Trap feeling exposed after withdrawals leave Irish bare
AS he settles into his seat in the Gannon Park press room, Giovanni Trapattoni makes small talk about the weather.
Outside, it is a cold, grey day. In the context of an injury-strewn weekend, it serves as an appropriate metaphor.
He didn't envisage the build-up to Friday's showdown with Germany kicking off with the loss of two stalwarts. The Italian likes the comfort of familiarity and he trusts Sean St Ledger and Glenn Whelan. Add the loss, for various reasons, of Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Kevin Doyle and you can understand why the 73-year-old feels more exposed to the elements than usual.
The first day of an international gathering is generally the shortest on the training ground. Exertions are limited for those feeling the effects of weekend action, and they are often back in their Portmarnock hotel within an hour.
Yesterday was different. There was serious tactical work to do. After last month's friendly win over Oman, Trapattoni confirmed he was seriously thinking about taking on the Euro 2012 semi-finalists with three orthodox central midfielders. In the past, Ireland have attempted to counter a numerical imbalance in that department by increasing the brief of a second striker.
The original game plan for this week involved the deployment of Whelan, Keith Andrews and James McCarthy from the outset. When Whelan damaged his hamstring at Anfield on Sunday, the alarm bells rang.
In Trapattoni's mind, the Stoke man is the hardest of the three to replace.
"It's correct to say he's a big loss," he sighed. "I said earlier that we have somebody for every position (in case of injury) but I think Whelan is the exception. There's nobody who plays his exact role. We have Andrews and McCarthy and Keith Fahey but it's a little bit different.
"And it's a bigger loss now because of the opponent."
His point is that he needs someone who is capable of sitting in front of the back four because that's where Germany's Real Madrid star Mesut Ozil tends to do the most damage. Ozil will take some stopping.
The most famous nullifying job of Trapattoni's era came in a friendly in Liege, back in June 2011, when Andy Keogh made life uncomfortable for Andrea Pirlo, although the caveat is that it was a friendly.
A key difference is that Pirlo enjoys dictating in front of his own defence so Keogh, operating as a withdrawn second striker, was in the right place to pester. With Germany's danger man expected to influence things further up the park, Trapattoni appears to have accepted that he will need more than a makeshift front man to cope.
Therefore, he did some work on the training ground with a line-up featuring Andrews, McCarthy and a third engine room option. Fahey and David Meyler rotated that role, and the manager spoke afterwards in a manner which suggested Whelan's unavailability has forced him to choose one of the ex-League of Ireland pair.
"They have different geometry," he said. "Meyler likes to show, and he can head the ball. He is taller. The other is technical, Fahey. He plays with personality, which is important. We need to start with a clear idea in midfield."
Adding another midfielder to the mix means one less attacker, but Trapattoni stressed immediately that his skipper Robbie Keane, who begins his preparations today along with fellow long-distance traveller Aiden McGeady, will lead the line.
The last time Keane flew solo was in Euro 2012, when Simon Cox was tasked with helping out Whelan and Andrews. It didn't work so well, and Keane struggled to provide an outlet for a team under pressure. Trapattoni referenced the Spain game yesterday, but the meaning was unclear; some of his statements hang in the air without a natural conclusion.
"Remember, it's gone bad against Spain," he reflected. Considering it came out in the train of thought accompanying his support for Keane, perhaps it is recognition that the LA Galaxy star requires better service if he is to be placed in a similar scenario again.
"With 4-3-3, we have one striker. We have Robbie. The Germans have respect for him. Then there is the other two. One is McGeady, and then we have also Walters, and also Cox," he continued with reference to the wide roles. James McClean's hip injury means that Trap won't have to field questions about the Derry native this week.
Furthermore, he confirmed that form man Shane Long will be sprung from the bench, feeling that his pace will be more effective in the second half when the Germans won't be happy to see him coming. "This is a game where the substitutes will be very important," Trapattoni asserted.
A late cameo may also represent Seamus Coleman's best chance of a competitive debut. In training, a back four of Stephen Ward, Darren O'Dea, John O'Shea and Stephen Kelly went through their paces. Of course, that can vary between now and Friday night, but with O'Shea moved inside to compensate for the loss of Dunne and St Ledger, a radical change at right-full seems improbable.
Still, Trapattoni did recognise that Coleman is a viable option at right-back now with the experience of a month in that position at Everton under his belt.
"We have to think about the opponent," he said. "They are very dangerous. They have Podolski on that side. So we have to evaluate if the Germans are so strong that we have to focus on that and defending."
That should tilt the balance towards Kelly, although Coleman could see action at some stage, even though this manager rarely changes his defence mid-game. Ciaran Clark, a welcome late call-up, may have to wait longer for a taste of qualifying action.
Germany have their problems too, with Joachim Loew travelling without a number of his favourites. The problem is the big guns have the strength in depth to deal with the consequences.
Trapattoni, on the other hand, has three days to figure out a solution.