Slim pickings for Trapattoni
EMMET MALONEon why the opening weekend of the Premier League offered only limited hope for the Ireland boss
WHAT WITH those odd weekends in Wolverhampton now looking a little less attractive than they did last season, Giovanni Trapattoni looks set to be digging in more than ever back at home with his satellite box and DVD remote controls over the coming months.
The Italian, who is expected to name his squad for the first game of his third qualifying campaign in charge of the Republic of Ireland early next week, has never exactly talked up the depth of talent available to him and last weekend’s first round of Premier League games won’t have done much to cheer him up.
Barely a team and bench’s worth of players eligible to play for Ireland started for top flight English clubs over the course Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Of those who did, none featured at any of what might be considered a title contender and around a third are not, for one reason or another, either immediately available, or of any interest to the veteran manager.
In the circumstances, his cash-strapped employers may at least take some consolation from the fact he is not going to cost them an awful lot in airfares between Italy and England over the course of the coming campaign.
There were, of course, some obvious positives for Trapattoni. Damien Duff scored, John O’Shea played an important role in Sunderland’s clean sheet at the Emirates and, while he may have been eclipsed by some of his team-mates, Darron Gibson turned in a solid display for Everton as they beat Manchester United on Monday evening.
On the tactical front, the Italian might, if he cares to look again, be interested to see that more Premier League clubs at the weekend played 4-2-3-1 in their first outing of the new season than 4-4-2, the system he has repeatedly insisted he will stick with because, in effect, it is the only one his players know.
As it happens, a couple of the clubs at which Ireland is best represented do lean towards the more traditional approach but the likes of Ciaran Clark, James McCarthy and Shane Long all played in teams that sought to embrace something different.
Of the three, only Long ended up on the winning side and his contribution may be better remembered for the terrible penalty he missed rather than the two he earned for West Brom.
Still, it wasn’t the quality of the performances, which were mixed, that is the real concern but rather the quantity of players who were centrally involved, with Keiren Westwood and Stephen Kelly amongst those to miss out completely while Joey O’Brien and Seamus Coleman made only fleeting appearances.
A couple of others were injured and quite a few regulars are in the Championship now, but even at that level there must have been some frustrated Irishmen with Stephen Hunt, for instance, unlikely to stay quiet for too long if he is left warming the bench for Wolves.
For all that, though, Trapattoni will almost certainly have come away having viewed week one of the campaign as a satisfying enough one from his perspective given events at Goodison Park on Monday night.
Quite apart from Gibson’s contribution to the home side’s win and Coleman’s late cameo, it was the fact that a team considered rank outsiders for victory before kick-off ended up prevailing thanks to a performance brimming with passion and collective self belief that will have pleased the Italian.
They did it using a 4-4-2 formation too (well, about as close to one as Ireland tend to use) with Marouane Fellaini operated to devastating effect between the team’s midfield and Nikica Jelavic.
Manchester United employed the more interesting system (4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or something somewhere in between depending on who you want to believe) but Everton reminded us that if you impose your game on your opponents then they will have problems regardless of the initial shapes adopted.
Having tinkered with things a little in Belgrade with positive but scarcely compelling results, Trapattoni will most likely revert to his standard approach for the game in Kazakhstan and don’t be surprised if he holds Everton’s performance up as evidence of his regularly articulated claim that there is nothing inherently wrong with 4-4-2 . . . it just requires the players employed to play it well.
Clearly, Ireland could do, on the strength of the other night, with a Fellaini but then the Belgian international did not turn in many performances of that calibre last season and may not play as well this season.
More to the point, the team needs the likes of Gibson and O’Shea to reproduce their club form for their country, players like McCarthy and Marc Wilson to be more effectively integrated into the set-up and a Trapattoni to maximise the value of whatever limited pool of talents he has available to him, even if that means him having to engage in a bit more travel and talk.
Certainly as he prepares to embark on the new campaign, his Irish set-up has its fair share of flaws but the system need not be a fatal one.