Crazily, we seem to be back to the old 4-4-2 formation
This squad shows a preponderance of players with struggling clubs, writes BRIAN KERR
These are worrying times for Giovanni Trapattoni. Where once we had at least boringly consistent selections for our first XI, now we just don’t know who or what is coming next.
To be fair to the coach, while the ignored Stephen Reid, Joey O’Brien and Stephen Kelly are all back in regular action in the Premier League, his other options are no longer entrenched in – or even near – the top English clubs. A glance through the squad for this game shows a preponderance of players with clubs struggling in the lower regions of the Premier League or Championship. And the reality is, most are Championship quality.
Trapattoni has a sudden penchant for going to the odd game in England, his travels taking him to watch the likes of Derby County, Millwall and Hull to evaluate our current talent. I’ve done a bit of Derby, Millwall and Hull myself, but never came away with a new trio from any one of those clubs – as Trapattoni has done with Richard Keogh, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Sammon from Derby.
All three have some potential, perhaps Hendrick the most, but little of Sammon’s past career has suggested to me a player ready to take the fight to, say, Sweden or Austria in March. I hope he proves me wrong tonight. But it’s a pity Anthony Pilkington is not available, now that Trapattoni has discovered where Norwich is, his physicality could have been an asset in Stockholm.
For the Italian, only the results against the Swedes and the Austrians should matter now, tonight’s game should specifically be about getting as close as possible to a formation, style and personnel for those crucial competitive games.
The absence of Séamus Coleman, Richard Dunne and Seán St Ledger is not helping on the personnel side, and it’s the defensive side that is the most worrying.
Let’s start in goal. Again we’ve lost some goalkeeping options, with few playing at a standard that would inspire confidence. David Forde’s selection ahead of the non-active Keiren Westwood has some merit, except for the fact that he has looked short of the quality required for this level throughout his career.
Going back to Shay Given at this stage may be the best option, until Westwood starts playing regularly. Shay hasn’t been playing regularly either, but he, at least, got a few games in the League and FA Cups. After the March games we have until September to sort this quandary out, the Faroes in June shouldn’t be a problem.
The central defensive options, outside of the absence of Dunne and St Ledger, are equally spartan. While John O’Shea has regained form at Sunderland, Ciarán Clark is taking a battering with the rest of the Aston Villa youngsters, and after that the options have come up short in the past, like Darren O’Dea and Paul McShane.
But the core issue, again, is will our coach adapt the shape of the team away from his beloved 4-4-2? Against Germany, a haphazardly instructed midfield was torn apart. But it was back to 4-4-2 in the first half against Greece, James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan again outplayed and outnumbered, until Wes Hoolahan was introduced at half-time to rescue a bit of possession, while adding real creativity.
Crazily, to me, it looks like we’re back to 4-4-2 again tonight – unless Robbie Brady or Shane Long is used to make it a 4-3-3. We’ll see – but I doubt it.
If not, we will face a similar tactical conundrum tonight to the one Sweden will provide: Sitting midfielders allowing both full-backs to attack and support the wingers, a flexible, mobile, 4-2-3-1 with a talismanic centre forward – tonight Robert Lewandowski, in March Zlatan Ibrahimovic. So, again, less possession in midfield and frustration for our front two.
We’re in transition now, our staff and players have to adapt to the changing style of formations in the modern game. The battering ram methodology employed in Kazakhstan and the tactical and physical ineptitude against Germany made me very sad.
So, Giovanni, it’s 45 days to the big game in Stockholm and I have a plea for you: I want you, like everyone in Ireland, to pick the right squad and team for Sweden, and get the tactics and formation correct.
In order to do that, why not go and spend three weeks living in England, you could move in with Marco for a while and reduce the FAI’s phone and accommodation bills. Imagine, you could average five games a week, no bother, now you’ve developed a bit of a taste for it. You would still have time for DVD-watching. It could make a difference.
See, I remember what you always said: “The little details are the most important.” This team and its arrangement won’t be good enough for Sweden. We got the runaround last time we played Poland in Croke Park, a repeat tonight won’t help the cause. But three weeks of you in England just might. It’s time to think outside your narrow box, Trap.