Wales lock horns against Republic of Ireland on Thursday to open up proceedings in Group 4 of UEFA Nations League B in a much-anticipated clash.
There are many reasons to be excited about Wales and Republic of Ireland going head-to-head on Thursday. Cardiff City Stadium will bear witness to one of the freshly-brewing rivalries, especially after Republic of Ireland narrowly beat Wales in a match that saw them snatch a potential chance for Wales to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Another anticipated event would be the first actual competitive match for Wales under Ryan Giggs. They did play the China Cup. But, it was a showcase and nothing more. UEFA Nations League will serve as a testament to whether the Manchester United legend is as good on the other side of the touchline.
Republic of Ireland, on the other hand, suffered a demoralising defeat against Denmark in the World Cup Qualification Playoffs. Martin O’Neill will now be looking to rebuild his squad for the upcoming international events – the calendar starts with the UEFA Nations League.
Wales and Republic of Ireland are accompanied by Denmark in Group 4 in what is expected to be an intriguing group, to say the least.
As mentioned above, the two last met in the European Qualification Group Stage for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with Republic of Ireland eking a 1-0 win to secure a place in the Playoffs. Ahead of their latest matchup, we take a closer look at the two sides.
Team News & Tactics
It is interesting to see Harry Wilson being called up to the squad. The forward has missed the last five matches for Derby County and is not expected to take any part on Thursday.
One of the main talking points for Wales would be the formation that Ryan Giggs opts to go with against Republic of Ireland. The manager has been switching between a four-man and a three-man backline. But, it is expected he will retain the three-man backline strategy from Chris Coleman’s time in competitive games.
Ashley Williams has not had the best of starts to the 2018-19 campaign at club level but is expected to keep his place in the back-three. James Chester and Chris Gunter should make up the numbers at the back, with the latter having shown a pedigree to perform at the said position under Chris Coleman.
Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen are certain to start in midfield. But, the third man is something that could be up for debate. We feel Joe Ledley should prevail. On the left, we should see Ben Davies assume his place in a role wherein he has excelled at Tottenham.
Gareth Bale will spearhead the frontline. But, the Real Madrid superstar will be ably supported by Sam Vokes, who will act more as the target man as Wales might look to use his strength and aerial prowess to trouble Republic of Ireland and get the ball forward, in general.
One little tweak that Giggs could do is push one of Ramsey and Allen into the number 10 role and make it a 3-4-1-2 formation during the game.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Hennessey; Gunter, Williams, Chester; Brooks, Ramsey, Allen, Ledley, Davies; Vokes, Bale
Republic of Ireland
Martin O’Neill has a few issues to address. Shane Long and James McClean are unavailable due to injuries while Harry Arter has also been replaced after a reported bust-up with assistant manager Roy Keane. The morale in the dressing room will have to improve, especially after such rumours have emerged.
As far as setting up his team is concerned, Martin O’Neill has switched between a back-three and a back-four. But, he is likely to go with a three-man backline for the match against Wales.
Ciaran Clark, Kevin Long and Shane Duffy should assume their positions at the back. Seamus Coleman should be stationed on the right, with the experienced Stephen Ward on the left. Jeff Hendrick and David Meyler are likely to be the midfield partnership for Thursday, with O’Neill likely to go with a 3-4-3 formation.
In the absence of Shane Long, we should see Jonathan Walters lead the Irish attack, although we could see Aiden O’Brien being handed his debut.
Callum Robinson will likely be given his first senior international cap on the right wing, with Callum O’Dowda on the left. The 23-year-old duo will look to take the attack to the opposition with their pace and deliver lofty crosses in the box for Jon Walters to capitalise on.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Randolph; Clark, Duffy, Long; Coleman, Hendrick, Meyler, Ward; Robinson, Walters, O’Dowda
1. Wales have failed to lodge a single victory over Republic of Ireland in their last five meetings.
2. Gareth Bale is already the highest scorer in Welsh history and will be looking to add to his tally of 29 goals on Thursday. However, he is yet to score against Republic of Ireland.
3. Wales have a woeful record against Republic of Ireland, having failed to score in the last four matches against the nation.
4. Martin O’Neill has just 19 wins from 49 games in charge of Republic of Ireland, the worst managerial record for the nation among the last five managers dating way back to 2003.
5. Wales have failed to score in 2 of the 3 games that Ryan Giggs has been in charge thus far.
Player to Watch
The 23-year-old has been called up and is likely to start against Wales. Robinson has been putting in positive shifts for Preston North End at club level so far and has started the season with some form. Originally representing England up to the Under-20 level, Robinson declared himself available for Republic of Ireland.
It will now be time to vindicate his decision to do so as he lines up to make his debut. A tricky customer with bags of pace, Robinson is primarily a left winger but is able to be stationed on the right, where we are likely to see him be deployed by Martin O’Neill.
The absence of James McClean has handed him a chance and it will be interesting to see if he can make his opportunity count. He will go up against an experienced Stephen Ward on his side and could trouble the veteran with his pace and dribbling ability. A player who could be the difference for Republic of Ireland.
Wales 2-2 Republic of Ireland
Ryan Giggs will get a first taste of Wales vs Republic of Ireland in a managerial capacity. It is still early days for the team under his tutelage. But, the Manchester United legend will want to show that he and his Wales side are more than capable of being a nuisance on the international stage.
But, Republic of Ireland are likely to be steady like a rock at the back and will use the pace of their wingers to move forward and hit Wales on the counter. Expect a high-scoring draw at Cardiff City Stadium.