The build-up to Ireland versus Wales has been dominated by talk of injuries and a reshuffling of Martin O’Neill’s pack.
With five players missing from the starting eleven that defeated Austria, enforced changes are guaranteed with a change of system a strong possibility. Considering the large number of pull outs, O’Neill has still assembled a relatively strong squad. Shane Long returns after missing the trip to Vienna while players like James McClean and David Meyler will be full of confidence following their last international outings.
Aiden McGeady’s form has been tremendous, and although not guaranteed to start, there is no doubt the Preston man will feature at some stage against the Welsh. Conor Hourihane and Daryl Horgan are two other men enjoying fruitful spells but it is difficult to see O’Neill throwing them into the deep end.
The Derryman’s lineups can be somewhat unpredictable and usually spring some surprises. Therefore it is almost impossible to predict what hand he will show before kick-off, especially given the amount of key players that are missing.
The experience of John O’Shea and Richard Keogh will most likely be utilised although Alex Pearce and uncapped John Egan could be surprise inclusions. Despite McGeady’s form, he is not a guaranteed starter but is included in some of these teams. Glenn Whelan is no longer an automatic pick for O’Neill but his experience will most likely be called upon.
These starting teams are certainly up for debate but here are some possibilities for how Ireland could line up.
Lineup No. 1: Close To The Team That Beat Austria
As mentioned, five players miss out from the Austria clash, with three of the back four being injured a huge loss. Meyler played a pivotal role in the game and his ability on the ball has improved immensely.
Jeff Hendrick may be called upon again as an orthodox right winger – allowing Seamus Coleman to barge forward. McGeady has the creativity to fill the void left by Wes Hoolahan and could play the number 10 role.
Lineup No. 2: The Safe Bet
In what is a crucial game, O’Neill will be reluctant to take risks and put trust in players he is familiar with. The entire side bar Keogh and McGeady (although on loan from Everton) are all Premier League players and have been regulars under O’Neill.
Keogh himself impressed during the Euro 2016 qualifiers and McGeady will be full of confidence. On paper this could be one of Ireland’s strongest combinations. But the game is not played on paper.
Lineup No. 3: Diamonds Are Forever
It is worth noting that the diamond formation brought out some of the best performances in the O’Neill era, against Germany, Bosnia and Sweden. Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan were two key men to that formation with James McCarthy also thriving in the system.
McCarthy’s hamstring issue could see David Meyler come in with McGeady again the man to fill in behind the strikers. However, leaving out James McClean would make little sense in what has been a successful shape.
Lineup No.4: Stem The Flow
Bale, Ramsey and Allen will need containing, and packing the midfield could be the way to do that. Meyler and Hendrick are both strong in the tackle with Walters and McClean two wide players capable of tracking back and getting stuck in.
Most of the Welsh attack comes through the middle meaning that targeting that area could be useful for Ireland. The only issue would be where the creativity comes from, as Ireland should be setting out to win at home.
Lineup No. 5: The In-Form XI
An extremely unlikely occurrence, but uncapped Horgan and Hourihane’s inclusions would add a degree of unpredictability for the Welsh to contend with. Two men riding high on confidence, along with McGeady, O’Neill may see this game as too big a risk for debuts.
John Egan is arguably in better form than Richard Keogh, who has struggled with injury lately. But having been rotated at Brentford despite rarely putting a foot wrong the Corkman may have to wait until Iceland for his debut.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena