Friday 30 September 2016

Northern Ireland v Ukraine talking points

Published 15/06/2016 | 10:11

Michael O'Neill has plenty to consider ahead of the Ukraine game
Michael O'Neill has plenty to consider ahead of the Ukraine game

Northern Ireland have a chance to get their Euro 2016 campaign up and running in Lyon on Thursday against Ukraine.

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Neither side won their opening contest last weekend, with Poland defeating Michael O'Neill's side 1-0 in Nice before the Ukranians were beaten by Germany.

Here Press Association Sport delves into the talking points ahead of the Group C encounter.

WHAT SYSTEM SHOULD O'NEILL USE?

Northern Ireland's struggles in the 5-4-1 formation they started with against Poland suggests O'Neill must rethink his approach, or at least his midfield diamond. Kyle Lafferty needs more support and captain Steven Davis has to have more of an impact, but the side have looked solid with three centre-backs too. Would a two-man attack be too daring in a contest where Ukraine might own the majority of possession?

THE PADDY MCNAIR CONUNDRUM

Poor McNair was a half-time casualty on Sunday having been bumped from central midfield to right wing to attacking midfield, looking comfortable in none of those positions. In the previous two friendlies the jack of all trades had been utilised at right wing-back and defensive midfield. It is clear to see why O'Neill would want to accommodate the talented 21-year-old, though where he best slots in to his XI is still a mystery.

STUART DALLAS OR SHANE FERGUSON OR BOTH?

Ferguson was preferred to Dallas on the left flank in Nice because the former is considered to be a more reliable option defensively. Ferguson, along with Oliver Norwood, was caught out for the Poles' goal, though, after Dallas had already been introduced at half-time. It is possible that the two could line up together in Lyon from the off, although that may be dependent on which formation O'Neill has in mind.

SHOULD NORTHERN IRELAND GO FOR BROKE?

The most damning statistic to emerge post-Poland was the fact Northern Ireland were unable to produce a shot on target over the course of 90 minutes. With Germany last up in Paris next week, any prospect of O'Neill's team progressing beyond the group surely rests on them taking something from Ukraine. To do so they need to abandon the overly-cautious approach and ensure they leave here with no regrets by posing more of an attacking threat.

THE THREAT OF ANDRIY YARMOLENKO AND YEVHEN KONOPLYANKA

Ukraine's two star men are both wingers and operate in the exact areas where Poland caused Northern Ireland such problems early on in Nice. That means that whoever plays in the full-back or wing-back roles may need support. It will be interesting to see if O'Neill reverts to a four-man defence and deploys Jonny Evans at left-back in an attempt to quieten Dynamo Kiev's Yarmolenko.

Press Association

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