Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Ireland adjusts

Stephen Ireland has talked very frankly today about the demands placed on him by the change from last year's 4-3-3 to this year's 4-4-2:
"Also, I have never played in a 4-4-2 system in five or six seasons, so it has been about adapting to that as well.

"Last season we played a 4-3-3 and I was just bombing forward regardless, getting in the box and being creative.

"This year I have to be more disciplined, but I can't complain because it's a team game, and it's not just about me getting in the box.
Stephen Ireland has quite noticeably struggled with the shift in emphasis. It's only natural that when three attacking players becomes four (at times our new formation has been more 4-2-4 than 4-4-2) the central midfielders have more work to do. Last year Ireland could rely on two of Nigel de Jong, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta behind him - this year it's just him and Barry. So his role has been naturally curtailed.

More important, though, is with him in that role the teams looks rather unstable. Ireland can do the defensive work but he's no expert and it does heap too much weight on Gareth Barry's shoulders. And in the games Ireland has missed - when Nigel de Jong has accompanied Barry - the team looked much more balanced, with a foundation sufficiently strong to bear the strain. So Ireland not only has to improve his own game but also prove that the team will be stronger with him in it.

It's going to be tough. My take, not that it matters, is that we should stick with last season's 4-2-3-1. That way we accomodate the solid base of Barry and de Jong, allowing Ireland to flourish in the hole with Craig Bellamy on his left, Carlos Tévez on his right (in the 'Dirk Kuyt role') and Emmanuel Adebayor up front. It's bad luck for Shaun Wright-Phillips but someone's got to miss out.

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