NORTHERN IRELAND: '˜Steve is my Captain Fantastic'
Northern Ireland skipper Steve Davis has the ability to play at the top end of the Premier League.
That’s according to manager Michael O’Neill, who reckons his captain’s starring role in the international side, which was yet again underlined on Saturday, proves the Southampton man has what it takes to impress at the highest level of club football.
“Is he capable of playing at a bigger club or what’s perceived as a bigger club? Yes, I think he’s shown that on the international stage,” said O’Neill.
“He is a player that’s a bit understated. He’s a very easy player to manage because he doesn’t get involved in any of the nonsense that goes on in football.
“He just loves to play. It’s refreshing to see a player of his stature lead the team and have standards so high right to the end of the game. Him and Olly (Norwood) showed they’re a strong partnership in there when you play that system.”
Davis was rightly named Man of the Match in the 4-0 win over San Marino. He delivered another midfield masterclass, culminating in a penalty goal and a piece of sublime skill to put the final goal on a plate for Kyle Lafferty.
“Steven played like he trained all week,” said O’Neill. “Every time he steps onto the pitch, his standards are so high. Players’ individual standard determine what level they will play at and that’s why Steven Davis is a Premier League player and the captain of his country.”
Northern Ireland will need Davis and his team-mates to raise their standards to the absolute maximum if they’re to take anything from the match on Tuesday evening.
They travel to Hannover to take on the world champions. Just one goal separated the sides when they met at Euro 2016 under four months ago. O’Neill is hoping that familiarity will be a help to his side.
“There will be no surprise element to us as to how tough this game is going to be,” he said. “I think the players will be ready for that. They faced a German team at the Euros who hit top gear against us and, if you look at their first two games, now are reacting to not winning in France.
“I felt they were the best team in the competition and they slipped up in terms of how they went out of it. We have to be ready for that backlash.
“They’ve started this campaign in a different mindset than they did in the Euros, when they dropped points to teams that they wouldn’t normally.”
While Northern Ireland enjoyed 70% of possession against San Marino but O’Neill knows that stat could easily be reversed in Hannover.
“Germany will take ownerships of the game, pin us into our own half,” he said. “We know those things are going to happen, it’s how we deal with it, how we shape the team and how we put key people in key areas to nullify some of the German threat.
“The one thing I’ve found about this German team is when you do start to nullify them in one aspect, they then start to hit you with another problem. As soon as you try to solve something, there’s another problem exists. That’s down to the quality of the players they have. Tactically, they have evolved.”
Kick-off in Hannover tomorrow evening (Tuesday) is at 7.45pm.