Trapattoni keeping cards close to chest
GIOVANNI Trapattoni was in chirpy form yesterday. The intensity of the training session he had just watched put him in good form.
"You can see their energy and freshness," he said. "Their technical movement and work convinces me they are happy."
Trapattoni's demeanour would suggest he is feeling the same way, but his friend and supporter Liam Brady said recently that the Italian will be aware of the stakes ahead of Friday's encounter in Sweden.
His job is on the line and the challenge presented by Sweden will test his management skills. Trapattoni rarely keeps his cards too close to his chest, yet he is doing so this week with regard to his game plan.
The loss of senior players, some unwanted injuries, and the gradual experimentation since he escaped the sack in the Faroes means it is slightly more difficult than usual to predict the make-up of his starting team.
By now, we know we shouldn't expect anything radical, and the priority will be to avoid defeat, yet there are enough grey areas to make his work in the build-up extremely important.
THE ZLATAN PLAN
It is impossible to talk about the Swedes for too long without referring to their star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Effectively, their fortunes revolve around his well being and, by extension, Ireland's chances depend on their ability to stop him. Trapattoni sprung a surprise in the Germany game in October by selecting three central midfielders, although a spate of injuries contributed to that gamble.
He is conscious that Ibrahimovic has been dropping deeper than normal in recent Swedish games and Trapattoni has contemplated finding room for Paul Green – but has admitted that he is more likely to spring him from the bench in case of an emergency.
He is leaning against a man-marking strategy. "Not at this moment, I don't think so," he said. "I know how well he is playing but I have to think about our balance and how our strikers can put them under pressure too."
Essentially, he wants his players to defend from the front, replicating the display against Poland. Ball retention will have to improve significantly, however.
THE LONG FACTOR
The 74-year-old has only given small bits of information away about his team selection, but he has strongly indicated that West Brom striker Shane Long will kick off the game if he proves in training that he has recovered from an ankle injury. He looked sharp in training, which led Trapattoni to stress that he should be fine.
There is some previous here, of course, with manager and player having different opinions about whether Long was ready for the friendly in Serbia last August.
He's been slow to give the 26-year-old serious responsibility and, remarkably, he would be only making his third competitive Irish start on Friday if selected.
After being on the bench for the Germany drubbing, Long acknowledged that his head wasn't quite right when he came on due to his disappointment. He can be Ireland's most potent threat when on form and Trapattoni needs to build his strategy around the player's blistering pace.
THE FOIL FOR COLEMAN
With concerns about injury and form in other areas, Coleman's scintillating display for Everton in their win over Manchester City delivered a welcome dose of positivity ahead of Sweden.
The Donegal man is capable of giving the team a different dimension, breaking forward from his defensive berth to support the attack.
Trapattoni is always keen to find a balance, however, and while he partnered Coleman with Robbie Brady in the Faroes, the latter was withdrawn at half-time because he was finding it hard defensively.
With Aiden McGeady and Anthony Pilkington unavailable, his wide options are limited and he has to identify the right foil.
Andy Keogh has been drafted into the squad from outside the original party and could be a contender.
Trapattoni respects Keogh's ability to carry out instructions and consistently references the manner in which he stopped Andrea Pirlo in Liege in 2011. He did so from a central striking role, but he can cut inside from the right and support the engine room, allowing Coleman to provide width.
Simon Cox may be in pole position, but Keogh is in the frame.
This is another factor in the selection of his wingers. With McGeady unavailable, there is a decision to be made in terms of who takes control of set-piece deliveries. Glenn Whelan occasionally takes corners and there are other certain starters who have deputised on occasion, but they don't possess the quality that Brady offers in this department.
His debut outing against Oman demonstrated his capabilities, and he also came off the bench to send in the corner that Keogh steered in for the injury-time consolation against the Germans.
Nevertheless, Trapattoni has reservations over his lack of experience. James McClean has taken time to win a place in the manager's affections but is also proficient from dead balls and that could boost his case for inclusion on the left side if the boss goes with a more conservative selection on the right. He feels the Swedish are strong in the air, but set-piece preparation remains a big part of his approach.
THE PARTNER FOR O'SHEA
John O'Shea will marshall the Irish defence, assuming the senior role that was originally intended for the injured Richard Dunne.
The identity of his partner is a matter of debate, with the manager saying that he knows who he will play, but doesn't want to tell the squad because it could affect the morale of those who miss out.
He seemed certain at the squad announcement that Dunne's Aston Villa team-mate Ciaran Clark would be summoned on the strength of his Poland display and his regular involvement at club level, yet that was before Sean St Ledger came back into the Leicester side.
Darren O'Dea was also given a mention yesterday, and the reference to height could be construed as a plus for the Toronto's man's prospects considering he has been used in the past when the Italian has described an opponent in those terms.
"St Ledger is not sure to play," he said. "It's important he is fit but we can play with each other. Clark plays every game, plays well, and also scores goals.
"At the moment, we have this option, but it's good to have this difficulty with these new, younger players. Everyone in this squad deserves to play."
His judgment on who gets the nod will determine whether he gets the chance to see them develop.