McCarthy can convince Trap there are options
Despite its ‘friendly’ status, tonight’s game against World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay could well turn out to be the most revealing in some time, with regards to Giovanni Trapattoni’s plans for the future.
It is not simply a case of the manager being forced to play with five in midfield, as has been suggested, because it was his decision to let four senior players leave the squad and we can presume he did so in full knowledge of where it would leave him in terms of options for tonight.
The player whose role will be fascinating to watch will be James McCarthy, given that his position, sitting off lone striker Shane Long, is essentially the difference between the 4-4-2 strategy usually employed and the more dynamic 4-5-1 that will be on show tonight.
McCarthy only got around five minutes, including injury time, when making his competitive debut against Macedonia on Saturday, but looked remarkably assured on the ball in that short space of time.
He looked a little slow to offer himself as an option, however, and this is perhaps the reason Trapattoni has stressed to him that he needs to be more vocal and confident in his ability, as he was in the build-up to his fantastic goal against Blackburn recently.
Nevertheless, his presence on the pitch against Macedonia, and that of Keith Fahey, appeared to contribute to a less nervy finish than looked to be on the cards prior to their arrival.
Both players have a real chance to stake a claim against Uruguay, given that they will be operating on either side of the opposition’s midfield line. Fahey will therefore be crucial to instigating an attack and McCarthy’s role will be to provide the polish, by either bringing the wingers into play behind fullbacks or sliding a ball through directly for Long.
Against a far superior team than Macedonia, McCarthy must show for the ball a lot quicker than he did on Saturday and Fahey must ensure his passes into the feet of the Wigan player are both crisp and accurate, because neither central defender, Diego Lugano, or midfielder, Diego Perez, will be slow to close down their hosts.
The need to get this particular facet of play right on the night, is accentuated by the fact that Uruguay possess real guile and pace going forward and are unlikely to offer Ireland as much of the ball as they enjoyed in the first half hour of Saturday’s Euro 2012 qualifier.
Much has been made about Trapattoni’s refusal to have a look at Ciaran Clark at centre-back in competition with Diego Forlan, but the former Manchester United striker has been overshadowed of late by the brilliant form of Napoli striker Edinson Cavani – the right-side threat of their 4-3-3.
He is likely to attack down Clark’s inside channel and will provide a real test for the young Aston Villa man, having scored 22 goals in 27 starts for his club this season. He is practically the sole reason Napoli find themselves three points off the Serie A lead behind both Milan giants.
Trapattoni’s reasoning behind leaving Clarke out wide was that a mistake on the wing is easier to overcome than one in or around the box. Given that neither Cavani or Palermo’s Abel Hernandez, on the other side, are wingers, it’s debatable how often they will look to go outside their markers and that could result in Ireland’s back four playing very narrow, meaning a mistake by anyone could be costly.
There is, therefore, no reason to expect Clark or Kevin Foley to get past the halfway line in any meaningful fashion, though with five in midfield that might not be missed as much as it was on Saturday.
Andy Keogh and Liam Lawrence are not the same type of players as Damien Duff or Aiden McGeady, in that beating their man is not their strength. They must look to get up the pitch in support of Long and McCarthy and offer themselves as an option behind the visiting full-backs.
It would obviously be more helpful for Ireland to have more frontliners on the pitch when this formation is tested. However, it is not right to suggest the experiment is irrelevant as a result, because it is essentially an audition for McCarthy and, to a lesser extent, Fahey.
Aside from getting Ireland moving in attack, the latter must show he can doing the niggly stuff with Paul Green and prevent Forlan from successfully dropping deep to receive the ball.
Nobody will blame the young defence if they fail to keep a potent attack at bay, but Fahey’s contribution will be closely analysed.
Most importantly, though, Trapattoni appears to believe McCarthy is the key player in any potential deviation from a hitherto copper-fastened formation.
If the young Scot can orchestrate Ireland’s attack and allow them to control more possession in midfield against quality opposition, then there might be light at the end of the tunnel for those who believe there are solutions to the chronic failings of Trapattoni’s Ireland.