ANALYSIS: Alpine Klopp must learn from the original

Alan O’Brien 

Ralph Hasenhüttl has performed miracles before. In under three years, the gregarious Austrian transformed lowly Ingolstadt from second-tier relegation fodder to a mid-table Bundesliga force; no mean feat by any man’s standards. But even Hasenhüttl must have been shocked by the speed with which he reinvigorated Southampton in Mark Hughes’ grumbling wake. Two wins in his first three games, claiming Arsenal’s 22-game unbeaten scalp in the process, suggested the Saints had taken to his high-pressing doctrine like ducks to water. Who could blame him for getting carried away? Continue reading

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ANALYSIS: Spurs diamond sparkles as Silva dogma shatters

Alan O’Brien 

This was Tottenham Hotspur’s ninth win in 11 away games. In any normal season, Mauricio Pochettino’s side would be runaway favourites to claim their maiden Premier League crown. But this is no normal season, and neither Manchester City nor Liverpool represent run-of-the-mill competition. Once again, Pochettino’s uncanny ability to conjure magic from comparatively puny financial resources may go unrewarded. But it shouldn’t go unnoticed. Continue reading

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

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.

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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