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4 selection dilemmas facing Martin O'Neill ahead of the Germany game

Glenn Whelan versus Jeff Hendrick and other tough calls.

Glenn Whelan vs Jeff Hendrick

Jeff Hendrick looks on as goalkeeper Jordan Perez reacts to scoring an own goal Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

(Ireland’s Jeff Hendrick looks on as Gilbraltar goalkeeper Jordan Perez reacts to scoring an own goal)

JEFF HENDRICK WAS in fine form at the start of the season for Derby, but an injury has limited his game time with the Championship club recently.

But against Gibraltar yesterday, Hendrick looked fit and composed on the ball, but that said, he was playing against probably the worst international team in Europe.

While the young midfielder is quicker and better technically than Whelan, it would still be a surprise if the 22-year-old was given the nod for Tuesday’s clash.

O’Neill insisted in his pre-match interview with RTÉ that the Germany game had no impact on his thinking in selecting the Ireland XI to face Gibraltar, however such claims are difficult to believe unequivocally.

Whelan, having earned 58 international caps, has the big-game experience that Hendrick lacks. The 30-year-old started away to Georgia and did everything expected of him, so it’s hard to foresee the former Manchester City player being snubbed for this equally important match.

The midfielder has been involved in all seven of Stoke’s Premier League games so far, and consequently, O’Neill was likely resting him yesterday ahead of Tuesday’s match, where he will surely have his work cut out for him perennially chasing the ball in midfield.

Robbie Keane vs Shane Long

Robbie Keane scores his third goal from the penalty spot Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

(Robbie Keane scores his and Ireland’s third goal from the penalty spot against Gibraltar)

There are reasonable arguments for both these players being given the nod against the Germans.

Following a hat-trick in yesterday’s match, Robbie Keane now has 65 goals in 136 appearances for his country — Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or any other current international player in the world does not boast as many strikes to their name. Therefore, the statistics would suggest Ireland are more likely to score with Keane in the team on Tuesday evening.

On the other hand, away against Georgia, the LA Galaxy star had a poor game in the lone frontman role, and he was replaced by Long after 76 minutes with the score 1-1.

Moreover, the Southampton player offers the kind of physicality and pace that Keane, at 34, simply cannot provide, and with the German defenders showing their vulnerability to these qualities in recent matches, Long seems to be the ideal man to trouble them.

Nevertheless, dropping his captain is not easy call to make for O’Neill, and it was made even harder by Keane’s performance against Gibraltar, during which he managed a 12-minute first-half hat-trick.

Alternatively, O’Neill could dodge the issue somewhat by playing both Keane and Long against Germany. Granted, a 4-4-2 seems unthinkable, given that the 62-year-old manager has gone with one up front in both qualifiers thus far, but a 4-5-1 with Long playing out wide appears distinctly possible.

The Tipperary native has played on the flanks mostly since signing for Southampton, and were O’Neill to follow suit, Ireland could benefit from Long’s pace and power without sacrificing Keane’s goal threat.

Wes Hoolahan vs Stephen Quinn

Soccer - UEFA Euro 2016 - Qualifying - Group F - Republic of Ireland v Gibraltar - Aviva Stadium Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

(Wes Hoolahan and Gibraltar’s Brian Perez during the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium)

It was telling that following man-of-the-match Wes Hoolahan’s departure after 63 minutes, the tempo noticeably dropped in yesterday’s Ireland-Gibraltar encounter.

Much of Ireland’s good play went through the Norwich man, and he scored one and had a hand in the majority of the other goals. Moreover, Hoolahan has the ability to play the type of defence-splitting passes that no one in the Irish side appears able to emulate.

That said, Stephen Quinn is perhaps the closest player to a Hoolahan stand-in available in the current squad, given that creativity and intricate passes are also vital components of his game.

And perhaps more pertinently, as good as Hoolahan was yesterday, the standard of the opposition will ensure O’Neill won’t be getting too carried away with the player’s influential performance.

In his post-match interview with RTÉ, O’Neill twice mentioned the word “here,” meaning the Aviva Stadium, when speaking about Hoolahan.

The 32-year-old is proficient, O’Neill said, at “unlocking defences here”. His ostensible inference being that Hoolahan is a luxury player who Ireland cannot afford to accommodate — at least not from the start — on their more taxing away trips.

Quinn, by contrast, is considered stronger, less prone to risk-taking and hence, more defensively reliable. Consequently, he seems the less adventurous but more likely option for Tuesday.

Jon Walters vs James McClean

James McClean celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal Source: James Crombie/INPHO

(James McClean celebrates scoring Ireland’s fourth goal against Gibraltar with Robbie Keane and Jeff Hendrick)

Another case of the exciting and somewhat erratic attacking option versus the more steady and physical alternative.

Neither player has been enjoying the best of seasons domestically, with Walters and McClean in and out of the first team at Stoke and Wigan respectively.

Granted it was only Gibraltar, but McClean produced an encouraging and lively performance yesterday, which he capped off with a fine brace.

The former League of Ireland player boasts the kind of electric pace that potentially makes him capable of terrorising the conspicuously slow German defence, in a similar manner to Scotland’s Ikechi Anya, with the Watford star troubling Jerome Boateng time and again, ultimately making the Bayern Munich star look very ordinary indeed, when the two sides met last month.

Walters, by contrast, is less dynamic, however he remains a strong contender to start. He featured against Georgia off the wing, with his aerial threat proving useful on occasion.

The 31-year-old also possesses the kind of qualities that both O’Neill and Roy Keane seem to admire in footballers — the type of experience and toughness that means he is unlikely to be in anyway intimidated at the prospect of starting away from home against the world champions.

Conversely, as mentioned above, the Ireland manager could overlook both in favour of Long out wide, should he ultimately go with Robbie Keane as the main striker.

Possible starting XI v Germany (4-5-1): Forde; Meyler, O’Shea, Wilson, Ward; Whelan, Gibson; McGeady, Quinn, Long; Keane.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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