Eleven months ago, Ireland were in Tbilisi. They left with a point, but that’s where the comparisons end with Thursday night’s showing in Sofia.
As well as a point that night, Ireland also had just 44% possession, 383 passes (69% passing accuracy) and seven shots. On Thursday, they held 63% of the ball, with 581 passes (87% passing accuracy) and 14 shots. There’s a metaphorical leaf being turned somewhere.
The benefit this Ireland squad is actual depth. If Stephen Kenny decides to rotate and hand caps to Jayson Molumby, Alan Browne, Seamus Coleman, Harry Arter and Callum Robinson – you probably won’t see much of a drop-off.
That’s more to do with the approach than the talent too – Mick McCarthy had the same players, just not the same belief in setting them free.
But Finland seriously impressed me against Wales. They might not have the same defensive discipline, but their set piece creativity was top level, and their movement off the ball far exceeded what Ireland saw against Bulgaria.
However, they are fairly crippled with injury, and if they rotate, they don’t have the same depth in reserve. This really is must-win for Ireland, but does the same game multi suggest that’ll happen?
It does, yeah. The primary reason I’m confident here is because Finland press the ball a lot better than Bulgaria, meaning they’re more confident in coming out. They won’t sit as deep, nor will they be afraid to fling their wing backs forward.
Given Matt Doherty and Enda Stevens’ familiarity with wing back play, they’ll know exactly when to go and when to stay – which is crucial to the success here, especially as the midfield three were consistently stuck for options for a quick pass in Sofia.
Ireland now have avenues to attack and Stephen Kenny saw teams play 3-5-2 all the time at U21 level. There were many good moments on Thursday night, so I think Ireland will score a couple in victory, and I don’t believe Finland will keep up.
Particularly after going behind early doors. The only thing Kenny will want Ireland to improve from their first-half showing is the intensity and the speed at which they move forward.
With James McCarthy surely not keeping his place, they should be able to move quicker through midfield and I suspect there’ll be significantly more gaps as Finland turn to press.
What Ireland lacked in Sofia was space. At home, they’ll be afforded more space, if less time on the ball – but that suits Kenny’s build-up at both Dundalk and the Irish Under 21s.
This just feels a far more winnable game than Bulgaria, even venue-omitted. They’ll bag early and take a half time lead.
Arguably Ireland’s best performer on Thursday night, Aaron Connolly will absolutely eat up the space Leo Vaisanen will afford him as he makes runs in behind the opposing wing-back.
Nobody’s really guaranteed their spot again bar maybe Darren Randolph, but goalkeepers aside, you’d imagine the young Brighton striker is the first name on the teamsheet.
Against a back three, he’ll pry on the indiscipline and finally have a channel to run into without being doubled. Ilmari Niskanen isn’t regimented enough to stick with the runs of Enda Stevens, leaving Connolly the choice to come inside or go outside.
Nobody will benefit from playing against this system quite like Connolly will, and for that reason, he’s the selection to net the opener.
Tips for Ireland v Finland on Sunday at 5pm
These three selections in a Same Game Multi will give you odds of 10/1 with Paddy Power.
WHAT IS PADDY POWER’S SAME GAME MULTI?
A Same Game Multi with Paddy Power allows our punters to pick from multiple markets for a single event (across a wide range of sports) and combine two or more selections from the chosen event into one handy bet.
So, if you want an accumulator of beautiful bets from an individual match, you can now do just that! It’s just like building up a traditional accumulator really, and all that is left for you to do is sit back and enjoy the game.
Learn more about the Same Game Multi here.
- All the latest football previews from across the English football and Europe are just a click away
- Placing bets is easier than ever with Paddy Power News’ live odds banners
- Shane Duffy special bets: Paddy’s prices for the Irish defender’s time at Celtic
- How to choose a Premier League Fantasy Football team name