Trapattoni focuses on middle men
SOCCER:HIS SQUAD may still be a work in progress given the number of injuries he is having to contend with but Giovanni Trapattoni’s side was showing early signs of coming together yesterday in Malahide, where the Italian spent the morning mulling over which three from four central midfielders might start against Germany.
With scan results putting paid to any lingering hope that Glenn Whelan, Sean St Ledger (who said last night he will be out for four weeks) or James McClean might feature on Friday, Ciarán Clark was called into the squad to offer options in several areas of the pitch.
The Aston Villa defender should train this morning by which time both Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane should have touched down too.
John O’Shea, Trapattoni all but confirmed, will play in central defence rather than at right back, while Keane will lead an attack that will be supported by Aiden McGeady from one flank and either Jonathan Walters or Simon Cox from the other.
The lingering questions, it seems, are whether it will be Walters or Cox out wide; who will start at right back; and who Trapattoni will choose to complete his central midfield.
The manager made little attempt to disguise his search for an answer to the third question during training yesterday, with Keith Fahey and David Meyler taking it in turns to slot in alongside Keith Andrews and James McCarthy.
Trapattoni said afterwards he has three days to decide between the pair who, he suggested, would bring different attributes to the team, with Meyler considered physically stronger and more disciplined in terms of the formation and Fahey technically better.
Whatever he opts to do, it will be a significant departure for a coach who has never previously fielded an Ireland team that included an orthodox three- man midfield. Previous attempts at changing things in this area of the pitch have tended to involve asking a striker to drop back and lend a hand or push a midfielder into a supporting striker’s role.
Asked if he might attempt a repeat of an approach that didn’t go well for him in Gdansk where Spain simply swept through the Irish midfield, reinforced or not, Trapattoni said no.
“We need a striker who can keep the ball, play with the ball but remember it’s gone bad for us against Spain. We need to attack as well as to defend but this time I think we need a pure midfield.”
Keane’s performance against the Spaniards was hardly seen as a triumph but Trapattoni insists his skipper’s “personality” makes him an automatic choice for a game like this.
Denying the Germans space or options when they are on the ball will be vital to Ireland’s hopes of securing a result, he says.
Trapattoni put Italy’s comfortable victory over Germany at the European championships down to Cesare Prandelli’s side being so effective at curbing the German’s tremendous passing and movement when in possession.
“In Italy,” he said, “we have that quality in midfield. We have not the biggest or the strongest players there but they are quick and organised on the pitch. In England (the Premier League) they do not consider so much how to deny opponents space when they have the ball but we must do that in this game.”
He had, he said, sought to work on this aspect of Ireland’s game in yesterday morning’s training session but, he conceded, “we cannot change so much in two or three days”.
He has little option but to change quite a few things, however, and particularly at right back where he needs somebody capable of containing Lukas Podolski.
Going on previous selections Stephen Kelly is the most obvious choice, with Paul McShane another serious contender. Trapattoni did mention Marc Wilson in connection with the role before appearing to settle more favourably on Séamus Coleman because, it seemed, he might be better equipped to push forward too.
“Sometimes,” he said, “we need a defender to go like a winger. Wilson plays with geometry (stays in position well). Coleman goes. We will have to decide.”
Out wide, Cox and Walters would appear as yet to be neck and neck to start.
Joachim Loew has called Hamburg’s Heiko Westermann into his squad for the games against the Republic of Ireland and Sweden after Mats Hummels joined Lars Bender in withdrawing from the travelling party for Dublin due to injury.
Hummels was forced out with a hip injury and the manager, who was already without injured striker Mario Gomez and suspended defender Phillip Lahm for the game at the Aviva Stadium, has called up Westermann for the first time in almost two years.
Per Mertesacker is now expected to partner Holger Badstuber of Bayern Munich at the heart of the German defence while Bastian Schweinsteiger, who missed last month’s two wins due to an ankle injury will return to the team’s midfield.– EMMET MALONE