Thursday 21 September 2017

Trap tears uptrusted tactics to shackle Ozil

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

SO now we have the answer.

In the recurring debate surrounding Ireland's rigid adherence to Giovanni Trapattoni's favoured 4-4-2, the Italian has always stressed that the formation is dictated by the players available.

Over the course of his four and a half years in charge, Trap has consistently asked his audience to name a player with the quality to justify changing his system.

At various stages, the names of Andy Reid, Stephen Ireland, James McCarthy and Wes Hoolahan were offered as a response. Sometimes optimistically, sometimes mischievously.

Turns out we were barking up the wrong tree. This week, that special one has finally been identified. He hails from Gelsenkirchen, Germany, and turns 24 next Monday.

His name is Mezut Ozil.

The Real Madrid playmaker is the reason why Trapattoni has changed tack this week. Marco Tardelli made that perfectly clear yesterday as he confirmed that Ireland would finally be altering their shape to cope with the midfield problem that has lingered throughout this regime.

"We put three midfielders on the pitch," he said. "And one midfielder is for Ozil."

The key element of Friday's game plan was laid out in black and white.

CONTROL

"It's because we have many injuries," continued Tardelli. "Against Germany, we play 4-3-3 as they have a big player behind the strikers, Ozil. Maybe we need a midfielder who can control and keep them in check."

The call for an overhaul has stemmed from a desire for Ireland to take a more positive approach, but, ultimately, this is a reactionary step to cope with the strengths of a superior power.

And, in the context of Friday, it makes sense. Two years ago this week, Russia came to Dublin and cruelly exposed an Irish team that had possibly been living in a state of delusion since the fallout from Paris 11 months earlier.

It took a top-level team to confirm some suspicions and, afterwards, both Richard Dunne and Glenn Whelan expressed frustration at the limitations of the tactics. The latter is loved by Trapattoni, but he has never shied away from expressing frustration at being over-run in big games due to a shortage of bodies in his neck of the woods.

Ironically enough, he gets his way in a game where he is unable to play. After opting to stick around the Irish camp to have his hamstring problem treated, Whelan watched from the sidelines yesterday as Keith Fahey auditioned for the role that he likely would have played on Friday evening.

With Keith Andrews and James McCarthy locked in to start, it's hardly a surprise that management are leaning towards Fahey in the straight fight between the Birmingham City man and David Meyler.

While the Corkman offers height and athleticism, his inexperience was apparent in last month's friendly win over Oman.

The pros were cancelled out by some rash moments, specificially a pair of mistimed tackles outside the area that a better team might have punished. As Ozil demonstrated in Sunday's El Clasico, he is capable of punishing the very best.

"Fahey has good experience," explained Tardelli. "For Meyler, it is very early because it's a very tough match and we need experienced players."

Advocates of Fahey would argue that recognition in a game of this stature is overdue. The 29-year-old has negotiated a long and winding road to here, sustaining setbacks that would have derailed a weaker character. Luckily, the Tallaght man is made of sterner stuff.

Considering he had waited so long to win a secure place in Trapattoni's affections, missing Euro 2012 was desperately bad luck. His 2012 has resembled a rush-hour traffic jam, with a recurring groin problem making it a stop-start test of patience. After lengthy recuperation, he returned to a Birmingham side that has endured a grim run under their new boss, Lee Clark, with a 5-0 home defeat to Barnsley representing the nadir.

The profile that accompanies this week is a contrast from life at a struggling Championship club that is up for sale.

This is arguably the biggest test of Fahey's career in the green jersey. In previous competitive outings, he has generally started out wide or found himself called into action late on to steady the ship in the centre.

Take the Dublin win over Armenia in Euro 2012 qualifying as an example. Fahey's most notable international contribution to date was the second-half winner in Yerevan, but in the return fixture his calmness in possession was a huge help in the dying stages.

We will find out over the next 48 hours if he is the man who is out there to target Ozil. It would be a surprise if the youthful McCarthy was tasked with that responsibility, while Andrews is generally given a little bit more licence to get forward. That was certainly evident in the Euros, and with concerns about Robbie Keane being isolated, Tardelli feels that strong running from deep is required. The fear is that 4-3-3 will quickly become 4-5-1.

"We need everybody to run," he said. "And it's important we stay close to each other as a unit. If we have too much space, it's not good. If we stay closer, then it's easier to counter-attack and try to score a goal."

Someone will have to primarily sit, however, and if Fahey is tasked with that responsibility it would be a recognition of his maturity. When he was tearing it up with St Patrick's Athletic, he used to bristle at the suggestion that a lack of defensive awareness was holding him back from a move across the water. Yet it was a criticism that was constantly aimed in his direction.

In his second stint at the Inchicore club, his all-round contribution dramatically improved and, fittingly, a remarkable showing in the UEFA Cup tie with Hertha Berlin earned him the switch to Birmingham and a second chance in England.

He will encounter a better class of German opposition on Friday, but it could open another door in terms of his status within the Irish set-up. After all, if a revised strategy succeeds in curbing a world-class talent like Ozil, there should be no turning back.

Men in the middle

Mezut Ozil

Born: October 15, 1988

Club: Real Madrid

Previous clubs: Schalke, Werder Bremen

International caps: 41

International goals: 12

Keith Fahey

Born: January 15, 1983

Club: Birmingham

Previous clubs: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bluebell United, Drogheda United, St Patrick's Athletic

International caps: 15

International goals: 3

Irish Independent

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