Rep of Ireland v Denmark: A chance to avenge World Cup heartbreak
The Republic of Ireland face the team that knocked them out of qualifying for the World Cup. Will they be able to get a result against an Eriksen-less Denmark? Irish football correspondent Daniel McDonnell takes a look...
"Denmark are in a reasonable UEFA Nations League position too after beating Wales at home last month; they don't really need to win here. A draw will leave them in control of their destiny going into their final two matches."
Republic of Ireland v Denmark
Live On Sky Sports
Fate matches these two sides again
At the start of this year, when Martin O'Neill opted to reject advances from Stoke and stay with Ireland, the priority was to erase the memory of the disastrous World Cup playoff defeat to Denmark.
Fate had other ideas.
The draw for the UEFA Nations League pitted Ireland in the same group as the side which thrashed them 5-1 last November to end O'Neill's ambitions of bringing his charges to Russia. It was such a comprehensive thrashing that it raised questions about the direction of Ireland under their experienced manager. Victorious coach Age Hareide sarcastically thanked O'Neill's men for giving his midfielders so much space.
Denmark are back in town in Saturday and their arrival has naturally brought back the memories of their last visit.
O'Neill has struggled to shake off the bad vibes created by that result with a 4-1 beating in Wales last month not exactly indicating that the show was back on the road. Add in Declan Rice's indecision over his future and the public airing of the details of a dispute between Roy Keane and Harry Arter and it's been an autumn to forget. The Irish boss needs a positive result against old foes to stave off another round of crisis talk.
On the plus side, Ireland's chief tormentor from the playoff is absent. A stomach complaint has ruled Christian Eriksen out of the equation.
On the minus side, the hosts will be without their skipper Seamus Coleman again. Jon Walters is out for six months. Comebacks for Robbie Brady and James McCarthy have not materialised.
Just four of O'Neill's squad members started Premier League games last week, including Arter who has returned after patching up his differences with Keane.
A team selection problem
The hosts are under pressure and the main talking point this week has revolved around whether O'Neill will switch to the wing back system that he used successfully enough in a friendly draw in Poland after the Wales debacle. It was a relatively low intensity affair and O'Neill has yet to trial the system from the outset of a competitive match.
One of the main arguments in its favour is that it would allow in-form Wolves player Matt Doherty the opportunity to finally make his competitive debut. His exclusion has also provoked unwelcome debate for O'Neill, with the frustrated 26-year-old suggesting in newspaper interviews that maybe his face just doesn't fit within this regime.
Denmark don't need to win
The loss of Eriksen significantly weakens Denmark. He delivered goals and performances on the road to Russia and, while they have a better squad than Ireland in terms of where their players are employed, it will pose them a challenge to cope without their star performer. Denmark are in a reasonable UEFA Nations League position too after beating Wales at home last month; they don't really need to win here. A draw will leave them in control of their destiny going into their final two matches.
Ireland's need is greater and O'Neill has spoken about going with players that are in form with a point to prove. If he goes with Doherty and Enda Stevens as wing backs in a 3-5-2 and protects his defence with Millwall's Shaun Williams in a holding role then Ireland should be able to keep the ball better - a perennial issue at the Aviva - and find joy out wide against a team that is figuring out how to cope without their star man.
The fear is up front where the alternative to Shane Long is a host of players who have no more than two caps. With the stakes high, Ireland have to produce a performance in front of an expectant crowd. If they don't, O'Neill is in sticky territory. Denmark are deserved favourites, but they are a lay at [2.7].
Slow going on goals
Ireland will be in trouble if this becomes a really open game. After conceding nine goals in their last two competitive matches, a stat that O'Neill dislikes because the matches were ten months apart, there's a fair chance that the focus early on will be on being compact.
Add in the fact that Denmark have no need to burst out of the blocks and go chasing - although they might see that pressing Ireland can reap rewards - then it's possible this match will be a slow burn. Under 1.5 Goals at [2.66] is worth a play. There's every chance it will offer back to lay potential by the break.
Can the Duffman find the net again?
It's sad but true that Brighton centre half Shane Duffy is Ireland's top scorer in the Premier League this season with a pair of goals. He was also the main goalscoring threat in the latter stages of the aborted World Cup campaign, and opened the scoring against the Danes in the 5-1 reverse. He might be a bigger price closer to kick-off but Irish reliance on set pieces means that a speculative play on Duffy to score at [7.0] is a better bet than punting on any of the attacking players in this market.
Lay Denmark @ [2.7]