poses four questions ahead of Ireland's rematch with Wales...
Martin O’Neill has spent a week fending off questions about Harry Arter and Declan Rice’s decisions to not make themselves available for tonight’s clash in Cardiff.
The Republic of Ireland manager should have been answering queries on formation, tactics and the importance of getting a new campaign off to a positive start.
Instead, O’Neill has had to defend his assistant manager’s track record plus offer differing opinions on Arter and Rice’s commitment to the Irish senior setup. The players’ response to a fraught week will be telling.
Ryan Giggs’ first competitive international in charge of Wales sees the rookie manager looking to build on encouraging displays in the China Cup, defeating the hosts 6-0 and losing narrowly to Uruguay before holding Mexico to a scoreless draw in the USA.
Ireland’s off-field headlines have allowed Giggs and Wales stay under the radar. Wales have also kept three consecutive clean sheets and looked solid at the back since Giggs took over. New assistant manager Albert Stuivenberg, who assisted Louis van Gaal whilst at Old Trafford, has helped Giggs develop a 3-4-2-1 formation which looks to maximise Gareth Bale’s potential behind a lone striker. How O’Neill counteracts Wales’ setup will be crucial to leaving Cardiff with a positive result.
The Republic travel without Declan Rice and Harry Arter plus a growing injury list that includes Shane Long, Robbie Brady, Sean Maguire, Alan Browne, and James McClean.
Jeff Hendrick is the solitary Premier League midfielder available with the added worry of Shane Duffy and David Meyler having sat out some training sessions this week.
As a result, Preston’s Callum Robinson, Bristol City’s Callum O’Dowda and Ipswich Town’s Jon Walters could come into the reckoning as O’Neill looks to make the best of the situation.
The talismanic winger has been in fine form for Real Madrid ahead of Wales’ meetings with Ireland and Denmark, with three goals and two assists in four games.
Giggs may look to Sam Vokes, Tyler Roberts, Aaron Ramsey and Ben Woodburn for goals but Hal Robson-Kanu’s recent retirement means Bale remains his country’s most potent scoring threat.
Martin O’Neill could ask Seamus Coleman to shadow Bale as the right-back is enjoying an injury-free run and impressing for Everton in the Premier League.
Ireland managed to curb the Real Madrid star’s influence during Wales’ previous visit to Dublin and a repeat performance would go a long way to limiting Giggs’ side’s attacking options.