Sunday 25 February 2018

Austria in turmoil: Four key issues that swing crucial World Cup clash in Ireland's favour

Stoke boss Marcel Koller; Arnautovic (left) and Alaba (right)
Stoke boss Marcel Koller; Arnautovic (left) and Alaba (right)
David Alba will be central to Austria’s hopes when he renews rivalry with Jeff Hendrick on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It's a massive game in the Aviva on Sunday and Daniel McDOnnell looks as four areas where the Austrians and struggling.

The Strife

Preparations have not gone well for Austria. The creative Stoke player Marko Arnautovic is suspended and so is another regular, Stefan Ilsanker.

Goalkeepers Robert Almer and Andreas Lukse are unavailable. Ramazan Ozcan, who was between the sticks for Ireland's win last November, has opted to concentrate on his club career.

Heinz Lindner, whose last competitive outing was the 2-2 draw in Dublin in 2013, is in line to play.

Red Bull Salzburg defender Andreas Ulmer was a candidate to play but is getting married and his refusal to move the date did not please national team boss Marcel Koller.

Midfielder Alessandro Schoepf and starting striker Marc Janko have picked up setbacks that have ruled them out; the latter has been struck down by tonsillitis.

Koller knows the stakes are high here. He opted not to play a friendly before this game, with his players simply reporting for duty with Dublin in mind.

They are in Vienna this week after a training camp in Stegersbach. Austria are four points off the top pair and know that defeat would effectively end their hopes of participating in next summer's World Cup.

They are suffering a hangover from flopping at Euro 2016 when they were viewed as outside candidates to go to the latter stages following an outstanding qualification period.

Koller has tried to put an optimistic spin on his depleted panel. "If I look at this positively, it can be a starting point - a chance to see players who don't often get the chance with the national team. That competition can push us forward."

The Star

David Alaba is the marquee name, the young star of the two meetings in 2013 where his goals basically sealed Giovanni Trapattoni's fate. The majority of Austria's squad play in the German Bundesliga - 13 in total - but the Bayern Munich employee is the only one at a top-seven club.

It means there is a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the captain and it hasn't always rested easily. He has made his name as a left-back but prefers to play midfield for his country even though Koller could do with him in his favoured brief.

And he suffered in the miserable Euros, publicly expressing surprise when Koller's first sub in a scoreless draw with Portugal was to withdraw his marquee name.

It's unclear where Alaba will feature on Sunday. He suggested earlier this week that the final call would lie with the gaffer. "You're asking the wrong person," he said. "That's a decision for the coach - where he feels I can best help the team."

The System

Koller's problems at left-back - with the retirement of Leicester's Christian Fuchs a factor - have influenced a shift to three at the back.

They went with a 3-4-3 against Moldova in March and adopted a similar system in one half of a friendly with Finland. It's possible that they could switch to a 3-5-2 at the Aviva.

Fifteen of Austria's squad have ten caps or fewer so Koller will be looking to some inexperienced figures to implement his strategy, although a likely back three - Watford's Sebastian Prodl, Bayer Leverkusen's Alexsandar Dragovic and Augsburg's Martin Hinteregger - have been around the block.

The erratic Kevin Wimmer (below) of Spurs is another option.

Seamus Coleman tackles Austria’s Kevin Wimmer in what was a battling display by the Donegal man yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Another Leverkusen player, Julian Baumgartlinger, is a seasoned performer and part of the midfield strategy although his head was all over the place in Vienna where he committed a series of fouls.

Werder Bremen rookie Florian Grillitsch is a contender. In fact, Bremen could have three players involved in the game with Zlatko Junuzovic and Florian Kainz expected to feature.

The Strikers

Where do the goals come from?

With Janko out, Koller's three strikers are all looking to break their duck at this level. Five of their eight goals in the campaign to date have been scored by Janko and Arnautovic.

Therefore, they will need to find inspiration from a new source. Schalke's Guido Burgstaller should come into the spotlight.

He had an unremarkable spell with Cardiff, signing a three-year contract for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the summer of 2014 which was basically torn up the following January when he left the club by mutual consent.

Burgstaller went to Nurnberg in Germany's second tier where he rebuilt his reputation and Schalke came calling in January.

He scored 26 goals in all competitions this term with 12 of those in the colours of Schalke, including a Europa League win over eventual finalists Ajax.

Koller has also drafted in Austrian-based Deni Alar who is uncapped but has performed well for Graz. Hamburg's Michael Gregoritsch is the other recognised front man.

Martin Harnik is primarily known as an attacking midfielder but the long-serving squad member can deputise up top and did grab an injury-time goal against Moldova in March.

That came on a night where they struggled to break down the bottom seeds until Arnautovic picked the lock with a quarter of an hour remaining.

They will miss his ingenuity. Without him, Ireland have no reason to be afraid. Austria remain a tough opponent, but this is the ideal time to play them.

Irish Independent

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