Friday, March 27, 2009
Huge week for Irish soccer
Jumpthefence has a nagging sense of deja vu. It seems we go into nearly every Irish soccer game these days with the old 'Well we'll know a lot more about ourselves after this game' attitude. Usually, after some mishmashy draw or scrambled win, we emerge none the wiser. The popular theory is that this four days will tell us plenty about the Trap gameplan and its possibilities with this group of players and there is something defining about Bulgaria at home/ Italy away in a week. Six points equals heaven. Four points would be wonderful. Three points would be decent. Two wouldn't be halfbad. Anything less would be pretty poor. We'll see.
The thing is that Trap hasn't everyone convinced; sure, everybody wants to believe in the genial Italian but we've been bitten before and we're a little shy about caring too much (remember the early bonhomie of the Kerr era, which began to fall apart a half-hour into a home game we ought have won, gulp). The full-glass among us point to a solid (mostly) defence, a good spirit and workrate, a definite plan for the first time in yonks and a string of excellent results. The less positive will say he's been lucky with results, has failed to woo our biggest talent, failed to integrate another and has instilled a dodgy fourth-string midfield base as his spine.
Jumpthefence is in the former camp for now, trusting, much like James Lawton in today's Indo, that Trapattoni has a bit more knowledge in putting together an international side than most.He's got that stubborn streak/ belief that he's doing the correct thing by not turning up at Stevie Ireland's doorstep with flowers every evening or upsetting the balance of his side by trying to force Andy Reid's passing in. Aragones did it in euro 08 by omitting Fabregas and whipping Torres off. Benitez has done in at Liverpool, Capello with England. Trusting their instincts, and who are we to argue with them? We'd like to see Andy Reid in the squad at least as an option - it's another kick in the teeth to see Anthony Stokes called up now. He'd give us some quality in attacking areas, treading little passes through for Doyle/ Keane and perhaps add something from setpieces. But we wouldn't start him in a midfield two with two wingers outside him; Reid simply wouldn't have the legs and we'd be overrun. So it's the system he's competing with, or a place on the left/right side of midfield (or even as part of a five-man midfield) rather than Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan.
The side will stay mostly the same for Bulgaria. It seems Paul McShane will ease in at right-back to replace Stephen Kelly, probably the right call. Whelan-Andrews will start in midfield. Stephen Hunt's ability to use his energy starting a game will be tested in place of Damien Duff.
Bulgaria are clearly lacking some key players in attack - Berbatov, Boijinov, Domovchiyski - which might drain their already low confidence further. But they've a new manager which tends to raise a side's energy levels, Stilian Petrov and Angelov are a decent midfield pairing, and Georgiev and Popov are threats to Shay Given. They'll likely throw an extra body in midfield which might just swing the possession stakes their direction, something Jumpthefence is beginning to think Il Trap isn't awfully bothered about.
There's a lot of similarities between Trapattoni's thinking and Benitez's at Pool. Trapattoni's first thoughts - fair enough, we're not blessed with serious technical skills like a Spain or Croatia - are to be set up solidly, to make it difficult for opponents to score and then try and nick goals here and there from certain positions. Thing is, we've a record of coughing up sloppy goals and we don't have a Gerrard or Torres up front.
For tomorrow, we're thinking Bulgaria are surely fragile (Ireland going ahead would probably kill them), but might have enough fight and pride to dig in for a scrap. Ireland lack a bit of creativity. It could well be a Liverpool-like struggle to break a side down and end something like 0-0 (we hope not, we're heading up tomorrow morning). Hey, we won't argue with the consenses - this (should) go a long way to telling us more about this era.