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

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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: 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: Welsh wave of the future engulfs old-fashioned O’Neill

Alan O’Brien 

Martin O’Neill loves to wallow in nostalgia, to recall the halcyon days when his performances were beyond reproach. Criticisms directed his way are tetchily deflected by references to a time when success came easy to the Kilrea native. That time is long gone now, however, and almost everyone except O’Neill knows it. Yet the FAI, in their infinite wisdom, have gifted him the luxury of two more lavishly paid years to figure it out. How kind of them. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Defence enough for fortunate France

Alan O’Brien 

Despite never coming close to engineering a cohesive team performance, Didier Deschamps possesses the World Cup trophy for the second time. Individual talent, shining through at both ends of the pitch, dragged France to glory. Croatia, who executed their gameplan to near-perfection, can only reflect on what might have been. Continue reading

PREVIEW: Vrsaljko has what it takes to vanquish France

Alan O’Brien 

Over the course of this captivating World Cup, only Spain have favoured the left flank more than Croatia. But if the Vatreni are to spring an upset, and emulate La Roja‘s first-time triumph in 2010, a change of tack is needed. The path Zlatko Dalic chooses will ultimately decide his nation’s fate: the right fork may lead to glory, but the left will surely invite the wrath of Kylian Mbappé. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Croatia full-backs punish Southgate stasis

Alan O’Brien 

This was to be Gareth Southgate’s greatest test yet. After a facile route to the semi-final, throughout which England’s 3-3-2-2 was never seriously tested, the question was this: could Southgate adjust when the going got tough? The answer, after an enthralling clash with Croatia, is an emphatic no. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Martinez’s Belgian waffle finally falls to France

Alan O’Brien 

Little of the laudatory coverage hailing Roberto Martinez’s apparent tactical victory over Brazil made any sense. Belgium’s haphazard hybrid shape offered up chance after chance to Tite’s wasteful troops on Friday. France, just as defensively sound as Brazil here, simply did not suffer the Selecao‘s incredible misfortune. Finally, therefore, Martinez was made to pay for his hubris-fueled tactical codology. Continue reading