Football

Predicting Stephen Kenny's First Ireland XI For Slovakia Play-Off

Predicting Stephen Kenny's First Ireland XI For Slovakia Play-Off

It's official: Mick McCarthy has taken charge of Ireland for the last time. The FAI today confirmed that he would be replaced by Stephen Kenny with immediate effect, ending his second stint in charge of the country.

While Kenny was always due to replace him later this year, the decision to move Euro 202o to 2021 left the pair in limbo. Many assumed McCarthy would be allowed to continue into that tournament, but that won't be the case.

Instead, the former Dundalk boss will be in charge for the play-off against Slovakia later this year. What sort of team could we see for that game?

It is difficult to say as we do not yet know when it will take place, but we would expect it to look something like this:

Formation: 4-3-3

Stephen Kenny has pretty much exclusively opted for a 4-3-3 system with the U21 side, so you would imagine he will pursue with that here. The fullbacks will get up the pitch, with the wingers drifting inside.

In midfield, the players will be tasked with retaining possession while also keeping the ball moving at a decent pace.

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GK: Darren Randolph

While Caoimhin Kelleher has performed admirably for the U21s, there is little doubt that Darren Randolph will be first choice.

He has been a fantastic goalkeeper for Ireland and his place in the teams looks unlikely to be under any great threat for the foreseeable future.

RB: Matt Doherty

This will likely be the first big call Kenny has to make. Coleman has long been an excellent servant to Ireland, but Matt Doherty has been massively outperforming him for for over 18 months now. Still, dropping the captain is a big call.

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We think Kenny will go with Doherty. The Wolves man offers so much to an attacking system, something the new Ireland boss will try to impose right from his first game in charge. This is a change that would go along way to changing the mindset of the players.

CB: Shane Duffy

Despite no longer being an automatic starter for Brighton, Duffy is unlikely to experience something similar at international level.

He has been Ireland's best player over the last three or four years. If Coleman does find himself out of the team, Duffy is likely to be next in line for the armband.

CB: John Egan

Another player who looks to be a guaranteed starter. Egan has gone from strength to strength since Sheffield United's promotion to the Premier League and has been one of the most consistent defenders in the league.

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He and Duffy look likely to form a partnership that will anchor the Ireland side for the early years of the Kenny era.

 LB: Enda Stevens

Everything that was said about Egan can equally be applied to Enda Stevens. There are few Premier League left backs who have outperformed the Dubliner this season.

Much like Doherty, this change could see him push on to another level for Ireland. He hasn't been as influential at international level as he has been for his club, but much of that was down to the way Mick McCarthy used his fullbacks. Stevens will be a key player under the new manager.

DM: James McCarthy

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We imagine that Mick's departure will spark the end of Glenn Whelan's international career. While the Fleetwood Town player has performed admirably in this campaign, there is no way a 37-year old Whelan will be part of the squad in 2021.

James McCarthy has been Ireland's best player in this position all season. He seems to have put his injury problems behind him, and his mix of tackling and passing ability will make him the ideal holding midfielder under Stephen Kenny.

CM: Jayson Molumby

We can't see any scenario where Kenny doesn't bring his U21 captain straight into the senior team. The on-loan Brighton midfielder has been perhaps the best performer at that level, while that form has also translated to club level.

If picking on form, there are few Irish players outperforming him at the minute. He can offer everything the Irish midfield has been lacking in recent times. He will be in the team.

CM: Jack Byrne

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Another big call, but one we think Kenny won't be afraid to make.

Either of Alan Browne or Jeff Hendrick could easily take this spot. Hendrick has been first choice since before Euro 2016, while Alan Browne muscled his way into the end of the team towards the end of the qualifying campaign.

However, Byrne can offer something different to the team. In his brief cameos under Mick, he showed he can play at this level. With McCarthy and Molumby alongside him, that is a midfield that will have no problem retaining possession.

RW: Callum Robinson

It will be interesting to see what direction Kenny goes in up front. There are no shortage of options in the U21 team, but those in the senior squad could also be given a new lease of life under a different manager.

Callum Robinson did not perform all that well in this position under Mick, but he would be asked to perform a different role under Kenny. He is also our most in-form forward player at the minute.

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ST: David McGoldrick

Who will play through the middle? The former-Dundalk boss is clearly a massive fan of both Adam Idah and Troy Parrott, but will he throw them straight into the team considering their lack of first team opportunities at club level? We wouldn't be surprised to see them in the squad, but a starting berth seems unlikely right now.

That leaves Shane Long and David McGoldrick as the likely contenders. The Southampton player has been playing very well as of late, but McGoldrick's ability to drop deep and link the play mean he would likely be given the nod.

LW: Aaron Connolly

Playing out wide under Stephen Kenny will be a very different experience to doing so under Mick McCarthy. Whereas Mick liked his wingers to stay out wide and deliver the ball into the penalty area, anyone who has watched the U21 side in the last 12 months or so knows that Kenny will bring a much more dynamic style in those areas.

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The wide players will drift infield at every opportunity, allowing the fullbacks to overlap on the outside. They will also often swapping flanks or even playing through the centre.

While people will rightly point out that Aaron Connolly struggled in this position in the game in Switzerland, he has thrived while doing it at U21 level. He was arguably Ireland's best player whilst playing on the left during the Toulon Tournament.

As hard as James McClean works, Connolly is better equipped to do what the new manager will demand from his players.

The Team in Full

Other Changes

We will likely see a few more changes to the squad. As mentioned above, Adam Idah and Troy Parrott will have every chance of being part of the squad. The likes of Ryan Manning and Dara O'Shea will also fancy their chances.

SEE ALSO: Vote For Ireland's Greatest Football Jersey - The Quarter Finals

Gary Connaughton

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