Stephen Kenny believes 3-4-2-1 makes the most of Ireland’s resources

‘It’s possibly fair to say, that 60 to 70 per cent of our best players are defenders’

The team that Stephen Kenny continues to shape and build should take another evolutionary leap tonight at the Aviva stadium. Qatar's visit is a precious opportunity to play in front of 25,000 fans – there's been a ticket rush following heightened interest in rising stars and the bravery of performances in Portugal and Azerbaijan – but, more importantly, the manager has settled upon a workable system.

Mark it down, because 3-4-2-1 is about to spread itself all over this island of ours.

That it looks suspiciously like the Chelsea way has a lot to do with crossover coach Anthony Barry. When asked if two plus two equals four Kenny was initially evasive.

"I think that we have a great coaching team: Keith Andrews, Anthony Barry, Dean Kiely, " said Kenny, providing his usual response about a specific person. "We work well collectively and Anthony is terrific, there's no doubt about that. That is where that is."

Kenny eventually elaborated about the new system that was adopted when Barry replaced Damien Duff last February as the primary voice at training.

It took a while to bed in, the Luxembourg defeat being the obvious example, but besides a back four against Andorra, Kenny has laid a foundation of three ball-playing central defenders, two holding midfielders, wing backs who must express themselves and an attacking midfield duo behind lone striker Adam Idah.

It works when key players are available. The prime example being Callum Robinson's movement in Baku, off the wing and into centre forward as he does week-in, week-out for West Brom.

In reality, the formation shift is Kenny adapting to the rigours of international management and, clearly, trusting the expertise of Chelsea’s first-team coach.

"We changed to a back three in March," he explained. "It's been used in all the games, bar against Andorra when we played a back four. We have varied it by playing 3-4-1-2. The first time we played a 3-4-2-1 was actually against Qatar in March.

"It is the realisation that, it's possibly fair to say, that 60 to 70 per cent of our best players are defenders. There's the three emerging centre backs coming through at their clubs, Andrew Omobamidele, Dara O'Shea and Nathan Collins.

“We’ve got players who can play wing back at their clubs. We can shape our team around that and the flexibility within that gives us a better chance against the better nations. What we’ve got to improve on is that aspect against teams we’re capable of beating.”

Against the better nations, like Portugal, it worked for 95 minutes although the midfield duo of Josh Cullen and Jeff Hendrick appeared to be overrun against technically superior Serbians.

Last Saturday night the Irish system dominated Azerbaijan. Now, to ensure a long-term seal of approval from the public (the players are already on board), the same POA needs to clean out Qatar.

The real question is: who are the ideal personnel to impose 3-4-2-1 on all types of opposition and qualify for the 2024 Euros in Germany?

Gavin Bazunu or Caoimhín Kelleher has a real chance of becoming a national debate, especially if the Liverpool goalkeeper enhances the glimpses of sensational form in his first start tonight.

Wing backs, when fit, are Séamus Coleman with Matt Doherty proving in Faro that switching to the left side is well within his capabilities despite James McClean's Indian summer for Ireland.

The holding midfielders are not fully settled, even if Cullen and Hendrick can hardly be faulted for effort in the last three matches.

Jamie McGrath's role as Kenny's "number 10" will be challenged by a fit-again Jason Knight but Robinson's brace in Baku appears to have seen off Aaron Connolly, Troy Parrott and Daryl Horgan as the second attacker behind Idah for now with Chiedozie Ogbene to quicken pulses and raise noise levels when he's injected into an international late on.

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