Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Future Looks Bright Under Trappatoni. Republic of Ireland To Qualify For South Africa 2010?

Life under Giovani Trappatoni has finally gotten under way. On a rain soaked pitch in on a miserable Wednesday night the Republic of Ireland came away from Norway with a credible 1-1 draw.

What makes this friendly so different than Ireland's other friendlies under the trio of Trappatoni, Brady and Tardelli, is that this was with the strongest available side.

And after being able to analyse the talent available to them, it was somewhat of a surprise to see Ireland deploy a 4-4-2 formation away from home but also to see Ireland's only real play-maker Andy Reid (Sunderland) find himself on the bench.

Given (Newcastle) made a welcome return between the posts. After Dean Kiely (West Brom) who had returned from a self imposed exile for Ireland's last two friendlies made way for the Newcastle stopper. Finnan (currently Liverpool) who had also retired from international football made a welcome return at right full back.

Kilbane who has found himself out of the Wigan team at the start of the season came in at left full with O'Shea (Man Utd) and Dunne (Man City) at centre half.

In midfield Duff (Newcastle) once again showed his versatility by playing as an out and out winger, operating on the right until late in the second half where he switched to his more natural left sided position. Aidan McGeady (Celtic) lined up on the left with perhaps the biggest surprise in central midfield where Glenn Whelan (Stoke) partnered Blackburn's Steven Reid.

This was a surprise as Trappatoni had originally named Liam Miller in the central berth but when he picked up an injury he made way for Whelan ahead of Andy Reid, much to everones surprise.

Up front Doyle (Reading) partnered Keane (Liverpool).

What really stands out with this team, is the amount of Premiership experience on show. When it's analysed in the cold light of day this first 11 should be capable of securing second place in the forthcoming group with only Italy being able to better the amount of top tier players available to them.

Against Norway Trappatoni went with an attack minded 4-4-2 with Duff and McGeady playing as two wingers and with Keane pushed much higher up the pitch than most would be used to see him playing. Doyle after a laclustre campaign under Steve Staunton showed that he possibly has what it takes to partner Keane up front by working very hard hassling the Norwegian defenders and by making some intelligent runs into the channels between the full backs and the centre halves.

What was most noticeable about Doyle and Keane was that their roles under Trappatoni seem to have been reversed with Keane higher up as the striker and with Doyle as his foil.

In midfield Steven Reid had an excellent game, at 27 he's approaching his peak but due to injuries he hasn't really played in about three years. For Ireland to qualify it's imperative that he stays injury free.

With Duff and McGeady playing quite wide and spreading the Norwegian midfield the wisdom of playing Whelan over Andy Reid showed. Whelan will never be able to match Andy Reids range of passing but he is far more tenacious in the tackle and is more defensively minded as a player.

An important asset when playing your wide players as wingers. Duff and McGeady both acquitted themselves well especially in the first half where the Irish formation caused problems to Norway and Ireland generally dominated.

In the second half Norway played five in the middle on a by now unplayable pitch and Trap resisted the urge to bolster Ireland's midfield by adding Reid or pulling Keane back. And he seemed aware of Norway's greater presence in midfield with Andresson becoming more influential, perhaps he wanted to see how Ireland would perform under pressure and how they would deal with Norway.

Problems did arise at the back with Finnan looking short of match fitness until he was replaced with Stephen Kelly (Birmingham). Kelly is without a doubt Ireland's future right full but he needs a little more experience at this level, hence Trap pursuing Finnan to come back from retirement.

It is worth noting that under the previous management both of these players were regularly played out of position with both suffering. Trappatoni seems to have the belief of playing players where they feel comfortable and not trying to complicate matters too much, tactically and positionally.

John O'Shea once again looked poor under a high ball and was caught out more than once by a simple long ball through the middle. The Man Utd player is his own worst enemy. At club level his versatility is renowned but his own game has suffered because of it. To Alex Ferguson he's priceless, a squad player who can play anywhere and is happy to sit on the bench until he gets in. For Ireland it's massively annoying.

A player of huge talent but who's a jack of all trades but a master of none. How Dunne must pray for the day that a proper partner comes forward. His last three have been O'Shea, O'Brien and McShane.

Kiely replaced Given at half time and had little to do but was left wanting when he missed the cross for Norway's equaliser.

All in all the future looks bright, there is huge room to improve. What was unusual for an Irish team was that they looked better on the ball than off the ball. This is a worrying aspect going into the qualifiers against technically superior opposition.

Traditionally Ireland have had physical teams who were capable of intimidating the opposition but this team lacks that physical presence, it also lacks the technical skills of past teams. So the manager has a huge job to do tactically.

Trappatoni has dropped clues that he may use a 4-5-1 formation away from home, this could see Keane playing deep or it could see Andy Reid or god forbid Stephen Ireland (Man City) in a attacking midfield position.

The game against Norway provided food for thought for Trappatoni, there were many positives and there are many negatives to overcome, but the gloom that had descended on Irish football after the Kerr and Staunton years finally looks to be lifting.