Three issues that Ireland need to address before playing Belgium

Ahead of the Republic of Ireland’s huge game with Belgium on Saturday, there a few talking points around Martin O’Neill’s team selection.

The manager will have to shuffle his pack due to injury and he may also be tempted to change the formation against a side licking its wounds after a somewhat surprising 2-0 defeat to Italy in their opener.

Before the tournament, Belgium were touted as one of the favourites by many of the what you need to know about EURO 2016 previews.

Both sides go into the game knowing that a win will go a long way to securing a spot in the knockout stage and it should make for a captivating contest.

 

Who replaces Jonathan Walters?

Stoke City man Jonathan Walters has become one of the most important players in Martin O’Neill’s set up due to his work rate and willingness to defend from the front.

However, a persistent Achilles injury hampered him in the run up to EURO 2016 and it flared up again in the opening stages of the Swedish game.

Following Walters’ withdrawal just after the hour mark, Swedish full back Martin Olsson became of the most dangerous players on the pitch due to the amount of extra space that he had to exploit.

With Daryl Murphy not fully fit either and Robbie Keane unlikely to last the pace for 90 minutes, Shane Long is the only realistic out-and-out option for O’Neill up front.

Should David McGoldrick or Kevin Doyle been taken along instead of one of the midfielders? Probably, but now it’s about adjusting to the circumstances with the option available.

The most likely scenario will see O’Neill tweak his tactics slightly and that leads nicely into the second issue.

 

What to do with James McCarthy?

RTE pundit Eamon Dunphy took aim at James McCarthy following the midfielder’s lacklustre showing against Sweden:

McCarthy is just a talking horse. Horses who are supposed to do great things on the gallops every morning but never produce it on the racecourse.

 

This guy never produces a real performance for Ireland and he rarely produces it for Everton. He’s just no good.

– Eamon Dunphy

There’s no denying that McCarthy has underperformed in an Ireland shirt to date, and his showing on Monday was the perfect microcosm of his international career.

Ability wise, the Everton man is one of the best players in the squad but he needs to play centrally and not on the right side of midfield.

With Glenn Whelan and Jeff Hendrick among Ireland’s best players in the opening game, there is a case to be made for leaving McCarthy out against Belgium.

If O’Neill opts for a five-man midfield in support of Shane Long then McCarthy could get the nod for a spot in the centre, although that might have to be at the expense of Wes Hoolahan.

 

Can Wes Hoolahan play two games in quick succession?

It’s highly unlikely that anybody is bored of watching replays of Wes Hoolahan’s beautiful right foot half volley for his goal against Sweden, and the Norwich City man was a joy to watch as he dictated play.

However, Hoolahan was substituted in the closing stages and admitted afterwards that he had slight calf problem that was bothering him.

At club level, the 34-year-old has been used sparingly at times and with only a few days between games at EURO 2016, Martin O’Neill may be tempted to utilise him as more of an impact player off the bench against Sweden.

The fans no doubt want to see Hoolahan pulling the strings while sharing the same stage as Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne but they may have to settle for a cameo appearance.

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