Lawrence would seem the obvious choice on the right
IT REALLY surprised me yesterday when I heard that Giovanni Trapattoni was holding off naming Liam Lawrence or Aiden McGeady in the team, it struck me as very un-Trapattoni-like.
I doubt very much if it’s a question of playing games with the French, they will know both players anyway, so I don’t see how delaying the selection will bring any great advantage. And, besides, I don’t see Trapattoni as a game-player, he’s old school, it’s not his style.
It’s a strange one, you just wonder if there’s something else on his mind. Lawrence hasn’t started too many games for Stoke recently, while McGeady has been playing regularly, so whether that has put a doubt in Trapattoni’s mind, I don’t know.
But it will be a big decision. It’s like when Arsenal used to have Ashley Cole at left-back, Robert Pires on the left wing and then Henry up front, but usually drifting left – the key for any side playing them was to have a really strong right side, that was imperative, otherwise they could destroy you. It’s a bit like that for Ireland in this game: Patrice Evra and Henry on the left will be a real threat to us. For that reason I would have expected Trapattoni to have opted for Lawrence already.
The rest of the team pretty much picks itself, which certainly can’t be said for the French. I just don’t think Raymond Domenech has a clue what his best team is, and that was shown through the group stage when he made so many changes.
True, he has plenty of options, but he never really came close to a settled side.
William Gallas played most of the games at centre-half, but he had about four different partners, and no matter how experienced the player that never does you any favours. It just doesn’t help if you keep changing your partner, at the centre of defence of all positions.
Whether Domenech opts for Eric Abidal or Julien Escude to play alongside Gallas, who has been really good for Arsenal this season (but a lot of that has been down to Thomas Vermaelen, who has been excellent since they signed him), it is, I think, an area we can exploit. Both full-backs, Evra and Bacary Sagna, love to get forward, and that can leave them exposed at the back. We might just get some joy there.
Their attack, as we know, has a bit of everything: pace, strength, they can make a goal out of nothing, pounce on any mistake. But at the same time they like to hurdle when you tackle them, so if you get a chance to rattle them, you take it.
I would be more worried about Anelka than anyone; he’s been in excellent form for Chelsea, up there with Didier Drogba even, and Carlo Ancelotti has managed to do what no other Chelsea manager has done: he’s got Anelka to play with a smile on his face. He just seems very content with his football and his life and when he’s content he can be as good as there is. He’s a real threat to us.
And yes, they have plenty of players capable of producing moments of brilliance that could finish us off, but the key for us is to pressure them so much that any doubts or fragility that are there – and they are there – are well and truly exposed and exploited.
Make them start playing for themselves rather than for each other. We just have to play our way and make them hurry, keep them looking over their shoulders. I don’t think they have anyone in their team who can grab the game by the scruff of the neck when things are going against them and they’re struggling.
I honestly think Paris is a less intimidating game than tomorrow – equally, I suspect the French will be less worried about playing in Croke Park than in front of their home support. It struck me as strange this week that several of their players were appealing to the French to get behind them in Paris, so it is obviously something that is on their minds.
For that reason I would happily take 0-0 now, a clean sheet, keep the tie alive, and then let them cope with the pressure of a disgruntled crowd in Paris. And I think we can get a draw tonight. Sneak a goal in Paris on Wednesday and, well, you’d never know.