Ahead of Ireland’s friendly tie against Turkey tomorrow night, we examine five talking points as Martin O’Neill looks to rebuild a side still heartbroken since November’s World Cup play off.
1.Will Martin O’Neill alter his tactics?
Martin O’Neill is an experienced man who has enjoyed great success against the odds. He faces one of his sternest tests to date as he looks to reboot an Irish side low on morale and bare to the bone. The Derryman’s contract extension brought back memories of Giovanni Trappatoni’s premature deal prior to Euro 2012. Trappatoni’s side was predictable and his tactics didn’t change, to Ireland’s detriment.
Although O’Neill has altered formations, tactical change is needed to take Ireland forward. Playing through, rather than over the middle should be on the agenda, as should an openness to playing three or five at the back to allow our best attacking threat, Seamus Coleman to roam further forward and combat the lack of wide men coming through. O’Neill has deployed too many disjointed lineups in the past and striking a balance that shows progression should be high up his agenda.
2.Who will play up front?
Three recognised attackers were named in the squad in the shape of Shane Long, Scott Hogan and Sean Maguire. Maguire is the most in form and should start. He could be fielded on his own but could be supported by Hogan or Long. Long would offer the experienced head that could run the channels and open up the width and space that could greatly benefit Maguire. Hogan is a similar player to Maguire although he is less adept at dropping deep, the Aston Villa man is another natural goalscorer who looks set to earn his first cap. Patrick Bamford, Will Keane and Callum Robinson could come into the fold for the France match but O’Neill must make a wise selection on who will lead the line tomorrow night. James McClean has also been used as a striker in the past but ideally would occupy the wide position.
3. Is Declan Rice in line to start?
In an otherwise underwhelming squad, one of the names that stood out was Declan Rice of West Ham. The teenager is now a Premier League regular and although still quite raw, should be blooded into this Irish side as soon as possible. Equally adept in defence or midfield, the gifted 19-year-old lined up as a holding midfielder in a training match earlier this week. Due to play for the under-21s after senior duty, it would be an opportunity missed if Rice does not get significant game time in what is a nothing to lose tie against the Turks. It was positive to hear Rice’s affirmations regarding his commitment to Ireland and he should be rewarded for his hard work this season with a first senior cap.
4. What shape are Turkey in?
Turkey have not won in five matches and crashed out of the World Cup Qualification race five points adrift of the play offs. They too are in a rebuilding process with Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu an experienced head who propelled Shaktar Donetsk to great things. He will have a point to prove as will highly rated players like Emre Mor, Hakan Calhanogiu and Cengiz Under. Cenk Tosun of Everton will be Turkey’s danger man and is only off the back of a fantastic assist by Irish captain Seamus Coleman a couple of weeks ago. The Turks are a tidy side who keep the ball well in midfield. Ireland’s last meeting saw a 2-1 loss in Dublin for Martin O’Neill’s men with Jon Walters scoring a consolation on a disappointing day.
5.Who will put their hand up for the next campaign?
Most of the talk this week has been about Sean Maguire and Declan Rice. However, there are other lower key players in the Ireland squad who could force their way into Martin O’Neill’s plans. Matt Doherty and Enda Stevens have excelled this season as attacking wing-backs while Alan Browne is one of the Championship’s most in form players. Blackburn duo Darragh Lenihan and Derrick Williams are tremendous players but may have slipped under the hype radar as they are playing in League 1. Both are huge talents and look Championship bound next season. Highly rated Kieran O’Hara could get some game time as could Bretford’s Alan Judge. The nippy midfielder could be the next Wes Hoolahan who earned 42 of his 43 caps after the age of 30, both possess a similar playing style.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena