System change offers vision of future
WITH a fresh team and a different system, Giovanni Trapattoni's 31st game in charge of Ireland should prove more interesting than many of those which have gone before.
Throw in the presence of a Uruguayan side featuring eight of the starting XI in last summer's World Cup semi-final, and the punters who make their way to the Aviva Stadium should have something to chew over, even if there may be a shortage of people around to discuss it with.
Since the 72-year-old took the post at the beginning of 2008, Irish football fans have spent a large proportion of their life discussing the merits of the 4-4-2 formation and you sense that Trapattoni is exasperated by repeatedly having to answer questions on his loyalty to the method.
At the least the post-mortem from this encounter will offer a contrast. Instead, it will revolve around whether a youthful Irish side have adapted to the most fashionable formation in the modern game.
Call it what you want -- Trapattoni even managed to introduce it as 4-3-1-1 -- but the fact is that the hosts this evening will line out with four defenders, two deep central midfielders, an advanced playmaker in front of them, with two wide players roving the flanks and a lone attacker leading the line. It can be a 4-2-3-1, a 4-5-1, a 4-4-1-1 or even a 4-3-3 depending on interpretation and, more often than not, who has the ball.
Of course, Ireland haven't had the ball very much in games against teams with technical conviction and the limitations of a 4-4-2 were offered as the reason in the aftermath of the October humbling at the hands of Russia.
Uruguay, who should have no problems with retaining possession, offer a stern test under this heading. The Irish responsibility in midfield will fall to Paul Green, Keith Fahey and James McCarthy, with wingers (or swingers, as Trapattoni accidentally called them) Liam Lawrence and Andy Keogh offering support.
Green and Fahey will be deployed in front of the rearguard, with McCarthy sure to command most attention further ahead, where he will be expected to provide a creative influence and feed Shane Long. His manager's vague comparison with Michel Platini has ensured he will be judged by high standards.
Trapattoni wants the 20-year-old to make a statement, but will also stress that the best way of ensuring that is doing the simple things correctly instead of seeking to produce miracles.
"I always say that the young players need to mature this way," he said. "He must only do what he can do.
"I have said to him two or three times, that he needs confidence. He must not be shy. He must call for the ball, and be vocal. He can try things, and he can mistakes. That's alright."
Trusting the Wigan star to operate in the holding midfield role will take more time, it seems, with Fahey under scrutiny this evening.
The Irish manager still needs to be convinced that the Birmingham player has the necessary aggression, but the 28-year-old's comfort in possession under pressure was noted in the dying stages of the victory over Macedonia on Saturday evening.
"I like him," said Trapattoni. "I think for us, he can do better. In England, he is with Birmingham and they are a little bit down the table. But he is a good player, he is very assured on the ball, and he has good personality."
Green's ability to snap at opponents' heels is what endears him to management, and Fahey might have to be seen to do more in that department to get the nod for a central role long term.
Still, this represents a chance, with Darron Gibson allowed to recover from Saturday's exertions on the bench, and Glenn Whelan out of the game due to a muscular problem. Marc Wilson, another midfield option, has gone back to Stoke due to illness. Damien Delaney (Ipswich) and Anthony Stokes (Celtic) have been summoned to make up the numbers, yet they are comfortable in other areas of the park.
Circumstances have certainly forced Trapattoni's hand for this match. Eight changes from Saturday's successful XI is radical by his standards, and it was his decision to give Richard Dunne, Kevin Kilbane, Robbie Keane and Damien Duff permission to absent themselves.
The other beneficiaries are Stephen Kelly, who skippers at centre-back alongside Darren O'Dea, one of the three survivors from Saturday -- goalkeeper Keiren Westwood and right-back Kevin Foley are the others.
Ciaran Clark is on trial again at left-back. Based on club experience this season, Clark and Kelly have spent more time in each other's positions, but the Irish manager feels the Aston Villa starlet is safer out of the heart of defence for now.
"He's young and at centre-back, he might be anxious to get on the ball, that's the danger. If he makes a mistake in the box, that's a goal, but if he makes a mistake near the line then it's possible to recover," said Trapattoni.
That analysis might raise eyebrows in Birmingham, where Clark is regarded as a star of the future, yet for all that this friendly match has offered a chance for experimentation, the default pragmatism lingers.
Uruguay, ranked seventh in the world, are an opponent with pedigree. A combination of poor travel arrangements and snow were blamed for a 2-0 loss to Estonia last Friday and, while Luis Suarez is absent, the presence of Diego Forlan and the highly-rated Edinson Cavani has guaranteed that the patched-up Irish defence will encounter offensive excellence.
Similarly, at the other end, the fearless Long will encounter a steely Uruguayan defence that was as much responsible for their exploits in South Africa last summer as the high-profile goalscorers.
Centre-half Diego Lugano, who cruelly missed the semi-final defeat to Holland through injury, is prepared to put his body on the line. So is Long, as Saturday demonstrated.
He will learn from the challenge, a theme that should extend to the majority of Trapattoni's chosen troops for this Tuesday evening exercise. The result may count for nothing but the lessons could form the vision for the future.