The Season Ticket
Kenny's Kids | Slovakia v Republic of Ireland breakdown and preview
In his debut article for The Season Ticket, Kenny's Kids looks ahead to next month's Euro 2020 play-off semi-final between Slovakia and the Republic of Ireland.
The second era of Mick McCarthy is set to face its biggest test next month.
The Boys in Green will take on Slovakia at the Tehelné Pole Stadium in Bratislava to decide who meets either Northern Ireland or Bosnia Herzegovina in the Euro 2020 play-off final.
Ireland have only faced the Sokoli (The Falcons) three times in the past decade, with all three matches ending in draws.
Ireland, at this time have most of their squad available, the only major doubt being James McClean.
Darren Randolph should start regardless of club form, Enda Stevens and John Egan are certain starts but the rest of the squad is up for debate.
It's difficult to say whether Seamus Coleman or Matt Doherty will start, Doherty has the club form but Coleman is the official skipper, let’s go out on a whim and say it will be Doherty.
Shane Duffy should edge a starting spot despite the fine form of Darragh Lenihan.
Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane are the preferred pair in the midfield but with Glenn Whelan currently playing in League One for Fleetwood Town, you would imagine James McCarthy gets the nod if available.
Assuming McClean does not fully recover in time, Mick may opt for Robbie Brady.
The form of Callum Robinson on loan at West Brom should land him a start on the right where we have struggled to find a regular starter, this then leaves the final spot up front.
Giving Shane Long the edge purely based on recent form, David McGoldrick has ample time to make his case between now and squad selection. This is just a prediction and so many of these choices can go either way.
The Slovakian squad pretty much selects itself, the midfield 3 have started in every match of their campaign thus far. The defence and attack will likely stay as it is below, injury depending.
Norwich signing Ondrej Duda may feature but he is generally preferred as a impact sub.
Ireland FIFA Ranking: 30 Slovakia FIFA Ranking: 32
Kenny's Kids' predicted lineups for March's Euro 2020 play-off semi-final.
Randolph v Dubravka
Normally one could argue that there is little if anything to separate these two goalkeepers, they are both around the same height, age and market value.
They excel in reflexes and shot stopping but fall short in passing and distribution. The real edge Newcastle’s Dubravka may have is match fitness.
West Ham’s Randolph has only played four matches since Ireland v Denmark back in November while Dubravka has lined out fourteen times for his club in the same period.
There are only six matches between now and the play-off for Randolph to get some much-needed game time.
Doherty v Pekarík
At 33 years old and with 91 caps, Peter Pekarík certainly has the edge in experience to Matt Doherty.
Pekarík currently plays for Hertha BSC but he plays for Slovakia far more than he does for his club, lining out just once since their qualifier versus Azerbaijan in November.
Doherty, on the other hand, has been in fine form, scoring four goals across all competitions this season for Wolves, along with that crucial equaliser against Denmark.
Whether Coleman or Doherty start, we should have the edge against a right-back who hasn’t had a regular run of games since early 2018.
Stevens v Hancko
Dávid Hancko is a young left back who is on loan at Czech Republic side Sparta Praha from Fiorentina.
A clean passer of the ball who has performed well for Slovakia during this campaign. Enda Stevens - meanwhile - has been in fine form, playing every Premier League game for Sheffield United and missing just one with Ireland.
Sheffield United (6th) and Sparta Praha (5th) are both chasing European football in their respective leagues but there is a stark contrast in standard between the two.
Egan v Vavro
Denis Vavro signed for Lazio from FC København for just over €10 million last summer, but the 23-year-old centre-back has only played around 100 league minutes for the Serie A side this season.
He has, however, played in all of their Europa League games where Lazio finished behind Celtic and CFR Cluj in Group E, knocking them out in the process.
Along with Stevens, John Egan has been a wall in the Sheffield defence. In the Premier League. The Kerryman is tied fourth for most clearances and he has only been absent from one starting lineup to date. Match fitness, experience and standard give Egan a clear edge.
Duffy v Škriniar
Milan Škriniar is a 25-year-old centre-back who is among the top defenders in Europe.
He has been a regular starter at Inter Milan since joining in 2017 for €34 million and has made 12 Champions League appearances in that time.
Largely seen as Slovakia’s best player, his positional play, ability in the air and leadership will be crucial.
Shane Duffy played every minute of Ireland’s campaign but has struggled to get regular minutes for his club Brighton, starting only 10 of their games this season.
He has similar strengths to Škriniar but nobody can deny that Škriniar is the better player.
McCarthy v Lobotka
Stanislav Lobotka is a scary prospect.
The 25-year-old defensive midfielder recently signed for Napoli in the January window, costing the Azzurri €20 million euro from Celta Vigo.
Lobotka’s strengths are ball control and passing, he is already playing regularly for Napoli and should make his 23rd cap next month.
James McCarthy is getting closer and closer to his pre-injury form and is getting more minutes for Crystal Palace but despite this, the quality of Lobotka gives him the edge
Hourihane v Kucka
Juraj Kucka is a 32 year-old midfielder who plays for Serie A club Parma.
He has 72 caps for Slovakia, scoring two goals in the current qualification campaign.
Conor Hourihane is playing at a higher level with Aston Villa but has struggled to get adequate game time with 16 total appearances, averaging 54 minutes per game.
He still has three goals and two assists in the Premier League whilst also being one of Ireland’s more consistent performers, putting aside that wonderful free-kick against Georgia.
Parma are currently fighting for a European spot and Kucka has been essential to the club's revival.
Both players have similar strengths and little to be found suggesting one has the edge over the other.
Hendrick v Hamšík
Slovakian captain Marek Hamšík boasts over 120 caps and a distinguished career.
Some of his honours include two Coppa Italias, Serie A Young footballer of the year 2008, eight Slovak footballer of the year awards, along with holding the all-time records for most appearances and goals for both Napoli and Slovakia.
He is now 32, and playing in Dalian Yifang in China where the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has caused the Chinese Super League to be postponed.
Hamšík will struggle for fitness and may even have issues being allowed travel, leaving the door potentially open for Ondrej Duda.
Jeff Hendrick has been finding some form for Burnley this season, scoring two and assisting two whilst starting most games. Burnley are on another push for Europe and if Hendrick continues to improve, he will be key for us.
Robinson v Rusnák
Albert Rusnák plays for MLS side Real Salt Lake as an attacking midfielder but he is utilised as a right winger for Slovakia. The 25-year-old is a Manchester City Academy graduate, and got most of his game time at Eredivisie outfit FC Groningen.
Callum Robinson struggled to find form for Sheffield United in a new role up front but since his move to West Brom in January he has been exceptional out on the wing.
With West Brom clear at the top of the Championship and Robinson picking up man of the match awards, there can be little doubt of him edging Rusnák in quality.
Brady v Mak
Róbert Mak is a 28-year-old left wing who plays for Turkish Süper Lig side Konyaspor.
Konyaspor are fighting relegation and Mak has only played five out of 22 league games so far this season, although he is a regular for Slovakia having missed only one game in this campaign.
Robbie Brady has had similar issues in the context of league appearance with 13 in the league so far. That said, he has put in some good performances when called upon.
There is always the chance that James McClean will be back in time and he has been playing some of his best football for Stoke City this season. Either way, both have a clear edge when compared to Mak.
Long v Boženík
Robert Boženík scored his first Feyenoord goal on the 16th of February but has already scored 3 in this Slovakian campaign.
The 20-year-old striker has had quite a rise over the past year and recently signed for the Eredivisie side from Slovakian side MŠK Žilina for €5 million euro last month.
Shane Long has been rotated with Southampton but continues to surprise with excellent pressing, heading and link-play. David McGoldrick could get the nod but Long is the man on form right now.
Young strikers with confidence are not to be underestimated but both McGoldrick and Long are playing at a much higher standard against the best in the world.
Slovakia has one or two top players but overall we appear to have a better balanced squad playing at a slightly higher level. We have a clear edge on both wings regardless of who is available. However, we are lacking a clear goal scorer.
Slovakia themselves have conceded 11 compared to Ireland’s five, but they have put 13 into the net compared to Ireland’s seven.
It will be a tight game, Mick summed it up best at a recent press conference when he said:
“The first one is the key one. If we win the first one, I think we'll win the second one. We'll get momentum and we'll win the second one. But we've got to beat Slovakia first and they are no mugs by any stretch."