ANALYSIS: ‘Tinkerman’ off the wagon as West Ham win again

Alan O’Brien 

Claudio Ranieri all but banished his “Tinkerman” moniker upon leading Leicester City to improbable heights in 2016. The over-rotation of his Chelsea tenure gave way to consistency of selection at the King Power Stadium, much to the surprise of Ranieri’s many media detractors. But tinkering, apparently, is a habit that’s hard to break. And, much to West Ham United’s delight, the Italian very much fell off the wagon at half-time here. Continue reading

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COMMENT: Much-maligned McCarthy is no idealist…and that’s a good thing

Alan O’Brien 

“Two old farts who know nothing about the game, eh?” So spoke Mick McCarthy back in August of 2017, shortly after his Ipswich Town side had maintained their perfect start to yet another arduous Championship campaign. Level on points at the summit with Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City, McCarthy couldn’t resist the opportunity to needle at his detractors in typically wry fashion. Four straight wins had earned him the right, in his eyes, to fire another bullet at disgruntled Portman Road attendees, many of whom had long grown weary of his not particularly eye-catching brand of football. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Southgate outsmarts Dalic to avenge semi-final sorrow

Alan O’Brien 

What a shame this England didn’t show up in Russia last summer. Firmly wedded to their fatally flawed 3-3-2-2 system, Gareth Southgate and Steve Holland threw away their country’s best chance of winning a World Cup in decades. Blessed with acres of space, Croatia’s free full-backs eventually decided June’s semi-final at England’s expense. And, in September, Spain’s Dani Carvajal and Marcos Alonso ran riot throughout the Three Lions’ opening day Nations League reverse. For Southgate, that deflating Wembley defeat finally heralded a long-overdue tactical change-of-heart — and not a moment too soon either. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Over-elaborate Eagles miss their chance again

Alan O’Brien 

As soon as news of Wilfried Zaha’s absence filtered through, this result had fait accompli written all over it. Crystal Palace have lost the last 11 Premier League games Zaha has missed, after all. But Tottenham Hotspur were anything but fluent in victory here; again. And Palace, if they were not so insistent upon playing into their visitors’ hands, could well have made them pay.

Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Unbalanced Arsenal outgunned by pacy Palace

Alan O’Brien 

Only five Premier League sides have conceded more shots, on a per-game basis, than Arsenal. No Premier League club has outperformed their expected-goals tally more than the Gunners either. Nonetheless, Unai Emery’s side remain in fourth, having extended their unbeaten run to eight games with an extraordinarily fortunate draw at Selhurst Park.

It’s fair to say therefore that in the Spaniard, Arsenal may have found themselves a lucky general. Emery’s work-in-progress transformation holds great promise, but well-worn vulnerabilities still persist. Crystal Palace are just the latest side who failed to prevail upon them fully. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Reasons to be cheerful persist for luckless Hammers

Alan O’Brien 

Shorn of nine senior players, West Ham United nonetheless edged out Leicester City prior to Mark Noble’s ill-judged lunge. That the Foxes required a massive last-minute deflection to restore parity speaks highly of Manuel Pellegrini’s hamstrung Hammers, whose growing cohesion confers great credit on the under-fire Chilean. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: O’Neill’s fishes out of water flop again

Alan O’Brien 

Speaking on Monday afternoon, Martin O’Neill rubbished suggestions that several players played out of position throughout Saturday’s deadlock with Denmark. “The only player we had playing in a position where he doesn’t normally play is Cyrus Christie, and he was man of the match,” he said. Perspective, of course, is all relative; Christie, in the eyes of most, looked all at sea in an unfamiliar central midfield role.

Awarded man of the match for, presumably, exacting Ireland’s only shot on target, the Fulham full-back was one of four square pegs crammed into round holes against the Danes; Callum O’Dowda, Harry Arter and James McClean the others. Their number dwindled to three against Wales on Tuesday, but they still let their side down — thrown to the wolves by an incompetent manager long past his sell-by date. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Dreary Denmark deadlock does weary Irish fans no favours

Alan O’Brien 

“We want to be on the front foot,” Martin O’Neill insisted to Sky Sports before kick-off. “We have certain players here who I think will adjust. This is an opportunity while we’re playing at home to go on the front foot.” Continue reading

PREVIEW: O’Neill likely to play into Hareide’s hands again

Alan O’Brien 

Having experimented with 3-5-2 in three of the Republic of Ireland’s last four friendlies, Martin O’Neill looks likely to give the system its competitive bow on Saturday. Age Hareide, mastermind of Denmark’s 5-1 triumph in Dublin last November, must be licking his lips. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Cavalier Cottagers leave no-one minding the house

Alan O’Brien 

To say Fulham went all-in during the summer would be something of an understatement. Promoted as the Championship’s top passers, the Cottagers faced a stark choice: stick to their guns, with the same players, and go straight back down; stick to their guns by signing a whole new side at great expense; or foist a more defensive style on a squad wholly unsuited to such. In the end Slavisa Jokanovic plumped for option two, spending upwards of £100m before the transfer window slammed shut. But, two months on, the Serbian is still no closer to moulding Fulham’s 11 newbies into a cohesive unit. Continue reading