Statistics reveal predictable and ponderous Republic
ANALYSIS:The facts, sadly, speak for themselves and underscore the main problem: lengthy build-up and defence, writes BRIAN KERR
WHEN THE hopes and dreams of a wonderful odyssey in Poland were rocked early in Poznan, then smashed completely in Gdansk, all we were left with was the chance at some form of redemption against Italy. And then nothing at all.
Meeting disenchanted, long-suffering supporters as they headed for home, their annoyance and frustration was palpable. But at least they left a positive impression on the tournament.
Sometimes I wonder how accurate their view and subsequent analysis of the games can be, given the extent of their pre-match alcohol in-take. But in sober mode they are, for the most part, knowledgeable and knew where the blame ultimately lies.
Like many, I feared the team would be outplayed against these three group opponents. The Croatia game was always going to set the tone. The 3-1 defeat overshadowed some pretty positive statistics. Croatia had 55 per cent possession with a pass completion of 68 per cent to our 61 per cent. Goal attempts are even closer: 13 for us, 14 for them.
Who knows how it all may have gone had we not conceded so disastrously, especially the Croats’ crucial third goal early in the second-half.
Also, coughing up goals at set pieces went against all Trap’s theories. But the warning signs were there much earlier. The frequency of chances created by Hungary in our last warm-up game was unsettling to say the least. The general lack of energy in the team indicated tiredness or overtraining. It’s hard to know which, but the last week of training before Croatia did not cure the problem.
I presume these would have been low-key sessions, set piece details and working on sharpness. But mainly resting.
Yet, we lost almost every 50-50 ball against Croatia. That said, I wouldn’t be too convinced by suggestions that the players were overcooked. Players are always likely to whinge about something – training, facilities etc – when confined to barracks for a prolonged period.
I just think the little details, which Trap always refers to, didn’t work out so well.
The additional staff were not held as a priority either; the shortfall in compensation for five weeks in camp did not do anything for staff morale. At least the players divvied out some of their bonus for qualification.
Just another little detail. The big detail of the manager’s qualification bonus wasn’t an issue.
Anyway, once the Croat game was lost the rest was inevitable. We have to be realistic: the greatest Spanish side to date and a resurgent Italy were always going to be massive tasks.
It is easy to be critical after the event. The achievement of qualification after four near misses since 2002 was admirable. But the experience of Trap and Tardelli left me hoping they would see the essential need to alter our system against Spain.
Everyone knows that 4-4-2 simply does not have a chance of holding off the intricate Spanish or Barca raids. Italy and Croatia (and Chelsea) changed from their normal style to counter them. We altered nothing.
The statistics are damning. Mostly the numbers just confirm what I, or any coach worth his salt, would have seen. Astoundingly high numbers for passes completed by Spain are nothing new: 779 passes against us for an 84 per cent success rate. Italy hit a 78 per cent success rate.
For both of these games we hit 56 per cent success rate for passes – an average of 210 passes completed per game.
To be honest, these figures can be misleading as many of the passes tend to be backwards and sideways (also Glenn Whelan’s accuracy levels are quite good but that doesn’t mean he had a good tournament).
We do know that Spain and Italy were consistently attacking against us from their shot totals of 26 and 27.
Little of this surprises me. Historically, we have always been behind these elite football nations. That will continue. Look at their players – all playing for the top teams in their respective leagues or the English Premiership.
For a period of time, several years ago now, we had large numbers at Liverpool, Arsenal and Man Utd. That’s changed, with our best players mainly playing for the middle tier Premiership clubs.
The long-ball passing numbers, mainly out of defence, again confirms what had been seen before from Ireland against inferior opposition. Possession was handed over far too easily.
The most damning statistic of all was that over the three games our five forwards – Keane, Cox, Walters, Doyle and Long – had only eight attempts at goal. Two were on target, Keane and Cox at least forced Iker Casillas into action. That was it.
The reality is they were off chasing the ball instead of positioning themselves for chances.
I think the main problem goes back to our lengthy build-up and our defensive problems. Whether it was bad luck or poor management it proved hugely detrimental to have Shay Given and John O’Shea on the field when they clearly were not fully fit.
Stephen Ward had a long and difficult season at Wolves and his lack of defensive ability at this level was exposed.
But Trap had made his mind up. The starting 11 was set in stone before the Bosnia and Herzegovina game.
That was a mistake.
I’ve no doubt some of the squad felt disregarded at that initial stage. The big job for tournament football is to make sure those not in the team are kept onside. Let them think they have a chance of playing at some stage.
Going back to the usual line-up for the last game against Italy was an insult to the other 12 players. It felt like a lack of trust in players like Stephen Kelly, Stephen Hunt, Darron Gibson and Shane Long.
These men have every right to feel aggrieved. They have all played at a good level this year and have performed for their country when selected.
So where do we go from here?
That’s up to the coach and his assistants. To revive our fortunes, they must start watching our players – in the flesh. Make room for a creative midfielder; stop being so predictable.
Pick the right players, the right system and the right shape. For all three games in Poland he got it wrong.