Ireland's Nations League: New star Nathan Collins and McClean under pressure
"We knew Nathan Collins had a huge future with Ireland before this match. Now we know he has the capacity to be an attacking weapon, as well as a good defender, for the next decade"
Here are five things we learned from Ireland's four-game Nations League window.
Collins is the real deal
We knew Nathan Collins had a huge future with Ireland before this match. Now we know he has the capacity to be an attacking weapon, as well as a good defender, for the next decade. But it is imperative that a coming talent like Collins stays a Premier League player for next season. He has to get a move away from Burnley to continue his progression as a footballer.
We must score first
Is it just a coincidence that Ireland play better in games in which we score the first goal? We didn’t against Armenia and Ukraine and lost, we scored first against Scotland and Ukraine and went on to deliver an excellent 90 minutes each time. It is about confidence or the style of play? But certainly the players grew in confidence on the back of Collins’ first-half goal.
McClean running out of time
Will James McClean get to 100 caps for Ireland? He’s now six appearances short, but becoming a liability at left wing-back. Both of Cristiano Ronaldo’s late goals in Faro last year came because McClean could not prevent a cross coming over from his wing.
And in Lodz he was marked badly absent for Ukraine’s equaliser. It’s not good enough at international level to give your winger all the space in the world to run into.
Three is the magic number
Ireland did better in the last two matches of this window, when Stephen Kenny played three men in midfield. It’s the one area of the team in which he does not have massive options, personnel-wise, but Ireland looked much more comfortable with the extra body in midfield.
It’s something for Kenny to seriously consider as he enjoys a summer break – a break that will be much more pleasant than he might have expected last Wednesday night.
Green shoots in the squad
Kenny has certainly used this window to expand his options, principally for Euro 2024. Ireland played Ukraine without a complete defence in goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, centre-backs Andrew Omobamidele, Shane Duffy and John Egan, and wing-backs Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty.
Strikers Michael Obafemi and Adam Idah were not available either and Chiedozie Ogbene didn’t start the game. The manager could do with another option or two in midfield. But he has players coming through as the draw for the qualifiers looms in October.
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