Danny Gabbidon column: Republic of Ireland v Wales a fascinating duel

Danny Gabbidon

The onus is on Wales to win their crucial World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland on Friday, 24 March, and I expect it to be a fascinating tactical battle in Dublin.

The Republic of Ireland are in the driving seat at the top of Group D, two points ahead of second-placed Serbia and a further two ahead of Wales in third.

Chris Coleman's men will have to take risks and attack, as they're the ones who need to make up ground.

That will play right into Irish hands in Dublin because, like Wales, they're a team who prefer to play on the break.

So how can Wales triumph in what is a must-win game?

Ramsey and Wales' stars must step up

Aaron Ramsey
Aaron Ramsey missed Wales' first three 2018 World Cup qualifiers because of injury

Wales often struggle when teams sit back and defend deep, denying them the chance to counter-attack quickly.

We've seen that in their World Cup qualifiers so far - particularly the draws against Georgia and Serbia - and Northern Ireland frustrated them during Euro 2016 as well.

For years Wales have been the underdogs, happy to sit back and use the pace of Gareth Bale and others to hit teams on the break.

Now, however, they are often the favourites in games and dominate possession against conservative opponents.

When that happens, they need a 'Plan B'.

Wales must be more patient in possession and, to be more effective in these situations, they need their main playmaker Aaron Ramsey to be at his best.

In the Euro 2016 semi-final, Portugal exploited Ramsey's suspension by sitting back, knowing Wales did not have the creativity to carve them open.

Georgia did the same when Ramsey was injured for their October draw but, now the Arsenal midfielder is fit again, he will have a huge role to play in Dublin.

If Ireland defend deep, Ramsey will need to step up and take control - and he may need his team-mates to get into more advanced positions too.

Joe Allen (right) with Joe Ledley
Joe Allen (right) celebrates with Joe Ledley after scoring for Wales in the 2-2 draw with Austria in October 2016

We've seen Joe Allen play in the '10' role at Stoke, just behind the striker, and he has really taken to it with six goals for his club this season.

Although he will still have to help Joe Ledley with the defensive midfield work, it may be that Allen has to move forward and ease the creative burden on Ramsey.

Wales' tried and trusted

Apart from the odd little tweak - such as Allen playing in a more advanced role - I can't see Wales doing anything differently to what they've done in recent years.

Suspensions and injuries meant Coleman switched to a 4-4-2 formation in November's draw with Serbia but, with a full-strength squad at his disposal now, I think he'll go back to his favoured wing-backs system in Dublin.

Ben Davies has impressed at left wing-back for Tottenham recently, but I think he'll stay in his usual position for Wales on the left side of the back three.

I expect the rest of the team to be as it was during Euro 2016. Wing-backs Neil Taylor and Chris Gunter will need to push on and, as mentioned earlier, I think Ramsey and Allen will need to be at their creative best in midfield.

Wales team graphic

Long and the Irish threats

Ireland are going to make life difficult for Wales.

Like their opponents, the Irish are well-organised and have a really strong team spirit.

They're also very hard-working and physical, so they could be a big threat from set-pieces, which has been a weakness for Wales in recent years.

I can tell you from experience, their striker Shane Long can be a handful.

He's a tireless runner, he's strong in the air for his size and you have to be wary of him in the box - because he can be clever in drawing fouls.

Danny Gabbidon challenges Shane Long (left)
Danny Gabbidon faced Shane Long (left) when Crystal Palace beat Hull 1-0 in January 2014

Jonathan Walters has a lot of those qualities as well and, together with Long, he could be a thorn in Wales' side.

They will try to turn the Welsh defenders as often as possible, and they will make runs into wide areas to stretch Wales' back three.

As a centre-back, you don't want to get pulled out of position - you would much rather mark a big target man who stays in the same place.

So Wales captain Ashley Williams and his fellow central defenders will have to be on top of their game against two tricky forwards.

This match will be more like a Premier League fixture than an international game in terms of pace and intensity.

The pressure is on Wales after a slow start to the campaign but, with their big players all back and available, it's up to their stars to step up and deliver.

Danny Gabbidon was speaking to BBC Wales Sport's Dafydd Pritchard.

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