With Martin O’Neill finalising a 25-man Ireland squad to face Turkey, it is time to look at what team the manager could pick in the friendly fixture.
The game in New Antalya Stadium will represent a hostile atmosphere against a decent opposition, this will be a perfect to test new faces in the squad.
There are several new faces in the squad and others who have had little game time in the past. Therefore, getting the right choice is important for O’Neill for the upcoming campaign. Here is the starting XI that I would choose.
To start, I would choose Colin Doyle in goal.
Although Kieran O’Hara has potential, he is returning to the Under-21 set up after the game. Doyle has been in several squads and deserves to add to his solitary cap from 2007.
Seamus Coleman and Enda Stevens take up the full back slots.
Both start ahead of the impressive Matt Doherty of Wolves. Coleman’s return as captain will epitomize a fresh start for the squad and his attacking instincts will only add to the side. There are a few choices at left back but Stevens gets the nod with an excellent season under his belt in The Championship. A natural left footer who likes to attack could provide us with good balance. Matt Doherty deserves a half at his natural right back slot to impress.
At centre back, Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark established themselves firmly as a competent duo last campaign and for now, there seems no reason to change that come September. Declan Rice is performing at West Ham but I have a different role for him in this side. I have chosen Kevin Long to add to his experience.
He performed well against Austria and it’s an ideal time to play him again. He has deputised well when called upon at Burnley throughout the season.
In midfield, I have gone with a trio of Declan Rice, Alan Browne and Jeff Hendrick.
With plenty of cover at centre back now, I feel we may well get best use out of Rice’s ability at a midfield base. This is where he originally broke into The Hammers team and he will add protection and composer that will be needed in the absence of James McCarthy. I have chosen to reward in form Alan Browne with a starting birth.
New midfield options need to be explored. We know what to expect from David Meyler and I would also like to see a decent run out for Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane. For me, Jeff Hendrick has a lot to prove. He is the most experienced in this midfield which means he needs to take charge. Not only that, but he had a very poor World Cup Qualifying campaign in my eyes. I feel he is not suited to an orthodox number 10 role as he is uncomfortable with his back to goal and he is not as agile as required in the position.
A midfield three in international football is more suited these days, especially with out lack of strikers. We need midfield ball carriers in the next campaign and Hendrick needs to step up.
On the wings I have chosen James McClean and Daryl Horgan.
McClean is on the left and I feel this is where he should be for the next campaign. He is largely ineffective up top, in a more central position or on the right. A big campaign for the Derry man is needed for Ireland and his goals will be key. Horgan gets the other slot with a lack of wide options in the squad pushing this pick. He has been in several squads since his move to Preston but finds himself out of favour at Deepdale currently.
This is a chance for Horgan to impress as he is unlikely to get that in a qualifier with O’Neill generally favouring what he is used to. I have kept Alan Judge on the bench as a possible replacement for Horgan or Hendrick.
Sean Maguire leads the attack and deservedly so.
He has been clinical for the past two seasons and his recent form at Preston since his injury comeback has been impressive. He has led the line for Cork City on his own and his ability to carry the ball and get in behind with pace certainly adds to our counter attacking options in Turkey. Scott Hogan should see game time as well. We know what Shane long will offer but his lack of goals has left opportunity for others to take.
Apart from this XI, I would like Martin O’Neill to use this fixture to tweak some habits and incorporate some of the following into the game.
- Make use of the midfield three by playing through them and not over them. Maguire will not be effective with long balls being sent in his direction on his own. Rice, Browne and Hendrick need to receive the ball from defenders and link the play to attack.
- Make the most out of McClean. We will be on the counter for long spells in this game if we don’t use the ball correctly. Either way, McClean will need to be kept on the left wing and nowhere else. He needs to get at their right back and continue to do so for the game. He is not technically good enough for other positions.
- Encourage quick play. Game management and slowing things down while winning a qualifier makes sense, but at nil all or against opposition who are not top class, we need to move the ball quicker. Colin Doyle is not a wonderful player with ball at feet but when it is in his hands, he will need options. Players need to move into space and move the ball quickly, be it when in play or when the ball goes dead.
A win and a positive performance will go a long way to increasing optimism ahead of the next campaign.