By Ronan Murphy
Tactical dinosaur. Rigid 4-4-2. Hoofball. Over-loyal. These are all criticisms regularly thrown at Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, especially after the dismal performance of the Boys in Green at Euro 2012. However, injury and retirements have caused Trapattoni to change his approach for tonight's World Cup 2014 qualifier against Germany.
Trapattoni will field a 4-5-1-cum-4-3-3 formation in a competitive game as Ireland manager for the first time in his four-year tenure. Tonight's qualifier will also be monumental, because it's the first game since Steve Staunton's much-maligned US Tour in 2007 in which none of Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff, or Robbie Keane will play. Those four senior figures have been the foundations of Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland team since the Italian took over in 2008.
Shay Given's retirement has seen Keiren Westwood take over as first choice goalkeeper, and despite being backup to Simon Mignolet at Sunderland, the 27-year-old is widely deemed a more than able deputy. Richard Dunne's groin injury has ruled him out of the start of the season, while a knock to partner Sean St Ledger has forced a reshuffle in defence. John O'Shea takes over as captain, while also getting a rare start at centre-back for Ireland.
However, the surprising thing is that Trapattoni has decided to give Seamus Coleman the nod ahead of Stephen Kelly. Many fans and pundits have been calling for Coleman's inclusion in the first team, with Eamon Dunphy usually shouting the loudest, and they will get the chance to see the Killybegs wideman in action against one of the best teams in the world this evening.
Trapattoni has repeatedly said that he'd like to see Damien Duff reconsider his international retirement, especially if there was an injury crisis. With Glenn Whelan ruled out and a dearth of wingers in the Irish squad, now would be the perfect time for Duffer to return. However, that was little more than a hopeful claim on Trapattoni's part, who would probably have stuck with his usual 4-4-2 had Duff been available. Duff's absence is probably the biggest one for the Italian, who now must experiment with a three-man midfield, which should hopefully limit the Germans in the middle of the park.
The midfield trio are all capable of playing good passing football, and the selection of Keith Fahey over David Meyler to partner Keith Andrews and James McCarthy is the right one. Meyler has just one Irish cap to date, and has played fewer than 20 games in total in the last three seasons combined. Keith Fahey on the other hand, would have gone to Poland if not for injury, and has proven himself at international level. The Birmingham City midfielder will also provide a much-needed presence for set-pieces.
Up front, the loss of Robbie Keane through a midweek training injury has made life difficult for Trapattoni. He has left the in-form Shane Long on the bench, with the intention of using him as an impact substitute, but against a team of Germany's standard, this is a bad move. Ireland will probably have few clear cut chances to score, and by the time Long is introduced, the scoreline could possibly read in Germany's favour.
Jon Walters is a battering ram for Stoke City, and may indeed cause the defenders trouble. However, he's probably not the right choice as a lone frontman. Simon Cox will start out wide, like Aiden McGeady, and may have been a better choice up front. Cox's technique and footballing vision are probably more suited to holding up the ball and bringing other players into the game. However, Trap has tried Cox on the wing on a couple of occasions, and despite limited success, is persisting with that approach.
The 4-3-3 experiment should be an interesting one. It gives many fans the change that they had hoped for. Players like Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy are finally getting the big game they deserve. This could be the game that brings back that pre-Euro 2012 optimism. Or, Trapattoni could revert to a 4-4-2 after just 10 minutes of German aggression, moving Fahey out wide and pushing Cox up front. We'll just have to wait and see.