Last week, Stephen Kenny named an incredibly exciting U21 squad ahead of Ireland’s upcoming European Qualifiers against Armenia and Sweden.
The 22-man panel contains some of the most promising names in Irish football with the selection bringing with it a renewed sense of excitement that the country could be seeing shades of a golden generation coming through.
With Kenny in charge, the U21’s have received more attention than ever before and with their eye-catching displays in Toulon fans are understandably invested in the young side.
The games against Armenia and Sweden however represent tough tests for the Boys in Green as they look to qualify for the European Championships for the first time.
Ahead of the biggest challenges of Kenny’s short spell in charge of Ireland so far, we take a look at four ways he could setup his exciting young side.
1) Attack, Attack, Attack (4-2-3-1)
If Stephen Kenny wants to utilise most of his attacking options than this is certainly the formation he could go with. Throughout most of the Toulon Tournament he played a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 and it’s likely that he sticks with that formula for the upcoming qualifiers.
In goal, Caoimhin Kelleher is a banker for his number one spot while the full-backs of Lee O’Connor and Darragh Leahy essentially pick themselves.
Kenny almost had a selection headache in the centre-back position with the inclusion in the squad of Stoke City defender Nathan Collins, but his injury means that QPR’s Conor Masterson and West Brom’s Darragh O’Shea are the likely pairing.
Jayson Molumby as captain is another banker in the middle of the park but if attacking is the game then Bournemouth’s silky midfielder Gavin Kilkenny could get the nod in this formation.
The front four is a wealth of talent with Norwich’s Adam Idah just pipping Celtic striker Jonathan Afolabi to the number nine shirt.
In behind him, the lack of Conor Ronan means the 10 role is open and after Troy Parrott’s impressive performance just off Harry Kane for Spurs in pre-season against Manchester United, that could be the ideal spot for him.
Out wide, Aaron Connolly has played on the wing for Kenny in Toulon and will have no problems in that position while the other flank may be the perfect fit for the pace of Ross County’s Norwich City loanee Simon Power.
2) The More Defensive Choice (4-3-3)
In this starting XI, the back five stays the same however there are changes to the midfield to make it slightly more defensive.
Molumby is joined instead by Derby County’s Jason Knight who has come on leaps and bounds as a central midfielder at club level as well as West Ham’s Conor Coventry, who would certainly be one of the more natural holding players in the squad.
Kenny may have identified Idah and Afolabi as his number nines but Parrott is more than capable of playing the role and his goalscoring knack may see others sacrificed instead in order to accomodate the extra midfielder.
Given Power’s inexperience, Waterford’s Zach Elbouzedi‘s knowledge of the right wing role could be a better option especially in helping to cover Lee O’Connor at right-back.
Aaron Connolly keeps his spot on the left.
3) The Likely Starting XI (4-2-3-1)
The back five, which appears to be very settled under the former Dundalk boss again stays the same in this, the most likely XI for the games against Armenia and Sweden.
In the midfield, Kenny played both Molumby and Coventry against Luxembourg and Brazil, two of Ireland’s biggest games, which could be an indication that, despite the emergence of Knight, that’s his preferred duo.
Again it’s three off the front for this formation with Elbouzedi and Connolly on the flanks, and Parrott in the number 10 role.
Wolves’ Ronan would have almost certainly occupied this position, had he been fit, but Parrott behind Idah as the lone front man could be a very exciting partnership.
4) The Outside Shout (3-1-3-3)
A highly unlikely formation but a fun one to speculate over. UCD’s Liam Scales is added as the third centre-back next to both Masterson and O’Shea in a back three.
Kilkenny and Knight would be tasked at covering their respective sides while Molumby could potentially fall back from his holding midfielder role into the back three as another defensive option.
The duo would also provide support going forward, in particular Kilkenny, whose attacking prowess is evident in the creative way he plays the game.
Parrott would be once again tasked with the number 10 role off Adam Idah with Connolly and Power operating as wingers high up the pitch.
This XI would be incredibly exciting going forward but would be slightly imbalanced at the back and in theory wouldn’t be the best use of the resources Kenny has at his disposal.
Formation templates from lineupbuilder.com.