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

Advertisements

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

PREVIEW: Croatia 4-3-3 may spell curtains for Southgate

Alan O’Brien 

Neither England nor Croatia have reached the last-four of a World Cup in a generation. Both fell at the penultimate hurdle last time out, in 1990 and 1998 respectively. But now, with all the favourites fallen by the wayside, a golden opportunity to progress further has materialised that only one nation can grab. And, with Gareth Southgate firmly wedded to his preferred system, it’s difficult to avoid the following conclusion: victory and defeat depend almost exclusively on the tactical whims of one Zlatko Dalic. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Southgate kryptonite stalls super Swedes

Alan O’Brien 

Four decades on from falling for the humble English 4-4-2, Sweden have yet to lose that loving feeling. Popularised in the late-seventies by emigrés Roy Hodgson and Bob Houghton, the quintessentially English system is still very much Swedish football’s go-to. How ironic, then, that the most English blueprint of all would falter at its originators’ hands. Continue reading