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06th Oct 2015

Caught on the hop: How Irish midfield and attack measures up to a pack of world beaters

Hey Schweini! Ever won an argument with Roy Keane?

Mikey Stafford

In recent times only the rugby team and AC/DC have managed to sell out the Aviva, so it’s fair to say the visit of World Cup winners Germany has captured the public imagination.

The Republic of Ireland can seal a play-off position if Poland beat Scotland in Hampden on Thursday, but how good would it be for Martin O’Neill’s boys to get there under their own steam, by beating “Die Mannschaft”?

Two chances, you say? Well we have already assessed the respective defences and found ground for optimism and, looking further up the field, there is further encouragement.

Jonathan Walters v Thomas Muller

UEFA European Championship 2016 Qualifying Round, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 7/9/2015 Republic of Ireland vs Georgia Ireland's Jonathan Walters Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Current Form: Three goals in six appearances for Stoke constitutes a pretty good start to the season, chuck in the winning goal against Georgia too and you can see why Mark Hughes was so reluctant to let Ireland’s burly bundle of fun leave the Britannia Stadium. Thomas Muller has been the subject of such insistent bids from Manchester United that Bayern Munich seem close to applying for a barring order. The German giant seem hostile to the idea of losing a player who has scored 13 goals in 12 starts for club and country this season.

Career Pedigree: Muller has the same shopping list of honours as his fellow Bayern Munich players, while Walters has had a shopping list of clubs (10 including loans). Muller won a World Cup in 2014, becoming only the third player in history to score at least five goals in separate finals. While at Ipswich Walters had a row with Roy Keane, and won. Which means he wins here too.

Recent Social Networking: Bearing the brunt versus gurning bear

James McCarthy v Bastian Schweinsteiger

UEFA European Championship 2016 Qualifying Round, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 7/9/2015 Republic of Ireland vs Georgia Ireland's James McCarthy Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Current Form: While World Cup winner and all-round giant of European football Schweinsteiger takes time to settle at Manchester United, McCarthy has continued where he left off last season – dominating proceedings in the Everton midfield. Thursday will be the first of two meetings between the pair in less than a fortnight, with third placed United travelling to seventh-place Everton Saturday week. Let’s just hope that Premier League clash does not come after another conspicuously anonymous international sojourn for the Glaswegian.

Career Pedigree: All the trophies. That is pretty much what Schweinsteiger won at Bayern before departing for new challenges in Manchester. He scored important goals, led Bayern and Germany in an inspiring, Roy Keanesque manner and topped it all with a World Cup win in Brazil. He could have been a professional skier but wisely chose football, making his debut for Bayern at just 18. McCarthy has a three-year head start on the German, making his bow for Hamilton Academical at the age of 15. Already he has won an FA Cup and Community Shield, but to reach Schweini levels of success might require his No1 fan Roberto Martinez landing the Barca job and taking him to the Nou Camp.

Recent Social Networking: Fans tribute versus Enda Kenny tribute

Jeff Hendrick v Toni Kroos

UEFA European Championship 2016 Qualifying Round, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 7/9/2015 Republic of Ireland vs Georgia Ireland's Jeff Hendrick Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Current Form: Kroos is emblematic of a Real Madrid season that has yet to spark. Doing very little wrong and proving admirably solid, the German has yet to score from midfield this season. Flying high in La Liga and going well in Europe, the Rafa Benitez era just hasn’t caught fire yet with the fans, who seem to pine for former coaches. Like Paul Clement, who seems to be recovering from his rocky start at Derby – the former Real assistant has the Rams charging up the table and Hendrick is central to that. When he starts. Which is most of the time.

Career Pedigree: Hendrick moved from St Kevin’s Boys to Derby in 2008 and there he has remained, winning nothing. The closest he has come to glory was last season’s Championship tilt and the less said about how that all concluded the better. As another from the Bavarian hothouse of Bayern, Kroos grew up on a staple diet of success. Outside of a FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup he has won naff all since moving to Real, so you could argue his career is on the slide.

Recent Social Networking: New acquaintances versus old friends

Aiden McGeady v Mesut Ozil

Three International Friendly, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 7/6/2015 Republic of Ireland vs England Ireland's Aiden McGeady applauds the fans after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Current Form: A pair of luxury players here and you could have argued, before Sunday, that neither had made a good start to the season. Then Ozil went and had a stormer against Manchester United, scoring a cracker and generally displaying the wonderful skills we know he possesses. McGeady has skills too but they are being kept under wraps thus far. The Everton matchday squad is a rare treat for the winger, whose only appearance this season was against Barnsley in the Capital One Cup.

Career Pedigree: McGeady was the “next big thing” at one of Europe’s fallen giants; Ozil was the “next big thing” at Schalke before becoming the same at Werder Bremen. McGeady made the tough decision to play for the country of his ancestors; Ozil made the easier decision to choose the country of his birth. McGeady took a gamble on a a move abroad, to Spartak Moscow, which he wished to end prematurely; Ozil took a gamble on a move abroad, to Real Madrid, which he wished did not end prematurely. Ozil is adored at Arsenal; McGeady is largely ignored at Everton.

Recent Social Networking: Shirt off his back versus chip off the old block

Wes Hoolahan v Ilkay Gundogan

UEFA European Championship 2016 Qualifying Round, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 7/9/2015 Republic of Ireland vs Georgia Ireland's Wes Hoolahan Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Current Form: Five. Count them, five assists this season for Wes Hoolahan. The Dubliner is putting more on his team-mates’ plates than the Norwich City canteen staff. In eight Bundesliga games for Dortmund thus far this season Gundogan has scored none and set-up none. Only one of these men in yellow is shining brightly.

Career Pedigree: Both players have battled their way up from the lower reaches of the football pyramid to excel in two of Europe’s top leagues. While Hoolahan’s greatest success with the Canaries is last season’s play-off triumph, his three League of Ireland titles with Shelbourne in the early noughties trump Gundogan’s Bundesliga crown, in quantity if not prestige.

Recent Social Networking: Indian summer versus all washed-up

Robbie Keane v Mario Gotze

UEFA European Championship 2016 Qualifying Round, Estadio do Algarve, Faro, Portugal 4/9/2015 Gibraltar vs Republic of Ireland Ireland's Robbie Keane celebrates scoring their second goal Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Current Form: Germany’s false nine plays a more creative role for Bayern and has already racked up three Bundesliga assists this season to go with his single goal. Ireland’s real nine has 25 goals and eight assists for his club this season. There are, of course, factors contributing to those skewed numbers – namely Keane has Liverpool legend Stephen Gerrard setting him up.

Career Pedigree: The great Gerd “Der Bomber” Muller is looking nervously over his shoulder, with Keane one goal off his impressive haul of 68 international goals. Gotze’s 16 in 47 matches really does not compare, even if you give Muller’s compatriot bonus points for scoring the winner in a World Cup final.

Recent Social Networking: Impressive pitches versus fancy britches

It was an honor to throw the first pitch at tonight’s Los Angeles Dodgers game. I think I won my bet, Oficial Giovani Dos Santos

Posted by Robbie Keane on Friday, 2 October 2015

Looking good! And by that we mean Ireland’s chances, not Mario’s lederhosen.

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