Mick McCarthy’s second tenure as Ireland manager is edging closer with the former Wolves and Sunderland manager working hard behind the scenes to assess his player pool and potential tactics.
The 59-year-old has been busy trying to recruit players like Patrick Bamford and Nathan Redmond and contacting others who may have been disgruntled under the last regime.
One of those players is Matt Doherty. The 27-year-old has arguably been Ireland’s stand out performer in the Premier League with surprise package Wolves.
It was McCarthy who brought Doherty to Wolves with the Dubliner linked with a move to Tottenham last week. Now, the Yorkshire tactician will be tasked with trying to accommodate Ireland’s in-form man along with their talisman, Seamus Coleman.
Coleman has struggled since his leg break against Wales in 2017 but the Evertonian is an essential player for his country, given his role as captain and his defensive solidity.
With Coleman, Doherty and another Premier League regular Cyrus Christie all starting right-backs at the highest level, McCarthy will be considering how best to include both Coleman and Doherty in particular in his starting line-up. We analyse three ways in which both can be included in the starting XI.
Option 1: Coleman RB, Doherty LB in a flat four.
Up until the arrival of Nuno Espirito Santo, Doherty had been deployed as a left back in a Wolves side that played with a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.
It would be more desirable that Doherty filled in on the left given that Coleman has only ever covered the right flank.
However, given the fact that Doherty is predominantly right-footed and often required to cut in from left-back, this could be an uncomfortable position for the Dubliner and may not get the best out of his talents demonstrated this season.
In the past, Steve Finnan occupied the left-back slot with Stephen Carr and Stephen Kelly in the Ireland squad under Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton and this worked well for the both footed former Liverpool man.
However, left-back may be a simple way to accommodate Doherty rather than utilise him. International football is about balance and even by having a right footer at left back, Ireland could be exposed if Doherty is tasked with making clearances or tackles off his weaker side. However, given his quality, this may not be a major issue.
Verdict: The simplest option but arguably won’t get the best out of Doherty.
Option 2: Coleman and Doherty interchanging at RB and RM in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.
At the 2002 World Cup, Mick McCarthy was blessed with two quality right-backs in Gary Kelly and the aforementioned Steve Finnan.
With Jason McAteer injured, McCarthy was able to push the attack-minded Kelly onto the right wing and bring Finnan into his favoured right-back position.
This could work as a similar arrangement for this current Ireland side, especially given the lack of right wingers at McCarthy’s disposal.
Both Coleman and Doherty could fulfil the right-wing and right-back role and the question would be who plays where. Coleman began his Ireland career as a right winger under Giovani Trappatoni and also at Everton where he played in front of Tony Hibbert.
Doherty has not played on the right-wing but as a right wing-back and both players are equally comfortable further up the pitch. Given the fact Doherty plays with a winger ahead of him in Wolves’ 3-4-3, being the furthest man forward will be a slightly different role.
Doherty can lack pace at times which can be compensated with Helder Costa, Ivan Cavaleiro and Adama Traore ahead of him, a novelty he would not have at Ireland.
The best option with both on the right would be an interchange throughout matches, although Coleman may be better suited to right-back as he is possibly defensively superior to Doherty.
This idea could be facilitated in a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3 or a traditional 4-4-2 which McCarthy is reluctant to use.
Verdict: Seems a good idea but hard to know who will fill which role.
Option 3: Coleman RCB and Doherty RWB in a back five.
In the last year, Ireland have been playing with wing-backs which suits the lack of wingers and volume of fullbacks in the team. This could be an ideal system for what is available to McCarthy and one he used at Ipswich at times, another side strong in fullbacks and weak in wingers.
It could also be the ideal system to include both Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is the system that Doherty has thrived in.
The Dubliner is used to getting up and down the wing-back slot but as already mentioned, fulfils a lot of his job with the help of pacier wide men ahead of him.
However, the thoughts of Doherty and Robbie Brady in the wing-back slots certainly raises more creative confidence than James McClean and Cyrus Christie.
What is also exciting about this system is a new position for Seamus Coleman. At the 2018 World Cup, Kyle Walker, a similarly attack-minded, technically gifted and defensively solid right back played on the right-hand side of a back three.
Walker could still roam free with the opposite wing-back Ashley Young and centre-halves able to shift right when he was let off the shackles, proving that Coleman will still be able to attack.
His calmness in his own half would also make him an ideal candidate for the more flamboyant and mobile centre-half role.
Despite his quality, Coleman has never been the creative force for Ireland that he has been for Everton and could serve Ireland in a more productive way on the right of the back three with Doherty ahead of him.
Verdict: Seems the best fit and an exciting prospect
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena