Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough expects Italy’s need for victory at Windsor Park on Monday to make for a ‘spicy’ match at Windsor Park as his side aim to end their World Cup qualifying campaign on a positive note.
After Jorginho’s penalty miss in a 1-1 draw with Switzerland on Friday night, the European champions travelled to Belfast level on points with the Swiss at the top of Group C, needing a victory to be sure of their place in Qatar.
“I think it puts more spice on the game,” Baraclough said. “They’re not going to come here with a second string – if they’ve got one – they’ll make sure the game is played in a true fashion.
“It’s a massive game for everybody. It can take us into the Nations League campaign and the next Euro qualifying and give us a sound platform, so hopefully we come out with a positive performance and a positive result.”
After an encouraging 1-0 win over Lithuania on Friday night, Northern Ireland need a win themselves to be sure of third place in the group as they sit level with Bulgaria, who travel to Switzerland.
But the big pressure will be on Roberto Mancini’s men. Even so, Baraclough does not expect any change of approach under a manager who defies the old stereotypes of defensive Italian football.
“I don’t think they’re going to come here and try to sit back and soak up pressure,” he said. “They like to have possession of the ball, (Mancini) likes to play forward and wants his team to be full of energy, full of running.
“Our defenders and midfielders have got to be aware of those runs from out to in and from deep.
“(Mancini)’s been something different for Italy in the way he’s set out as an attacking coach, and it suits their players and their style. There’s plenty to think about.”
Italy looked imperious during the 37-game unbeaten run that carried them to European glory last summer.
But their World Cup qualifying campaign has been more difficult – they drew both matches against Switzerland and were also held by Bulgaria, while Northern Ireland caused problems in the second half of their 2-0 defeat in Parma in March.
“You certainly can’t have any fear going into the game,” Baraclough added. “If you’ve got doubts in your mind that you aren’t good enough then maybe you don’t deserve to be on the pitch and shouldn’t be in the squad in the first place.
“It’s brilliant to see the way the players have applied themselves as a group, including the young players, and whoever is given the shirt to start the game and given the responsibility to make an impact fully deserves to play against the European champions.
“Hopefully we catch them on one of their nights where it’s not quite happening for them. We need to be at our very best to get something from it and that’s what we plan to be.”
Baraclough has injury concerns over Stuart Dallas and Paddy McNair, with neither taking part in training on Sunday morning. McNair pulled up with a hamstring problem late in Friday’s 1-0 win over Lithuania.
“We’re just going to give them a little more time,” Baraclough said. “With these games coming back to back, thick and fast, we can make a late call on the second game and assess it in the morning.
“I’d rather wrap players in cotton wool and give them an extra 24 hours. We’ll assess them over that period. We want as many players available as possible of course so that means giving them the biggest amount of time.”