kyle Laffery has withdrawn from the squad for the next two matches, while veteran Rangers team-mate Gareth McAuley – who is yet to make his debut for the Gers – has been dropped from the Northern Irish squad. The 38-year-old is one of two players missing from last month’s squad, with Conor Washington also out for personal reasons. That should pave the way for Will Grigg to start up front.
Will Grigg – Scored late on against Bosnia in the opening UEFA Nations League match and will hope that is the start of him replicating his domestic form at international level.
Steven Davis – Veteran midfielder scored the opening goal in the friendly win against Israel – his 11th for Northern Ireland in 103 appearances.
Jonny Evans – Having established himself in the Leicester side, the experienced centre-back will be the man tasked with marking Marko Arnautovic.
Northern Ireland have won two and lost two of their five matches since losing in the World Cup qualification play-off to Switzerland. They beat South Korea 2-1 in a friendly, with Paul Smyth scoring the late winner, before a goalless draw with Panama in the summer and a 3-0 defeat to Costa Rica. Their UEFA Nations League campaign started with a 2-1 defeat to Bosnia despite Will Grigg’s late goal, before a 3-0 friendly win against Israel helped them get back to winning ways – Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas and Gavin Whyte scoring the goals.
Defenders:Conor McLaughlin, Craig Cathcart, Jonny Evans, Jamal Lewis
Midfielders:Steven Davis, Oliver Norwood, George Saville
Forwards:Stuart Dallas, Will Grigg, Shane Ferguson
Austria and Northern Ireland have met nine times in total, with Austria winning for just the second time when they last met during World Cup 2006 qualification. Northern Ireland have won four of the other seven, with three draws. Their two meetings in that qualification campaign – their only games since the turn of the century – saw a 3-3 draw in Northern Ireland before Rene Aufhauser’s double secured a 2-0 home win in the reverse fixture.
Austria’s resurgent form over the summer came to a halt in Bosnia, as they lost their opening UEFA Nations League match to an Edin Dzeko goal.
Northern Ireland had also lost to Bosnia, despite Will Grigg’s late strike, leaving both teams with it all to do if they are to top the group.
The defeat could harm Northern Ireland most, given they now play back-to-back away games against both teams, and the trip to Austria is not going to be an easy one.
The absence of Kyle Lafferty is countered by Will Grigg’s goalscoring return last month, but – on paper at least – Austria appear to have the stronger team.
Marko Arnautovic is the danger man, but Alessandro Schopf has been in goalscoring form and the likes of David Alaba are key to their system.
Northern Ireland’s recent competitive record has been poor too – the momentum of their qualification for Euro 2016 and run to the second round, and strong start to World Cup qualifying having firmly ended.
They were unlucky to miss out on a World Cup place in a play-off decided by a controversial penalty, but they also lacked attacking impetus – and if they sit back against an in-form Austrian team, away from home, that will just invite pressure.
Austria, prior to losing to Bosnia, had only otherwise lost to Brazil since the start of the year, beating Germany and Russia in friendlies in the summer too.
If they can recapture that form – and the consistency of their squad selection shows they are not panicking – they should have too much for the Northern Irish.
Austria are big odds-on favourites, with Bet365 offering the best price of 11/20 on a home win (and also the best price of 13/2 on Northern Ireland).
Northern Ireland scored in both games last month, losing to Bosnia and beating Israel, however, and both teams to score has been set at 11/8 with 888sport.
An Austria win and BTTS returns 33/10 with 888sport, while over 2.5 goals has been set at 6/5.
Marko Arnautovic is the favourite to score at any time, at a best price of 13/10 with Ladbrokes and Betway, while Alessandro Schopf – match winner against Russia and Germany in the summer – is 14/5 with Betway.
Austria were in good form until last month’s defeat to Bosnia and, with home advantage against Northern Ireland, they can bounce back to winning ways.