The Ireland team that Stephen Kenny should start against Belgium
Ireland have two friendlies coming up, Belgium on Saturday and Lithuania next Tuesday.
The Republic of Ireland play Belgium in a friendly on Saturday evening at the Aviva Stadium, and here is the starting XI we believe that Stephen Kenny should select for the game against the number one ranked team in international football.
The Ireland starting XI that should play against Belgium.
Belgium are going to play an experimental team for the friendly in Dublin, and Kenny should arguably give opportunities to a few players from outside his tried and trusted starting XI.
For example, this would be the perfect opportunity to start Caoimhin Kelleher. The Liverpool goalkeeper has played a lot less than Gavin Bazunu or Mark Travers this season, but he has proven himself at the highest level, helping Liverpool win the EFL Cup.
Kelleher is excellent in possession, a brilliant shot-stopper, and a calm presence behind the defence. The 23-year-old deserves a chance to stake his claim to be Ireland's number one.
This team lines out in a 3-4-3 formation, with Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy and John Egan in a back three.
Kenny doesn't have many options in central defence, with Andrew Omobamidele and Darragh Lenihan* injured and Dara O'Shea still working his way back after a long spell on the sidelines. O'Shea has played just 140 minutes for West Brom in the Championship after missing five months with an ankle injury.
Matt Doherty and Ryan Manning start at wing-back in this team. Doherty's form has massively improved recently. In his last five Premier League games, the Dubliner has registered three assists and scored a goal. Doherty looked set to leave Tottenham Hotspur in January, but he now appears tailor-made for Antonio Conte's wing-back system.
On the other flank, Manning starts in this team. The Galway-native has predominately played in a back-three for Swansea City, but he can also play as a wing-back. Manning has recorded four assists so far this season.
In midfield, Kenny is light on options. Jeff Hendrick played well for Ireland in the latter half of 2021, and was one of the team's standout performers in the wins over Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.
Hendrick signed for Queens Park Rangers in January on loan from Newcastle United in an attempt to play more first-team football. The Dubliner, 30, had a run of seven starts for QPR but didn't start the team's last two games going into the international window.
Yet, Kenny should stick with Hendrick for the Belgium game, partly because of the lack of alternatives.
Congratulations to @ConnorRonan10 & Mark Sykes on their first call-up to the Ireland squad 🇮🇪
Hear is what Stephen Kenny had to say 👇 #COYBIG | #WeAreOne | #WeAre100 pic.twitter.com/FyTCMAT805
— Ireland Football ⚽️🇮🇪 (@IrelandFootball) March 19, 2022
Alongside Hendrick, Josh Cullen and Jason Knight start. Cullen has become a mainstay for Ireland, starting all eight of the team's World Cup qualifiers. The midfielder, 25, has enjoyed a strong campaign for Anderlecht in Belgium. Cullen has started all 32 league games for Vincent Kompany's side this season.
Knight completes Ireland's midfield in this team for the match against Belgium. The 21-year-old is a regular for Derby County, having already played over 100 times for the Championship side. He has also impressed for the national team in his nine caps.
Up front, this team features Callum Robinson and Will Keane. Robinson was Ireland's best player in 2021 when he scored six goals in nine games. The last forward to go on a run like that for the national team was Robbie Keane.
Keane has only played once for Ireland, a substitute appearance against Portugal last November, but he is having an excellent season for Wigan Athletic in League One. The former Manchester United forward, 29, has scored 19 goals in 35 league games for the promotion-chasing team.
Keane often plays as a deep-lying forward for Wigan, which would complement Robinson should they start together, as the latter works best drifting wide or running beyond opposition defences.
Here is the team we believe Kenny should pick for Saturday's match against Belgium.
(All players were fit and available to play at the time of writing. *Darragh Lenihan was originally included in this team before he was ruled out with an injury.)