Giovanni Trapattoni has expressed serious reservations about throwing both Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger back into the fray in Stockholm next month even if both players are fit for the crunch game against Sweden.
Dunne, plagued by hip and groin problems, has not played a game since Euro 2012 while St Ledger has been sidelined with a complicated hamstring injury since October.
But while both have expressed the hope that they will be available for the resumption of World Cup qualifying, the Ireland manager is worried about the risks involved in starting such an important game with two players who have been out of action for prolonged periods of time.
If fit, Dunne would definitely start but such is Trapattoni’s concern about the lack of match fitness in the heart of his defence that it seems he would be prepared to opt against his usual first-choice centre-back partnership by leaving St Ledger on the bench.
“We don’t know what is going to happen but if St Ledger and Dunne come back they are coming back after long injuries. And I don’t know if I would risk them together. Let’s say, I could look at a Clark/Dunne option. It’s all hypothetical.”
With Trapattoni confirming John O’Shea will definitely retain a place in the back four, the question would then arise as to where the Sunderland centre-half would be best deployed.
Trapattoni’s reference to Aston Villa’s Ciaran Clark suggests he could be first in line to replace St Ledger and, with the manager seemingly committed to playing the currently injured Seamus Coleman at right-back, that would mean O’Shea getting the nod at left-back ahead of Marc Wilson, another Irish player currently on the comeback trail after suffering a broken leg.
At the other end of the pitch, there is also some uncertainty about how Ireland will shape up against the Swedes. Earlier this week, Trapattoni appeared to confirm Robbie Keane would come straight back into the starting XI but, yesterday, he said he must have misunderstood the question and that what he’d meant to convey was that Keane would definitely come back into the squad.
Yet, for all that this was another communications breakdown involving the Italian, the manner in which he then went on to highlight Keane’s experience and intelligence on the field of play only served to reinforce the previous impression that Ireland’s skipper will indeed be in the starting line-up in Stockholm.
Who will partner him remains uncertain, however, with the manager mentioning Jon Walters, Shane Long, Conor Sammon, Kevin Doyle and Simon Cox among those “variables”, while suggesting that, as he has done so often in the past, he could also opt use one of his nominal strikers in a wide role.
But one thing seems clear enough — Trapattoni plans to stick with his favoured 4-4-2 formation in Stockholm, which would effectively mean there would be no place in the starting line-up for Irish football’s latest cause celebre, Wes Hoolahan.
Trapattoni believes the Norwich man’s ideal position is in that pocket between the midfield and the frontline but that’s a system, he maintains, that he could not afford to bed in while Ireland were busy almost getting to the 2010 World Cup and then qualifying for Euro 2012.
“People forget that we achieved the play-off against France and qualified for the Euros with our (4-4-2) system,” he said. “Maybe there is the player between the striker and midfield, maybe we can also play like this. But for now we have not. And we achieved qualification. But it is a good option depending on which system the opponent has.
“The result is not 100% certain in football. But, for me, it is always the result first. After that we look for the performance. We need winner players. You like ‘show’ players but we need the result. Victory is our philosophy.”
Picture: TALK WITH THE HAND: Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni in characteristically animated mood during yesterday’s press conference at Abbotstown. The Italian is likely to stick with his favoured 4-4-2 formation against Sweden in next month’s World Cup qualifier. Picture: Inpho/Lorraine O’Sullivan
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