Martin O’Neills squad selection signalled the start of the build up to Ireland’s qualifier against Wales on March 24th.
A 39 provisional squad was announced with that number to be trimmed to a match-day 23 with some of the players not involved possibly taking to the pitch against Iceland. The Ireland manager will be forced into change from the side that defeated Austria in Vienna with Robbie Brady suspended, Shane Duffy injured and Jon Walters uncertain to feature.
The following side took to the field against the Austrians in the last round of qualification.
However enforced changes could be in order for positive reasons as well. Aiden McGeady has enjoyed one of his most productive spells in years and looks like the man most likely to hurt the Welsh out of very little. Although O’Neill may not want to disrupt the momentum of the side that secured the famous victory in Vienna, McGeady’s inclusion would make form given his form and the creativity that may be lacking without Robbie Brady.
The likelihood is Stephen Ward will slot in directly for Brady. Although a much-criticised figure, the Burnley man is a Premier League regular and has improved under Sean Dyche.
Greg Cunningham is arguably Ireland’s form left back at the moment but failed to make the squad while Marc Wilson has only played a handful of games this season. Matt Doherty can play left back despite being right footed but although very capable, it could be a risk handing the Wolves man a debut in such a critical game.
Duffy’s replacement may not be as straight forward. Richard Keogh seemed to surge up the centre-half pecking order under O’Neill but his fitness has been an issue of late. Alex Pearce and Paul McShane are both playing regularly but neither have been convincing at international level while Andy Boyle and John Egan, like Doherty could be a risk to throw into such a crucial position.
One positive for Ireland this season has been David Moyes’ trust in John O’Shea, who is playing every week in the top flight for the Premier League strugglers. Despite his age, O’Shea is still performing relatively well and given his experience in big European games not to mention title-chasing games and relegation dog-fights, the Waterford man could be the wise head needed beside Ciaran Clark at the back.
Accommodating McGeady could therefore be the major challenge. Jeff Hendrick started on the right hand side of midfield in Vienna. Although naturally a central midfielder, Hendrick has been used to stem the flow of wide men under O’Neill but could move more in-field to allow for McGeady’s selection. This could mean dropping Glenn Whelan and pairing Hendrick with the impressive Harry Arter.
Whelan left the game early in Vienna and although David Meyler was phenomenal when he came into the fray, the Hull man is rarely playing domestically and when given the chance for the Tigers has struggled. Although Whelan offers more defensive assurances, it should be noted that Ireland defeated Germany, Italy and Austria (following his withdrawal) without the Stoke man meaning that it could be more productive to include McGeady.
With all these potential changes taken into account, the lineup against Wales could shape up something like this.
O’Neill has also used the diamond formation to great effect heralding wins over Germany, Bosnia and Italy not to mention impressive displays against France and Sweden at Euro 2016. This formation narrows the pitch and could be a useful system to handling Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen who all play in quite free central roles for Chris Coleman’s side.
However, there could be some issues with this formation. Two practical problems could be the fact that James McClean would be playing in a slightly unfamiliar role. Although he played in this position against Slovakia in a Euro 2016 warm-up, he would be better utilised out wide. This formation may also inhibit the inclusion of Aiden McGeady who could be difficult to ignore.
From a tactical point of view, the lack of width this formation offers may not be of any benefit against Wales. Chris Coleman tends to deploy three at the back and a more centralised attack, meaning that the Welsh can be quite bare out wide. Although a diamond may stem the flow of Bale and Co., it could be a missed opportunity to exploit the Welsh wings, especially given McClean and McGeady’s fondness of running at fullbacks.
Realistically, O’Neill will not revert to any dramatic change and Ireland will be likely to line up as similar as possible to the Austria victory. Although the Irish manager has heaped praise on Aiden McGeady yesterday, there could be a slight possibility he would prefer him off the bench as an impact sub in order to accommodate Glenn Whelan to deal with Bale. Should Jon Walters be deemed fully fit it will be extremely difficult to exclude him meaning that another player may have to make way.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena