Saturday 24 March 2018

Brian Kerr: Ireland's best-laid plans betrayed by a rough diamond

Plenty of positives but midfield formation helped let Swedes get back into game

Sweden's forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (L) and Ireland's midfielder Glenn Whelan (C) head for the ball during the Euro 2016 group E football match between Ireland and Sweden at the Stade de France stadium in Saint-Denis on June 13, 2016. Photo: Philippe Lopez/Getty Images
Sweden's forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (L) and Ireland's midfielder Glenn Whelan (C) head for the ball during the Euro 2016 group E football match between Ireland and Sweden at the Stade de France stadium in Saint-Denis on June 13, 2016. Photo: Philippe Lopez/Getty Images

Brian Kerr

All that glitters is not gold. I've never been a fan of the diamond formation as it asks too much of a couple of your midfielders to keep bombing out to the wings attempting to cover whatever danger happens out wide.

James McCarthy is not comfortable doing this; essentially he is a central midfielder and it seemed hard for him to adapt to a system he is not used to. Jonathan Walters is more familiar with it but injury hampered him the longer the game went on.

The diamond can also tend to leave you light in the middle too, which ultimately means that the opposition supply-lines can accelerate to the wings.


From our eyrie's nest in the broadcast area, we could see this throughout the match but especially in the second half as Sweden finally roused themselves from their stupor in response to Wes Hoolahan's wonderful goal.

The diamond works well if you have a bountiful supply of possession which, with these sides of essentially moderate overall ability, was unlikely to be the case.

It did help Ireland when they were in the ascendancy in the first half, though, and Jeff Hendrick's work in the build-up to the goal, adding to his couple of dangerous goal attempts, demonstrated the benefit of the midfield shape.

The diamond sparkled occasionally and Ireland probably should have been rewarded for their positive performance much earlier than it transpired.

On the flipside, when the shape came under increasing pressure from the Swedes, they probably should have taken advantage earlier too - they had the chances.

Their goal came from just the latest in a series of over-loads on the right which the Swedes were seemingly creating without much effort, and it seemed strange to me why the manager left it unaltered for so long.

Psychologically, it's natural for a side to sit back a little after taking the lead. You take a breather. You re-assess. Even Germany relaxed a tad after they took the lead on Sunday and they're the world champions. Few teams continue to totally dominate after going ahead.

But after the re-assessment, a team has to respond to what the other side are now doing because they will increase the tempo, and the Irish tactical response seemed extremely sluggish.

Sweden had taken on the momentum and it never looked like we were going to push on to 2-0. We're not at that stage yet, we snatch results, the odd glorious 1-0, and that's the reality of the class of players we have.

A lot of the anxiety I had felt before the game was assuaged in the first half as I thought we settled much better than they did.

We were disciplined with set-pieces. We dealt with Zlatan Ibrahimovic for much of the piece. That had been the main worry. But we annoyed him, we got him in tackles, we hassled and harried him.

Ireland were struggling to get their passing rhythm going and the diamond was allowing Sweden to begin their exploration of the left wing, where they would eventually find reward later on.

But we created the best chances and became better on the ball and we started to get a little edge in midfield.

Ireland were sitting off at times too, not pressing in the other half, as if they were having a breather, and it was a dangerous ploy even if the Swedes were predominantly playing in front of us. It was a hint at what was to come.

There was little alarm and all the hints of danger were at the Swedish end. Robbie Brady lashed a great effort which clipped the top of the net. It showed what he is capable of if he is able to push higher up the pitch.

Ireland's energy levels were impressive and the Swedes would have been happier to see half-time, I reckon.

It could have got worse when Wes scored his wonderful goal but, instead, it spurred them on and Ireland were suddenly cowed. Sweden upped the pace considerably. The onus was on them now to change the game.

It was frantic stuff now and Ireland were hoping the game could break up a little. Martin Olsson was getting a lot of room to put crosses in as James McCarthy was struggling to get across.

At least Ciaran Clark was sticking to Ibrahimovic like a leech. But the problem wasn't fixed. There was a lot of hand signals from the bench and it was difficult to work out what precisely the message was.

When the change did eventually arrive, James McClean went to the left, when all the problems were on the right; it was only when Aiden McGeady eventually came on that some semblance of balance was restored to proceedings.

Martin O'Neill will now need a different plan to deal with a different opposition.

The 1-1 scoreline was what I predicted. Both teams had almost identical qualifying campaigns, one star striker each, decent defences. Neither have great goalkeepers.

It's not a bad point. We showed we're a team in the first half and they showed they were a team in the second half. They both had chances to win - and lose - this one.

Irrespective of the outcome against Belgium, Ireland will have a chance to qualify when it comes to the Italy game.

Irish Independent

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