Formation once again as Trapattoni gets ready to modify matters
The Ireland manager has been willing to change from his rigid 4-4-2 at times, writes EMMET MALONE
THE EFFORTS made by Giovanni Trapattoni to construct a plan B for an Ireland team whose need for a decent one was cruelly exposed in Poland, have met with mixed results to date with a friendly win over Italy in Liege still the high point in the experimentation process.
The low point was the beating they took from Spain at the European Championships, although it is entirely possible that nothing that Trapattoni could have done that night would have made a significant difference to the outcome. Still, the relative ease with which the Irish were overcome by Croatia and Italy in their other two group games clearly suggested that the work should continue.
Trapattoni has, as he often points out, used various systems over the course of his generally very successful coaching career. But he quickly settled on 4-4-2 as his preferred approach with Ireland due to an assessment that on the one hand it enabled him to accommodate more of the players he rated highly and, on the other, he repeatedly says, because it was what most of them were used to playing for their clubs.
Both assessments might be considered to be contentious but they do go a long way towards explaining some of the biggest decisions that Trapattoni has made since taking charge of this Ireland team almost five years ago now.
His reluctance to change things to 4-5-1 has apparently been rooted in the view (and it is not an entirely unreasonable one) that without a second striker Ireland would struggle to pose an attacking threat.
Still, the need to settle on a way of reinforcing midfield, articulated fairly strongly by several of his players, most memorably those who played there in some of the team’s more comprehensive defeats, has obliged him to keep looking for a solution.
His first attempt was in the friendly against Uruguay early last year but sometimes there is a sense that Trapattoni tries something so as to be able to rule it out.
After coming under a great deal of pressure to start James McCarthy in a game, he threw the young midfielder into what was effectively a second striker’s role against the World Cup semi-finalists and then treated the press to a giant: “See, I told you so!” when it didn’t work out.
Similarly, James McClean was started in central midfield where nobody really had suggested he would thrive. Simon Cox replaced him not too long in and the system worked well enough but the Sunderland winger’s failure was, for the manager at least, one of the stories of the night.
The team’s most successful experimental outing was that game in Liege when the initial assessment suggested that Andy Keogh had been sent out to partner Shane Long in a two-man attack.
Gradually, though, it became apparent that the now Millwall player was dropping deep in order to limit the influence of Andrea Pirlo. The approach worked remarkably well with the Dubliner succeeding to a greater extent than some bigger names who have been handed the task since.
Against the Spaniards, Cox was asked to contribute to the defensive effort in midfield while also supporting lone striker Keane.
As it turned out, any notion that he wouldn’t have his hands entirely full with the first half of the brief against the world’s best side proved entirely fanciful.
We should not be surprised then that against the second best side in the world, Trapattoni looks set to try something slightly different: deploy a third actual midfielder.
Whether it is different enough we shall only know for sure this Friday night.