It’s pretty pointless talking about Spain – everyone knows how good they are and how good they play – so I’ll just focus on Ireland, back to front.
Shay Given isn’t fit. He’s older, a bit slower than he was, but even with that it’d be ok if he was operating at 100% capacity, which he isn’t. He’s off the pace, struggling with goal kicks (which he stopped talking late on against Croatia, a really bad sign), late to many balls he should be getting to, poor at marshalling his defence for set pieces, just not fit. He should have stopped Torres’ first effort, by getting his arms moving a fraction faster than he did. He was close to contact on the ball anyway, faster and he would have made enough contact to deflect it. He did not.
I’ve been told that this criticism is “nitpicking” from some, but that’s nonsense. I’ve been watching Given play for Ireland for 16 years, so I can see a deterioration when one is clear. He’s clearly carrying a knock and he’s clearly slower than he was. Someone like Joe Hart, Neuer, De Gea, Vorm, would have saved that shot.
But that specific incident doesn’t matter because Given just isn’t fit. How insulting is this whole situation to Kieran Westwood, who must live with the fact that Trapattoni considers an injured Shay Given more reliable than him? It seems likely that Given may call it a day after Euro 2012 anyway, but it unfortunate that we must come to that point in order to put in a goalkeeper who might not match Given in skill, but exceeds him in fitness and lack of injury.
John O’Shea is winding down his career and appears to be getting worse and worse in every game he plays. He too is carrying a knock and just seems so slow and ponderous out there. Richard Dunne seems to be exempt from criticism on occasion, but he was poor against both Croatia and Spain, unimaginative on the ball, not marking effectively, not putting the pressure on opposition forwards. Sean St Ledger has much the same problems, but at least he has more years left. That centre paring just look so impotent and beatable when playing against the kind of opposition we find in Group C, just as they did when they played Russia at home. And over on the left is Stephen Ward, still suffering from some rabbits-in-the-headlights syndrome, showcasing his inexperience at every turn, scared of going in for challenges.
The whole defence in this tournament has shown a marked lack of organisation, especially when defending crosses or corners, a marked lack of pressing the ball when the opposition have it, a marked lack of commitment to get in tackles when they are required and simply a marked lack of belief in themselves. We all saw the heads going down after the first last night. It wasn’t good enough. That defence did not play like a team that thought they could get a result against Spain, much like they played after the third goal against Croatia. They stopped caring towards the end, more content with marking the penalty spot in the build-up to Fabregas’ goal then actually marking the opposition (seriously, watch a replay of that defending and tell me that’s acceptable).
Putting all else aside, this goalkeeper and this defence have conceded seven goals in two games. That is not good enough for this level. For the defence, it might be time to provide more starts for the likes of Kelly, Coleman and O’Dea.
The midfield then. McGeady, on the left, was fairly hapless last night, his common problem of taking too many touches or trying too many flicks when on the ball resulting in lack of supply for forwards and the giving away of possession on several occasions. McGeady is a decent player but suffers from poor judgement when under pressure. On the other side is Damien Duff, who ran his heart out and put in the understated effort that he always does, but suffered from much the same problems as he has before, sometimes seeming like a player on the field only to draw frees and pass the ball backwards.
Then the two in the middle. Whelan was his usual self, unassured, dominated, pressured on the ball, looking every bit a player who didn’t want and didn’t deserve to be there. Andrews usually joins him in that categorization, both players bypassed by Trap’s “system”, but he tried to make an impact on the game, making tackles, putting pressure on, chasing the ball.
But he and Andrews were mostly left chasing shadows, lacking the fitness and intelligence of the Spanish counterparts. The Spaniards also had more options open when it came to potential passes, were always waiting to suck Ireland in close then nip past them with ease. The midfield we have currently struggles to retain possession when they have the ball, and are dire at regaining it when they don’t. They step off too much, squander too much. In terms of changes, McClean and Gibson are likely inclusions in future, and maybe the likes of McCarthy as well. Duff, due to age, and Whelan, due to lack of ability, should no longer be called upon.
The forward line then. Simon Cox was played in a poor position behind Robbie Keane. That was a situation where the roles should have been reversed. He tried, got a good shot off in the opening minutes, but ultimately couldn’t do much as a supplier. He was unable to really make a mark on the game. I would not charge him too harshly on this performance. Robbie Keane had some good touches on the ball but was so isolated as to be beyond useless, a poor target man who couldn’t get the opportunities he needs. He would have been better served as an extra midfielder.
Obvious changes to be made here as well, as Trap should bid a fond farewell to the aged Keane and bring up Long, Walters and Cox to be main players.
The subs? McClean got his 15 minutes, probably a sop to Tarpattoni’s critics more than anything. He made some decent runs with the brief time he had. I can’t really judge him too much, and to do so would be horrendously unfair. Walters didn’t make any impact on the game worth nothing, stuck in the Cox role that was similarly ineffective in the first half. Then, Paul Green, perhaps the most undeserving player to be part of Euro 2012 total, badly at fault for the fourth goal.
We have a game against Italy, a “dead rubber”, before we look ahead to qualification for Brazil 2014. It is time for the old guard – Given, Dunne, O’Shea, Duff, Keane – and the unexceptional – St Ledger, Whelan, Andrews – to be told to step back. Westwood, Kelly, O’Dea, Gibson, McClean, Walters, Long should all start against Italy. Foley, McCarthy, Wilson, maybe even Stephen Ireland (I know, I know) should be considered after that. They are the future of this team. The others should be applauded and sent packing. Rebuilding starts here.
And that rebuilt team should be one that puts pressure on the ball, that does not lump aimless long passes to ineffective target men, that does not bypass the central midfield, where the central midfield, in fact, makes their mark on the game, a team that attacks, that strings more than three passes at a time together, that does not sit back at home. We have the players, in this squad and outside of it, who can pass the ball, who can attack, who can pressurise if we would only let them.
We could play football, instead of watching another team do it.
It is not secret that I dislike the way Trapattoni plays football, and I do not think he should be manager of the team anymore. I doubt that is something that will actually happen, but Trapattoni should be made to answer for a number of things.
-Why was there no “Plan B” for when Ireland went behind?
-Why did he put Simon Cox on in a left winger role against Croatia?
-Why did he put Simon Cox in a midfield role against Spain?
-Why did he decide Paul Green merited an appearance against Spain over the likes of Darren Gibson?
-Why does he persist in playing Robbie Keane as a lone target man?
-Why did Given play? Why wasn’t Westwood considered?
-Why is he saying publically that he has no intention of playing certain people?
-Why are some players – McCarthy, Coleman, Gibson, Long, Westwood – being frozen out beyond all sense of reason?
-Why should we keep you in the job? How will you get Ireland to a World Cup?
-Why haven’t we beat teams ranked higher than us after 12 attempts? (Competitive record under Trapattoni: W 0, D 8, L 4)
-Are you really worth it?
I could go on and on, but I’m saying nothing that isn’t obvious (and has been for a while).
This is not the total disaster that some might make it out to be. Ireland were always going to be up against it. But it was predictable, and crucially, it was preventable, in my opinion. We have starters who are undeserving, subs that should get a chance but don’t, and oh so many players who could well wonder “Did I piss off the manager at some point?”. Trapattoni is famously rigid and set when it comes to selection and tactics. Well, he must either evolve or seek other opportunities.
I insist upon ending positively. We will recover. Believe in that. The coming qualifying campaign see’s tough tasks against Germany, Sweden and Austria, but it can be done. Beyond that, the expanded European Championships will provide ample opportunities for qualification to major tournaments. We have good young players. We have good fans. We have the opportunities.
For now, the only task, regardless of the team that starts, is to put in a good performance against the Italians.
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