International football is back! It has been a long five months since Ireland last took to the pitch in their victory over Luxembourg, with the visit of the world's number one ranked side to Dublin set to kick off things for 2022.
While Belgium have opted not to include the majority of their biggest names for this fixture, the depth in their squad means that they will still field a very strong side in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening.
Stephen Kenny is likely to field his strongest team for that fixture, with a bit more experimentation likely in the game against Lithuania three days later. Considering that, here is the team we feel he should select.
GK: Caoimhín Kelleher
With Gavin Bazunu ruled out of both of the upcoming fixture due to illness, this month will be a chance for Stephen Kenny to really get a feel for Caomhín Kelleher at senior international level.
The Ireland boss is a huge fan of the Liverpool stopper and you get the sense that the battle for the no. 1 jersey is very much still on in the long-term despite Bazunu's brilliant form over the last 12 months. These two games are a good opportunity for the Cork man to lay down a marker for the remainder of 2022.
CB: Nathan Collins
Nathan Collins' only Ireland cap thus far also came in that Qatar friendly, coming off the bench as a late substitute. Since then, he has seen his playing time at Burnley increase quite a bit. In fact, the 20-year old has started five of the club's last seven Premier League fixtures prior to his recent red card.
With Andrew Omobamidele ruled out and Dara O'Shea still returning to full fitness after his long injury absence, Collins should be given an opportunity to start this game.
CB: Shane Duffy
There was a time under Stephen Kenny where it looked as though Shane Duffy was about to be phased out of the team, although that changed dramatically over the second half of 2021.
The Brighton man is now one of the first names on the team sheet again and will play a key role for Ireland over the next couple of years.
CB: John Egan
Perhaps Ireland's most consistent performer under the current manager, John Egan is key to the way Ireland play. His ability to step out of the defence is massively important when you play three at the back, with the Sheffield United man also looking like the most likely candidate to inherit the captaincy from Seamus Coleman as things stand.
RWB: Seamus Coleman
The Coleman versus Doherty debate has died down in recent times, with Stephen Kenny finding a couple of different solutions to fitting both men in the team. We have opted to move the Spurs player to the left on this occasion.
Seamus Coleman has had a torrid time at Everton lately, something that could be said for all of their defenders in recent months. An international break could be exactly what he needs right now, with the Donegal man always performing well for Ireland.
LWB: Matt Doherty
It took a while, but Matt Doherty has finally found his feet at Spurs. He has been excellent over the last couple of months, adapting perfectly to the demands of Antonio Conte.
That can only be good news for Ireland, with Doherty the team's best player over the latter half of 2021. That is something that looks likely to continue this year, with the side depending on the defender's attacking output to create chances at the other end of the pitch.
CM: Josh Cullen
Josh Cullen is an automatic starter for Ireland at this stage, no debate.
His game has come on in leaps and bounds since his move to Anderlecht, with the 24-year old playing an incredible 53 games at club level since moving to Belgium in October 2020. This season, he has played the full 90 minutes in all but one league fixture.
CM: Jeff Hendrick
Jeff Hendrick was very much left on the outside looking in at Newcastle during the first half of the season, although he has been recently finding his feet at QPR since his January loan move. The midfielder has featured in all but one of their league fixtures since then, although he has come off the bench on a few occasions.
The Dubliner has been a ridiculed figure in the Irish team at times, but his form in the last few games of last year were a timely reminder of what he can bring to the side.
FW: Chiedozie Ogbene
Gavin Bazunu aside, Chiedozie Ogbene was arguably Ireland's breakout star of 2021. He may only have played in five games, but the winger made a huge impact.
He already has two goals to his name, while his direct fast paced style is both a nightmare for opposition defenders and a joy to behold for his own supporters. Ogbene offers something completely different to any other player in the squad and is only likely to have a larger role moving forward.
FW: Troy Parrott
It has taken a while, but Troy Parrott is finally adjusting to first team football. After two poor loan spells last season and a difficult start at MK Dons in the current campaign, his form over the last number of months has been excellent.
The most impressive aspect of that run has been his ability to affect games without scoring, something that has been needed considering his barren run in front of goal. Now that the goals have started to arrive, hopes will be high that he can finish the campaign with a flourish.
Parrott has been hit and miss at international level thus far, something that should be expected of a player that only recently turned 20-years old. Considering his recent development, it will be interesting to see how he fares this month.
ST: Callum Robinson
Goalscorer extraordinaire at international level in the latter half of 2021, Callum Robinson has been finding the back of the net at a rather lower frequency for West Brom over the past few months. He has scored only three times at club level since mid-August, although he laid on eight assists for his teammates in that time.
Regardless, Robinson is among the only members of this squad that has shown he can score at international level and his form last year more than justifies his place in the XI.
The Team In Full
This is essentially the side that we would consider to be Ireland's strongest at the moment considering the players currently available, although there are a couple of positions up for debate.
We could see Coleman move into the back three, which would mean Doherty moving to the right and Ryan Manning or James McClean coming into the side. Jason Knight should also come into consideration for a place in midfield or the front three, while Will Keane's goalscoring exploits this season could see him presented with an opportunity up front.