The World Cup qualifying campaign starts today and we look at who should start for the Republic of Ireland starting team against Serbia?
It’s been 5 months since Ireland’s last competitive fixture, a disappointing loss on penalties to Slovakia which resulted in elimination from the 2021 European Championships.
Tomorrow, Ireland begin their World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign as they travel to Belgrade in order to face Serbia.
Ireland go into the game with a seriously weakened squad as several players have been forced out of action due to injury. Conor Hourihane, Darren Randolph and John Egan to name a few.
Nevertheless, a positive result will be expected in order to kickstart a potentially fruitful qualifying campaign.
Below is the team we feel is best equipped to achieve that result.
Mark Travers (Bourenemouth)
An inexperienced goalkeeper must be relied on for the upcoming round of games given Darren Randolph’s injury and Kieren Westwood’s unavailability. Caoimhin Kelleher was also ruled out, meaning he won’t get his international debut for another few months, at least.
Mark Travers already has 2 international caps to his name and will, in all likelihood, start against Serbia. However, Gavin Bazunu’s form and game time this season is hard to ignore.
Bazunu has started far more league games this season than Travers. He also recently picked up Rochdale Supporters’ Player of the Month for February.
Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has essentially confirmed Mark Travers’ involvement in Wednesday’s game, though. He mentioned during a Q&A last week that Travers would be next in line if Kelleher wasn’t fit to start.
Travers returned to Bournemouth from a brief but impressive loan spell at Swindon Town last month. Since returning, he’s had to settle for the bench as an emergency backup.
The other goalkeeping option in the squad is Burton Albion ‘keeper Kieran O’Hara. However, he’s likely third choice given he hasn’t started a league game since January.
— AFC Bournemouth 🍒 (@afcbournemouth) MAY 7, 2019
Séamus Coleman (Everton)
Everton and Ireland captain Séamus Coleman would be most people’s choice for starting right back and it appears Stephen Kenny is a big fan of the Donegal man, as well.
“I can’t give away the team but I will say that Séamus is very important for us,” said the Ireland manager in a press conference earlier today.
The 32-year-old has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance this season, putting in several good performances and captaining his side to one of their best seasons in years (as it stands).
The other realistic option for right back is Matt Doherty, however his poor form and sporadic game time this season won’t help his cause. He may, however, start at left back or centre back as he has done in previous Ireland games under Stephen Kenny.
Enda Stevens (Sheffield United)
Enda Stevens has been the undisputed Irish national team left back for a couple of years now, but his performances this season have been of an unusually low standard.
That said, though, he should still maintain his position in the Ireland setup.
Swansea City’s midfielder turned defender Ryan Manning is the other option for this position.
Initially, Manning struggled for game time this season. However, he’s started several games in the last number of weeks which may improve his chance of receiving a start tomorrow.
Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United) & Dara O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion)
Perhaps the most obvious option to start at centre back is Ciaran Clark. The Newcastle United man has enjoyed a good spell in his club’s side recently and is one of Ireland’s more experienced campaigners having accumulated 34 caps since 2011.
The next centre back position is a toss up between Dara O’Shea and Shane Duffy.
The latter has been one of Ireland most reliable servants over the years, however his decline over the last year is very hard to ignore. Duffy joined Celtic on loan at the beginning of the 2020/21 season and to say he’s been a disappointment would be an understatement.
Celtic had high hopes for the Derry man but his performances has been well below his usual standards. His recent performances for Ireland have also been shakier than usual.
O’Shea, on the other hand, has had a solid debut Premier League campaign for West Brom despite their poor league form. He’s also started a majority of their games this season despite their switch of managers half way through the season, showing how much he’s rated at the club.
For that reason, we think O’Shea should start ahead of Duffy tomorrow.
Josh Cullen (RSC Anderlecht)
James McCarthy’s absence from the squad means Josh Cullen should be a guaranteed starter against Serbia.
The former West Ham midfielder has established himself as a key player for Anderlecht whom he joined at the beginning of the 2020/21 season.
Current West Ham footballer Conor Coventry, who will know Cullen very well from his time at the club, can also play the position but is very unlikely to start given he was only called up a couple of days ago and has never made a senior appearance for his country before.
Jayson Molumby is another option, however his lack of game time this season may rule him out of contention.
Jason Knight (Derby County)
There’s no doubt about it, Jason Knight must start tomorrow. His energy, work rate and all-roundedness could be just what Ireland need to counter Serbia’s effectiveness.
While Derby have not exactly set the world alight this season, Knight has been a revelation in their midfield.
The 20-year-old has played the most minutes out of any Derby County player showing just how valued he is by the club’s staff.
He was linked with a number of Premier League clubs in January, however Wayne Rooney was not willing to forfeit his talents: “I know which players I want to keep here, and who I would like to bring in to this football club. I’m trying to build a team that I feel can challenge in this league. I’ve seen the reports on the younger players leaving. The ones who I want to keep, will stay.”
In terms of the talent coming out of Ireland at the moment, Knight might just be the cream of the crop.
Good luck, Knighty! 🙌
— Derby County (@dcfcofficial) MARCH 18, 2021
Alan Browne (Preston North End)
Jeff Hendrick has been a shoo-in for every Irish XI over the past few years, despite his increasingly underwhelming performances.
Alan Browne, on the other hand, has only accumulated 11 Ireland caps despite becoming one of the Championship’s most established players over a number of years.
His performances for Ireland have also been energy-filled and eventful, despite not always having his run of luck.
That said, we believe Browne should start ahead of Hendrick for the upcoming games. His late runs into the box is something that Hendrick simply doesn’t offer, and that may prove crucial in the final third.
Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion)
Another West Bromwich Albion footballer who also happens to be an Ireland international, Callum Robinson has also appeared in the majority of his club’s games this season, albeit mainly from the bench in recent weeks.
Still though, Robinson is one of Ireland’s best attacking players on his day, as he demonstrated by scoring a brace against Chelsea earlier in the season.
With just one goal for Ireland in his fifteen caps so far, tomorrow wouldn’t be a bad day to add to his tally.
Daryl Horgan is another option that Stephen Kenny may consider, having used the Wycombe Wanderers winger in previous fixtures.
Robbie Brady (Burnley)
Aaron Connolly and James McClean are both doubts for tomorrow’s fixture so Robbie Brady is in with a good chance of starting on the left wing, as he has many times in the past for Ireland.
His set piece ability could be crucial if Ireland are to secure a positive result, particularly given the absence of Conor Hourihane.
Brady has played a healthy amount of games for Burnley this season, also, meaning his match fitness should be up to par.
Ronan Curtis is another option.
However, Brady’s experience, set piece ability and the level he’s playing at should get him over the line.
James Collins (Luton Town)
Other than Adam Idah, Irish strikers remained generally unscathed leading up to the international break.
Unfortunately, though, very few of those are in form for their clubs.
James Collins is perhaps the most in-form, in terms of goals at least. The Luton striker has scored 7 Championship goals so far this season, he has however had more prolific campaigns in the past.
Troy Parrott is another one who’s played several games this season but his attacking output has been lacking with just a solitary league goal this season. Stephen Kenny has said himself that Parrott is unlikely to start.
Shane Long is another option for Kenny to think about. He has had very little game time this season, though.
Realistically, it’s between Long and Collins for the starting striker spot. However, we think Collins might just edge it.
COME ONNNNNNNNNN!!! pic.twitter.com/j1b4iiwCpf
— LutonTown (@LutonTown) MARCH 20, 2021