Saturday 21 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Shaqiri storm gives Ireland a chance to pounce on Switzerland disruption'

Shaqiri won't play against Ireland
Shaqiri won't play against Ireland
Xherdan Shaqiri. Photo: PA
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Losing a star player in curious circumstances in the build-up to a match of substance? At another time, Mick McCarthy could probably sympathise with his Swiss counterpart Vladimir Petkovic.

But the decision of Liverpool's Xherdan Shaqiri to take a break from international football and concentrate on his club career has opened a window of opportunity for the Irish boss. It has upset Swiss plans ahead of the trip to Dublin with their media coverage dominated by his unavailability.

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One news site led with a big story yesterday of Shaqiri arriving at their training ground. It was all a bit of ruse as it was the player's brother and agent Erdin at the wheel, driving another client - Breel Empolo - to join up with the group. Petkovic admitted that his relationship with the playmaker "could be better".

He added: "There was no sense in having him come if he could not give 100 per cent. Players know if they are ready or not, if they are fit or not. He did not think he could give everything and help the team."

Shaqiri is just 27, so it's hard to put a positive spin on his decision.

And while Jurgen Klopp has been unable to find room for him this year, he would have started for Petkovic.

Shaqiri did miss the chaotic 3-3 draw with Denmark in March but he was part of the Swiss team that featured in the UEFA Nations League finals during the summer.

McCarthy studied those matches while doing his homework for this week.

And he has acknowledged that the loss of Shaqiri might just make the opposition side a bit easier to read.

The skills of the stocky Shaqiri add a wild-card element to Swiss attacks.

"When you're planning and analysing a team performance, you can prepare to play whoever will replace him a bit better because he can do things off the cuff," said the Irish boss.

"He can be out of a game for long periods of time but he's got that moment of magic he can produce."

Shaqiri was the top scorer available to Petkovic in the summer, and their most experienced midfielder or attacker despite his age.

They have a lot of other talented performers in their ranks, but a team that is used to a performer with his attributes does have to re-adjust when it's unavailable.

It does present a slight dilemma for McCarthy too in the sense that he might have fancied Glenn Whelan to have a bit of an inside track when it comes to the movement of his former Stoke colleague. Still, Switzerland have to come up with a plan at short notice too and the storm will ensure that Petkovic has a shadow hanging over him throughout the run-in if things aren't going well.

Ireland must pounce on this sign of weakness.

Irish Independent

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