Football

Will McCarthy Include Any Surprise Options At The Back For Slovakia Play-Off?

Will McCarthy Include Any Surprise Options At The Back For Slovakia Play-Off?

We're only a matter of weeks away now. Ireland's Euro 2020 destiny will be decided next month, with the anticipation starting to build ahead of a huge game against Slovakia. Of course, there is another hurdle to overcome after that, but there is little point looking beyond the contest in Bratislava.

With the game quickly approaching we are getting a pretty clear idea of who will be part of Mick McCarthy's final squad. We have already looked at his options in midfield and up front, but the defence could be the most important area of all.

Ireland's game plan is built around being sturdy at the back, meaning the personnel he selects will be key to any victory.

The Ireland boss is likely to pick eight defenders in his final squad. This should see two right backs, four centre backs and two left backs picked. If McCarthy is confident Doherty can cover at left back, he may opt for a fifth centre back and only Stevens on the left.

Most of the places in the squad are already locked in, with only a couple of places likely to be up for grabs. Below we assess the chances of every player that's in with a shout of making the final cut:

Ireland Defensive Options For Slovakia 

Seamus Coleman (Everton)

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After being first choice under Carlo Ancelotti at the start of his reign, Coleman has found himself out of the team in recent weeks. Couple that with his patchy form and Matt Doherty's continued excellence, and his place in the team should be under threat.

We don't think that will be the case. Mick McCarthy is incredibly unlikely to drop his captain for the play-offs.

We imagine the only change we could see  would be Coleman moving to the right of a back three, a position he played on a couple of occasions under Ancelotti.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: Almost certain to start, although Doherty certainly should be ahead of him at this stage.

Matt Doherty (Wolves)

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Nothing has changed for Matt Doherty in the past few months. He was the best Irish player in the Premier League last season and is up there with John Egan and Enda Stevens as our best performer in the current campaign. He was also arguably Ireland's main man against Denmark in November.

We know he is our best right back, but Mick McCarthy will probably persist with Coleman. Hopefully that decision doesn't come back to bite him.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: Should start, but is more likely to be on the bench. Unless we change to a back three, of course...

Cyrus Christie (Fulham)

It has gone relatively unnoticed due to Ireland's depth at right back, but Cyrus Christie has been playing very well for Fulham as of late. He was even linked with a move to Roma in January.

Unfortunately for the former Derby man, he is behind two of Ireland's best players for a place in the squad.

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Prospects for the Slovakia game: Unlikely to make the squad.

Dara O'Shea (West Brom)

Naturally a centre back, O'Shea has been operating at right back for West Brom over the past few games. He has performed well even earning a new contract at the club.

Despite this, he looks unlikely to force his way into consideration just yet. He will likely be part of the U21 squad instead.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: Likely to be in the U21 squad.

Shane Duffy (Brighton & Hove Albion)

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This season hasn't really gone to plan for Shane Duffy. After being named player of the year at Brighton last season, he has found himself out of favour under Graham Potter. When he has played, injuries have been an issue.

Still, he is an automatic starter for Ireland. He has always been at his best when playing at international and will play a major part if Ireland are to advance to Euro 2020.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: Guaranteed starter.

 John Egan (Sheffield United)

If Duffy has faltered a bit this season, Egan has had a vastly different experience. The Sheffield United man has established himself as one of the most reliable defenders in the Premier League this season, producing more headed clearances in his own box than any other player in the division.

He really should have been first choice from the start of the campaign but has certainly cemented his place in the side since Richard Keogh's absence.

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 Prospects for the Slovakia game: Guaranteed starter.

Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United)

After finding himself out in the wilderness at both club and international level to start the season, the last few months have seen a remarkable turnaround for Ciaran Clark. He has put in some cracking performances at club level, while he also played the majority of the game against Denmark after an early injury to John Egan.

A spell on the sidelines due to injury aside, he has been first choice at Newcastle since the start of October.

Unfortunately for him, it seems Ireland's first choice defensive pairing is all but set in stone. If Mick McCarthy opts for three at the back he should be next in line.

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Prospects for the Slovakia game: Nailed on on for the squad, possible starter if Ireland play three at the back.

Kevin Long (Burnley)

Kevin Long has hardly featured at Burnley again this season, but he continues to be a fixture in Mick McCarthy's squads. His place now seems to be under more pressure than in previous times, assuming everyone is fit.

If Mick opts for four centre backs Long looks likely to just miss out.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: On the fringes, but looks likely to be pipped for the last spot.

Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers)

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Lenihan looks primed for inclusion ahead of the Slovakia game. He has been in fantastic form for Blackburn, even netting a couple of goals over the past few weeks. At 25-years old he is now starting to reach the early years of his prime.

Lenihan was included in previous squads but had to pull out due to injury. He should make a return here.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: Likely to make the squad as fourth choice.

Conor Masterson (QPR)

Masterson didn't feature at all for QPR before the turn of the year. However, he has quickly become first choice since making his debut a month ago. He has played six games, putting in some very strong showings.

Still, he looks unlikely to force his way into the senior squad just yet.

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Prospects for the Slovakia game: More likely to be with the U21s.

Derrick Williams (Blackburn Rovers)

Williams has been part of the last two squads and his versatility will be valued by McCarthy. With an ability to cover both left back and centre back, he could be included as a utility player despite being a fringe player at Blackburn at the minute.

If McCarthy opts for five centre backs and depends on Doherty to cover left back, Williams could miss out. Still, we think he will squeak in.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: Likely to make squad as reserve left back.

Enda Stevens (Sheffield United)

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Stevens has been an ever present in the Premier League this season, playing every minute of Sheffield United's 25 games. That is some going, with only ten outfield players able to boast such a feat.

He has not shone as brightly at international level, even if he has put in some good performances. He will start against Slovakia.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: Guaranteed starter.

 Ryan Manning (QPR)

Manning failed to make the squad when in fantastic form for QPR at the start of the season, so we wouldn't hold out much hope for his inclusion for the Slovakia game. He has recently been benched at club level as well.

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He looks to be behind Williams at the minute.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: Unlikely to make the squad.

Joe Rafferty (Preston North End)

Rafferty is a somewhat forgotten man in the hierarchy of Irish defenders. He has played very well for Preston this season in 22 league appearances, and has the ability to play at both right back and left back.

However, there has been little mention of him as an international prospect. The Liverpool-defender has been capped at U19 level but doesn't really seem to be on Mick McCarthy's radar. For that reason, you can probably rule him out.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: Very little chance of making the squad.

 Darragh Leahy (Dundalk)

An outside bet, Leahy has been very impressive under Stephen Kenny at U21 level. He recently moved from Bohemians to Dundalk, but will be short of match fitness due to the League of Ireland's summer calendar.

He's not really a viable option for the Slovakia game and should continue in the U21s for now.

Prospects for the Slovakia game: Very little chance of making the squad.

SEE ALSO: Report: Four Premier League Clubs Eyeing Adam Lallana On Free Transfer

Gary Connaughton

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