5 things Scotland fans should know about Uefa Nations League opponents Albania

Christian Panucci leads Albania against Italy.
Christian Panucci leads Albania against Italy.
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Scotland welcome Albania to Hampden Park on Monday night in their Uefa Nations League opener. Joel Sked looks at what Alex McLeish's men can expect.

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How do they play?

Albania will be a completely different prospect to Belgium and that's not just to do with the level of player on show. The Eagles play with a 4-3-3 system which relies on technique rather than power. Scotland's opponents on Friday had a perfect blend of pace, physique and technical skills. Albania are much more in line with the type of teams Scotland should be beating at Hampden.

In their 1-0 win over Israel Migjen Basha sat at the base of the midfield, patrolling the space in front of the defence when out of possession and starting passing moves from the back. In front of him play two No.8s, Taulant Xhaka and Ledian Memushaj.

Jahmir Hyka and Enis Gavazaj stretched the play by staying wide and then looking to move infield with possession.

Scotland's defence will have to be wary of Sindrit Guri dropping off the frontline which means the three central defenders may find themselves marking space rather than an opponent.

Key player

The scorer of the only goal against Israel had a familiar surname: Xhaka. Taulant is the brother of Arsenal and Switzerland midfield enforcer Granit.

However, the Swiss-born midfielder is not at the level of his brother or Albanian team-mate Elseid Hysaj. The full-back has been a key member of the Napoli side which has challenged Juventus at the top of Serie A in recent seasons.

Few players in the top-flight can match his ability to bomb up and down the right flank week-in-week-out. The now Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri was so impressed with Hysaj that he took him to Napoli from Empoli when he made the same move as coach. He currently has a €50 million buy-out clause but could fetch even higher without it.

Belgium's Timothy Castagne did well sneaking in behind Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney on Friday and Hysaj is capable of doing similar.

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A villain returns

Christian Panucci has a special place in the history of the Scottish national team. He shares a stage with the likes of Costa Rica's Juan Cayasso and Peruvian legend Teófilo Cubillas in Scottish football infamy.

Italy came to Hampden Park in 2007 as part of the Euro 2008 qualification campaign with Scotland surprising many by putting themselves into a realistic position of progressing from a group which included Italy, France and Ukraine.

The match was heading for a respectable draw when Giorgio Chiellini fell into Alan Hutton to win his side a free-kick. The cross was swung in just into stoppage time and Panucci rose highest to head past Craig Gordon to in it 2-1 for the 2006 World Cup winners.

The 45-year-old has been in the post for just over a year having taken over from fellow Italian Gianni De Biasi. Preparation for the Nations League did not look good with three home defeats this year in friendlies, including a 3-0 reverse to Kosovo.

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Italy connection

As well as their current and previous manager, who hail from Italy, Albania possess seven players plying their trade in Italy, including the aforementioned Hysaj.

The close proximity between the two countries means there is a significant Albanian community in the Italian peninsula with the Arbëreshë, or Albanians of Italy, a prominent group on the south of the country.

Like Scotland, Albania have plenty of competition between the sticks with Atalanta's Etrit Berisha and Lazio's Thomas Strakosha. The latter started against Israel and, at only 23, is highly-regarded in Italy.

Strakosha was heavily linked with a move to Liverpool in the summer before the Anfield side opted for Alisson Becker from Lazio's rivals Roma.

He is comfortable with the ball at his feet but Leigh Griffiths should be on his toes as he has a tendency to parry shots into dangerous areas.

Dangerous away from home

Since November 2013 Albania have lost only two competitive away matches in qualification for tournaments. Against Italy and Spain.

In qualifying for Euro 2016 they beat Portugal, Serbia and Armenia, while drawing with Denmark, not conceding a goal in the process. More recently, Liechtenstein and Romania were defeated in World Cup 2018 qualification, plus a draw at Macedonia.

Panucci's men are well versed playing outside Tirana, their patient and organised approach with counter-attacking potential is an ideal balance and one Scotland should be wary of.

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