Ireland take on France on Monday with Martin O’Neill likely to use the game to blood new talent while trying to give game time to some of his regulars.
Ireland return to the venue of the famous handball off the back off a 2-2 draw in Scott Brown’s testimonial. Although the game was possibly not anything to go on, there were some enthusiastic displays from players who could be considered third or fourth choice in their position for Ireland.
With the Championship play-offs and injuries shrinking Ireland’s pool, O’Neill will need to get creative in his selection. He could continue with the 5-3-2 that played against Turkey given the fact it accommodates Ireland’s best players quite nicely. No matter what the formation, his system is unlikely to change.
Given the quality of France, Ireland should put out a team to compete while trying to bring in new caps. We take a look at five possible line-ups that the Derryman could deploy.
Formation One: 5-3-2
Martin O’Neill chose the 5-3-2 that served him well at Leicester and Celtic against Turkey. However, Ireland’s approach that day saw it as a missed opportunity.
The formation should encourage more ball-playing but Ireland panicked in midfield. David Meyler and Harry Arter have a little more authority on the ball than Conor Hourihane and Alan Browne with Jeff Hendrick important for breaking up the play although Browne could easily start ahead of him.
Declan Rice has played in that system for West Ham, while James McClean and Seamus Coleman’s attritional and attacking games are perfect for the wing back slots.
Formation Two: The Trusted Diamond
Some of Ireland’s best performances have come when O’Neill has deployed the diamond. They have heralded wins against Germany, Bosnia, Italy and pushed France close in Lyon.
James McClean dropped into a central midfield position against Celtic in the second half and although he probably doesn’t have the technical quality on the ball to play there, O’Neill could experiment by slotting him in where Robbie Brady thrived at Euro 2016.
Hendrick and Browne could alternate while Declan Rice could fit into the anchor role that he has played at under-21 level. Greg Cunningham who won his first call up in 2010 deserves a crack at left back and could use this game to kick start his international career.
Formation Three: The Experience Pick
Despite calls for new caps, Ireland will be hoping to avoid a second defeat on the trot. Despite the squad being bare, there are still plenty of experienced heads available.
Duffy and Rice could be an important pairing given Ciaran Clark’s persistent injuries of late while either Cunningham or Matt Doherty could provide the more experienced options at left back as opposed to Derrick William or Enda Stevens.
Jon Walters will be itching for some game time as will David Meyler and Harry Arter. Jeff Hendrick has played more advanced for Burnley and O’Neill could be keen to blood him here, especially following Wes Hoolahan’s retirement.
This is a balanced team with experience on its side.
Formation Four: Something A Bit Different
Friendlies are the time to experiment and this lineup could offer the balance between a strong and untested selection.
Matt Doherty and Greg Cunningham are two quality fullbacks and should be trusted. This could enable Seamus Coleman to push a little further up the field and add to the attacking potency in the final third that Ireland lack.
Declan Rice could match well with the returning Harry Arter while Kevin Long and Shane Duffy have been solid when paired together.
Eight of the eleven will play in the Premier League next season with James McClean recently relegated and Greg Cunningham linked with newly promoted Cardiff City in recent months.
Formation Five: The Inexperienced pick
O’Neill Could choose to go down the line of blooding new talent and this might not be a bad side.
Matt Doherty could slot into left back, while Shamrock Rovers’ Graham Burke could be deployed as more of a number 10, potentially starting at centre-forward.
Eunan O’Kane and Callum O’Dowda deserve a run with enough experience to fill in the gaps.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena