The Republic of Ireland team play a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier against Georgia on Saturday afternoon.
Mick McCarthy’s side are two points clear at the top of Group D after five games played with 11 points. Denmark are in second place with nine points from five matches and Switzerland are in third, with eight points from four games. Georgia are second from bottom in the group, with four points from five games.
Ireland beat them 1-0 back in March, but Georgia held Denmark to a draw in Tbilisi last month.
Ireland have three qualifiers remaining – Georgia away on Saturday, Switzerland away next Tuesday and Denmark at home on November 18. On the team’s last trip to Georgia in September 2017, they drew 1-1. McCarthy may not agree, but the match this weekend looks to be a must-win if the team are to qualify for next summer’s European Championships.
Here is the side we feel should start the crucial qualifier from the players called up to McCarthy’s squad.
In goal, Darren Randolph retains his place. This time next year, Caoimhin Kelleher may challenge Randolph for his Ireland starting spot, but right now, the Middlesbrough ‘keeper is the national team’s undisputed number one. He is a calm presence in the side and arguably Ireland’s most consistent performer over the last few years.
The back four almost picks itself. Seamus Coleman captains the team and starts at right-back. John Egan and Kevin Long start in central defence due to the injuries to Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh. Egan should have already been first-choice alongside Duffy before Keogh’s serious knee injury. Long starts because there aren’t many other options in central defence for McCarthy. Well, there aren’t many that he is willing to consider, it seems.
Ciaran Clark, who has 32 caps for Ireland, started for Newcastle United on Sunday against Manchester United. But McCarthy will opt for Long, who has yet to play a minute of league action for Burnley this season.
Ireland’s first-choice left-back Enda Stevens is suspended, so Matt Doherty starts in this team. Doherty has excelled as a right wing-back over the last few seasons. However, he has played at left-back in the past and has been the best Irish player in the Premier League since earning promotion with Wolves last year. He could be a very effective attacking option against Georgia and deserves another chance to start for Ireland.
In midfield, Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick – who both scored for their clubs last weekend – should start alongside Josh Cullen.
James McCarthy is Ireland’s best defensive midfielder and would greatly improve what has been a problem position for the team. However, he has not been called up to the Ireland squad. The former Everton midfielder started for Crystal Palace in their 2-1 win away to West Ham on Saturday.
In his absence, Cullen should start. The midfielder was excellent against Bulgaria last month and has impressed for Championship side Charlton Athletic this season. Cullen is a tidy, energetic player, comfortable in possession and capable of dictating play from deep.
Jack Byrne should also play some part in the game. The Shamrock Rovers midfielder changed the match against Bulgaria last month when he came on after half-time, playing a key part in two goals.
Upfront, we have opted for three players who could cause Georgia a lot of trouble if deployed together. (They won’t be). Callum Robinson, Sean Maguire and Aaron Connolly are three fast, intelligent and technically gifted footballers. They are capable of interchanging positions, linking up and causing the opposition a tonne of trouble with their clever movement and ability in front of goal.
All three are in form. Robinson has been impressive for Sheffield United in the Premier League. Maguire has scored three goals in eight games for Preston North End in the Championship. Connolly scored twice on his first Premier League start on Saturday, putting Spurs to the sword in Brighton’s 3-0 win. He should have been in the senior squad before his call-up on Saturday evening.
Connolly is a centre-forward but would start on the left in this team. Along with Robinson and Maguire, he would have a licence to roam and interchange positions.
All three should start against Georgia. It’s a complete no-brainer. So, of course, McCarthy will opt for James Collins and lump balls up to him with James McClean on the left-wing.
Here’s the team McCarthy should select but won’t: