Monday 20 January 2020

Stephen Hunt: Jurgen Klopp's tactics could boost Ireland's goal threat

Jurgen Klopp Photo: PA
Jurgen Klopp Photo: PA

Stephen Hunt

If there's one thing that Thursday night established, and that needs to be properly addressed starting with tonight against Moldova, it's that Ireland are still a better team without the ball.

What is really important now is that we begin to acknowledge and incorporate that trait, to make it a real positive, just like Jurgen Klopp has done. His teams are still so dangerous when the opposition have the ball. It can be done with us too.

Because, even though it was obviously encouraging to get the win over Georgia, and those games are always awkward no matter how much pre-match enthusiasm you have, there were a few things that concerned me about the performance that I think Martin O'Neill should be worried about, especially since this group could come down to goal difference.

We created barely any chances and, as a result of that, the goal we actually scored was almost like something you'd see in under 10s. We couldn't kick it in, so had to run it in! It just didn't feel like we've moved up a level since the Euros in terms of the football we played.

Of course, the intensity of those games is hard to replicate, and that's why I think O'Neill is the way he is. He's much less animated around these matches than he is for those against Germany or Italy, when he's practically jumping around on the line. Maybe that's the way he manages it, and that's why it feels a little flat now, as it did at the start of the last campaign, because he gradually builds up to it. It can mean the side are properly pumped for the big games, as was the case with the Euro 2016 qualifiers. It might be a matter of timing, and psychology. If you're ranting and raving all the time, after all, it loses effect. Instead, how animated he is has more of an impact at crucial stages.

From that perspective, I was surprised he brought on an extra defender in John O'Shea towards the end of the Georgia game. There was no danger of them scoring and sometimes an extra body can actually make you too relaxed, and leave you more susceptible to attacks. Because there's a man over, there can be a tendency to leave jobs to someone else.

Imagine, by contrast, what it would have been like if Daryl Horgan had come on? It would have enlivened the whole place.

I got a bit of stick for calling Horgan 'Humpty Dumpty' on TV the other night, but what I was trying to say was you can't judge a book by its cover. He's got good end product, and creates chances. He also plays in a 4-4-2 and that means he is physically good enough to get up and down. He's a very good footballer, and could have injected life into the night. Horgan would have got a good response from the crowd, and the rest of the team would have reacted off that. I know what that's like, having come on as a sub enough times, and it can have a massive impact on the side.

Instead, there were times on Thursday at 1-0 when the way we sat off would have made you think we were playing Germany rather than Georgia. This is exactly what I mean in terms of how we play without the ball, and how that can become an attacking virtue. I'd like to see us try a high press against Moldova, and maybe we should be a bit more disrespectful against these teams. International sides at all levels can pass around you - as we even saw with Georgia - and I think it would be nice to let the shackles off and go at them when they're on the ball, to really hound them. That actually sets a tempo that leads into how you pass it, and then naturally creates that intensity. From that, you'd also get the chances we couldn't create against Georgia.

That's exactly what we did against Italy in the Euros, so why not get into that habit? When something like that does become a habit, it is amazing the effect it can have. Again, just look at Klopp's teams. I know that O'Neill doesn't have much time with the squad, but these are approaches that are very easy to walk through, and can be done in a session or two. You can walk through the positions and go from there.

You also need something of a free-spirit player to be the trigger point, just like Adam Lallana does for Klopp at Liverpool. His running and pressing is the trigger for everyone else to run with him. That is a style we can replicate. You just have to be brave in leaving men behind you when closing down, and need team-mates on the same wavelength. That's where those sessions come in.

Because of his qualities, Shane Long can be that trigger, but he's the first man in the centre and I think number nines need their energy, so it's better to have someone in a freer role, like a number 10. Robbie Brady is probably the best candidate, in terms of being energetic and able. Of course, he's out tonight, and O'Neill has a few decisions to make with the absences.

Two up front could be an option against a side as weak as Moldova, but I'd like to see us go 4-2-3-1 with James McClean on the left, Jon Walters on the right, Long up front and then Wes Hoolahan with a bit of extra freedom to create chances. It's probably for the best then that O'Neill didn't panic and bring on Wes against Georgia, as he'll be ready now.

At the back, it's a bit of a tricky call. O'Shea's experience is so valuable but players also need to develop and, if there is a time to use inexperience at the back, it is these two games. I would still be wary of using Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark together in a big match.

I would argue, however, that we need a big win in terms of goal difference. High-intensity pressing will help that. By changing how we are without the ball, we can really get on form in this group.

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