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Ireland vs Azerbaijan: This is the starting XI that Stephen Kenny should pick

This is the strongest Ireland squad that Stephen Kenny has had during this World Cup Qualifying c...

Ireland vs Azerbaijan: This is...

Ireland vs Azerbaijan: This is the starting XI that Stephen Kenny should pick

This is the strongest Ireland squad that Stephen Kenny has had during this World Cup Qualifying campaign. Now he has to pick the strongest Ireland starting XI that he can.

Ireland travels to Azerbaijan on Saturday in search of three points.

They haven't won a game yet. While the three points would be nice, they're inconsequential for the actual tournament. But the result isn't inconsequential for Stephen Kenny. Pressure is mounting on him. Damien Delaney told Off The Ball this week that he believes Kenny will lose his job if he doesn't win this game.

He has to win the next game against Qatar too, in Delaney's opinion.

Winning games away from home has never been easy for Ireland. Doing so with this squad that has failed to win any games, whether home or away, should feel like a mammoth task. But Ireland are in a good place. They're coming off an international window that was undoubtedly the best stretch for Stephen Kenny's team.

The squad is missing two players of significance. Dara O'Shea is a long-term absence because of his fractured ankle, while Seamus Coleman misses out because of a short-term injury.

But importantly, Callum Robinson returns.

Robinson is making all the wrong headlines for his comments on Covid-19 and vaccinations this week, but his impact on the field for Ireland can be huge. Kenny has the option to play him from the start this time after Robinson could only come off the bench in Ireland's most recent games.

Should he start? How should Kenny handle the absences of O'Shea and Coleman? What is his best Starting XI?

Here's who we think he should start.


Formation: 3-5-2

ireland 5 October 2021; Goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu during a Republic of Ireland training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

GK: Gavin Bazunu 

Picking a 19-year-old goalkeeper shouldn't be a straightforward decision. But it really is a simple choice for Kenny. He may be flirting with the idea of starting Caoimhin Kelleher, but it would be a reckless decision to risk disrupting the defence.

Bazunu was very impressive during the previous international window. He made some brilliant saves and, perhaps most importantly, showed composure on the ball when called upon.


CB: Andrew Omobamidele

Omobamidele is another young gun who earned the right to start in the last international window. He was unfazed coming off the bench against Portugal and equally impressive in his first senior start against Serbia. Having made his Premier League debut for Norwich since his last outing, Omobamidele is ready to be a regular starter at this level.


CB: Shane Duffy 

Don't call it a comeback...but Shane Duffy is back!

The oft-maligned defender put the past year behind him and has refound his form for Brighton. Duffy is objectively Ireland's best defensive player and now he's gained more confidence on the ball too. He finished the game against Serbia with 94% accuracy on his passes while also having the most passes of the back four.


CB: John Egan

Sheffield United's form this season has been mixed. John Egan's has too. He did manage to score a brace against Hull City a few weeks back at least. He's an obvious choice to complete the back three, especially with O'Shea and Coleman missing. Egan needs to regain his consistency but he's grown into an almost undroppable player for The Boys in Green.

He provides a mixture of defensive solidarity and confidence on the ball, two traits Stephen Kenny definitely values.


ireland 5 October 2021; Matt Doherty during a Republic of Ireland training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

RWB: Matt Doherty 

Matt Doherty isn't in the early stages of his career but the last international window appeared to be a coming-of-age moment for him. The Tottenham fullback was perhaps Ireland's most consistent player over the three fixtures. Although he's not featuring regularly at club level, his quality is something Ireland can't go without.

He will be a key outlet for starting and finishing Ireland's attacking moves.


LWB: Ryan Manning 

Manning is actually a doubt for this game after sitting out training at the start of the week. But we're hoping he can finish the week strong to supplant James McLean and Enda Stevens.

Stevens is the more likely starter after returning to full fitness in recent weeks. We've seen what Stevens offers whereas Manning hasn't had enough opportunities at the International level. The 25-year-old is playing regular football for Swansea City in the Championship.


CM: Josh Cullen 

Josh Cullen has been a mainstay under Stephen Kenny. He had a mixed run in the last international window but provides a level of composure on the ball that other options don't. Cullen has grown into his role in midfield and has the chance to continue to develop with more games.

The Anderlecht player only has six caps for Ireland. With more game time, he should hopefully start to show more ambition with the ball to instigate attacks rather than just retain possession with the easy pass.


CM: Jeff Hendrick 

Ireland fans have rightly been frustrated with Jeff Hendrick over recent years. But he did have an improved run of form in the last window. He offers experience and an engine for the pressing game. While he's not the quickest, he does have the legs to fill a box-to-box role effectively.


CAM: Jamie McGrath 

Perhaps the most perplexing decision from Stephen Kenny in the last window was dropping Jamie McGrath. He was a star against Portugal and then was dropped for the Azerbaijan game even though that would have suited his style. Kenny has previously spoken about players not being fit enough to play two games in quick succession, maybe McGrath fell into that category.

With a full week of preparation for this game, McGrath should start and he should play a key role in the hole as Ireland control possession.


ireland 7 September 2021; Adam Idah of Republic of Ireland during the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying group A match between Republic of Ireland and Serbia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FW: Adam Idah 

Adam Idah doesn't get to play for Norwich. It's baffling for anyone who has watched him play for Ireland. He has been the focal point of the attack, playing a difficult role where he's often isolated against both center backs. Against Portugal, he gave Manchester City's Ruben Dias fits.

Idah is in good form for his country. He stretches the defence by getting in behind, he offers an outlet for the long ball when necessary and offers a level of hold-up play that counterparts in the Ireland squad don't.


FW: Aaron Connolly 

It's not an easy choice between Aaron Connolly and Troy Parrott. Both young players have been inconsistent for Ireland but Connolly is coming off a recent strong outing in the cup that should give him greater confidence moving into these fixtures. All Connolly needs is confidence.

Parrott provides a stronger goal threat but he doesn't offer the same tenacity without the ball or the same speed in counter-attacks. Connolly's pace and willingness to drive at the defence is crucial in breaking down Azerbaijan's expected low-block defence.



Goalkeepers: Gavin Bazunu (Portsmouth, on loan from Manchester City), Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth).

Defenders: Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City), Nathan Collins (Burnley).

Midfielders: Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Harry Arter (Nottingham Forest), Jamie McGrath (St. Mirren), Jason Knight (Derby County).

Forwards: Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion), James Collins (Cardiff City), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Troy Parrott (MK Dons, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), Will Keane (Wigan Athletic), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United).

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Azerbaijan Football Ireland Republic Of Ireland Soccer Stephen Kenny World Cup Qualifiers