Monday 22 January 2018

group table flatters poland

But uncertainty about team selection is a worry for Martin O'Neill and Ireland

I'VE heard a good deal of worried talk about the threat Poland will bring to the Aviva Stadium on Sunday but from what I've seen, they are not as good as their group position suggests.

Ireland will need to be at their best. Poland are hungry and aggressive and nothing will come easily from them but I think a win is more than manageable.

I've been looking hard at the footage of their games so far in this qualifying campaign and two things immediately came to mind.

Robert Lewandowski will get you a goal but he doesn't do much more than that and the real danger to Ireland could come from the young Ajax striker Arkadiusz Milik.

Milik is much more than a goalscorer, a lively, dangerous player who can make a goal or take a goal and needs to be watched, as indeed does Lewandowski, for the full 90 minutes.

Poland were lucky to win against Germany. It was one of those games. They didn't play well at all. Wojciech Szczesny had a blinder and the German strikers couldn't hit a barn door.

They were better against Scotland but they twice went behind in that game and showed vulnerability at the back which Martin O'Neill will have noted.

All in all, I would say that there is very little between the two sides though I would have to concede that, on balance, Poland have played better football than Ireland up to this point.

From all accounts, Martin O'Neill's preparations have been going well. Injuries have ruled out a few options but he has all the main players in the drama at his disposal.

By now, he should have a very firm idea of how he wants to go about the match and who he feels will be best suited to the job but I am concerned that there are still so many unanswered questions about his best line-up.

Does he know it? I'm not so sure he does and that it is down to many things. Injuries, no club football and difficult Premier League managers are the daily grind of the international beat and he should have a handle on it by now. But he has had more than enough time and opportunity to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of his players. There should be no mysteries.

It bothers me that he has made a lot of changes over the 13 games he's been in charge.

Each game we come to throws up a new set of questions and since I can't put my hand on my heart and give you the team he is likely to pick with any great certainty I'll have a stab at it myself.

I think David Forde has done nothing wrong and deserves to keep his place, though I can understand why O'Neill's head might be turned by Shay Given. He hasn't played much but he has played well when he has and no manager could ignore the option he offers.

At the back of O'Neill's mind is the Given we all knew and recognised as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, even the best for a couple of seasons. If he can get back to the kind of form we saw from in so many games for Ireland, his reinstatement would be a certainty.

But for now, Forde and in front of him, I would play a simple 4-4-2. Up front, Jon Walters and Shane Long. This will be a game for hard work and I don't think Robbie Keane is the man for that job any more.

You could argue he was never that man, never a player like John Aldridge who ran himself into the ground for Jack Charlton without too much reward.

One way or other, he is not the man to start this one.

I would find a place for Wes Hoolahan on the left and I'd play either Aiden McGeady or James McClean (if fit) on the right. I'd pick James McCarthy and Stephen Quinn in midfield

That leaves a call over the left-full spot and I wouldn't see a problem with Marc Wilson playing there and Richard Keogh partnering John O'Shea or if O'Neill fancies something of a gamble, Cyrus Christie.

I don't see Robbie Brady as a sensible option at left-full but I do see Ciarán Clark as an alternative although I haven't seen anyone else making a claim for him.

There were signs in his selection and the performance against Scotland that O'Neill is finally putting his stamp on the team.

There was a balance to the team which was upset in the end by poor concentration and poor discipline.

These are issues O'Neill can fix and I would like to see evidence of that against Poland.

Ireland must win this game. Anything less and qualification becomes a hard slog.

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