Euro 2012: O'Shea says shape is crucial against Spanish
HE has tasted a Champions League final defeat to Barcelona, so John O'Shea is a man who knows a thing or two about the danger Ireland will face in Gdansk tomorrow.
The Waterford man has practical experience of trying, desperately, to curb the threat presented by Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and he agrees with the assessment that Chelsea's European success provides a template. Put simply, ball-watching is dangerous. Shape is the key word.
"The two legs of Chelsea (v Barcelona) made it a slightly different thing, but I think the shape is going to be a crucial factor," said O'Shea yesterday.
"The way they can move the ball so quickly, you cannot be watching the ball, because if you do that, the players will just run off you, in behind, with the number of one-twos they play.
"So, for the midfield and even the wide men, the attacking players, it's about not letting players run off you freely.
"That's going to be a key thing, because if you can stop that, you stop a lot of the through balls they play in behind the back four and also from the back to the midfield. Chelsea were able to cut that off very well against Barcelona."
The 31-year-old believes that the challenge is comparable with what he faced during his Manchester United days. A counterpoint would be that Alex Ferguson had much better players at his disposal than Giovanni Trapattoni. However, O'Shea explains that the top Spanish stars are so consistent, the challenge for every team that encounters them is effectively the same.
"It's basically the same game plan," he said. "Which is about shutting them down and not letting them play or settle into any sort of rhythm. It's about coping with the fact that Barcelona and Spain tend to have an awful lot of possession, so we're going to have to learn to deal with that.
"In the majority of our games against the so-called top teams in Europe, we've been able to deal with the different problems we've encountered and look forward to doing it again."
Yet the Sunderland defender is aware that the Irish will have to do more than just put their backs to the wall and dig in.
"We know we can cause them problems on the counter," he stresses.
"It's going to have to be better from us in possession, especially going forward. This will be important -- and set-pieces as well. I think they're going to be crucial for us."