This week the FAI made their decision over who they wanted to replace opinion-dividing Giovanni Trapattoni. Martin O’Neill, with assistance from Roy Keane, was the man chosen to lead our national side into the qualification campaign for the 2016 European Championships. However, the main issue that most Ireland fans had with former boss Trapattoni was the grim style of play implemented, but O’Neill’s appointment doesn’t give Irish fans much hope for change in the future.
O’Neill has been long criticised for his style of play. Far from a beautiful, fluid, intricate machine akin to Barcelona that the Northern Irishman claimed he wanted his Sunderland side to play like when he first took charge in December 2011, Martin O’Neill teams are more based the around a foundation of conservative tactics looking to hit their opponents on the break.
This can be classified as quite close to a “route one” style. Long balls to a strong front man to hold up, or into open space behind defenders for wingers to latch onto. This is an ethos shared by the former Ireland boss and the new one, and it shows the direction that the FAI want to continue with, while also showing us what kind of development in the first team that they don’t want to see.
On Saturday night, Real Madrid went to Vallekas to take on lowly Rayo Vallecano. The billionaire blancos won 3-2 in the end, but that doesn’t nearly give the full account of the match. The bottom of the table team had Real on the ropes for the majority of the match, while even the return of Xabi Alonso to the starting line up couldn’t give Real Madrid the force in midfield to deal with the famously good at keeping possession Franjiroja.
One thing that the course of this game left me wondering is do Real Madrid have a defence good enough to win the Champions League? Obviously that’s the goal, Carlo Ancelotti’s team are obsessed with winning their tenth European crown. Rayo Vallecano don’t have any real cutting edge to their play and are lacking a striker to put the ball in the back of the net. Yet plenty of times, Paco Jemez’s men were able to break the Real breeches and create a goalscoring opportunity.
Rayo Vallecano are in trouble. Following their home defeat to Valladolid, they travelled to Osasuna and suffered another defeat against a team that will be expected to finish in their vicinity come the end of the season. For Osasuna, it was a great evening in which they led from the first minute to the last, although not entirely comfortably collecting the three points as Rayo, as they are want to do, dominated possession in the final 25 minutes after the home side were reduced to ten men.
What was most telling about this defeat for me is that Rayo don’t have a defence that can keep them in the top tier of Spanish football. For all their bravery in maintaining possession – even better than Barcelona might I add - once they lose it, they can succumb to the offence of whoever they’re facing quite quickly. Gaps are easy to find in the central defensive partnership of Gálvez and whoever is by his side, normally Saúl or Arbilla, and opposition wingers normally get past the fullbacks with relative ease.
When the former Bohemians and Shelbourne boss was appointed as Hibernian manager in November 2011 the club were in a desperate position nearing the half-way point of their season. He was initially left to work with a squad of players which had been assembled by previous manager, Kevin Calderwood, thus making a slow start, taking just one point from his opening five league games. The following January, Felon took the opportunity to revamp his struggling squad adding key players such as now captain, James McPake. Hibs reached the SFA Cup Final the following May but were trumped by rivals Hearts 5-1 in the final, the hurt of which still lingers today. Ultimately Fenlon managed to keep the Hibees in the SPL having found his squad floundering in second-last when he arrived and began to build for his first full campaign adding no less than 10 new players to his squad.
Villarreal continue to grow in strength and maturity ever since being promoted from the Liga Adelante. Their derby win over Valencia was huge – in significance, and in margin, with El Submarino Amarillo’s rout against their rivals coming with a 4-1 scoreline.
If Valencia continue their season with the same attitude as in this game, then they can forget about mounting a serious challenge for Champions League qualification. Coach Miroslav Djukic admitted that his side showed too much respect for the opposition from the minute they walked onto the pitch. They allowed Villarreal to play their game, and that showed. Dos Santos (twice), Uche, and Pérez gladly took what was on offer to them to bring their side two points behind Real Madrid, and only eight behind the impeccable leaders Barcelona.
Premier League Talking Points – Week 9
The first game of the weekend was at Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace took on Arsenal in their first game following Ian Holloway’s departure from the club. Following the victory over Norwich City last week it was assumed that the Gunners would get their biggest win of the season against a Palace side that was five points from safety already.
The game started as expected, Arsenal dominated a large percentage of the possession as Palace just sat back and allowed the league leaders to pass the ball in front of them. A groin injury to midfielder Mathieu Flamini however turned the half on its head when he was taken off for Serge Gnabry.
After this, Palace began to press the ball, captain Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi the most influential players for Palace, and despite Arsenal’s far superior possession, they were unable to actually create any clear cut chances. The first shot on target happened to come from a former Gooner favourite, Marouane Chamakh. Towards the end of the half Arsenal were constantly split open at the back from set pieces and were lucky not to go in behind.
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Premier League talking points – Week 8
It’s safe to say that it was an afternoon which David Marshall will want to forget quickly. Chelsea were able to equalise via a goal which has resulted in many blowing the dust off their FA rule book to test its legality (the more technology savvy just downloaded the PDF which is available on the FA’s website) after Samuel Eto’o stole the ball from Marshall when the Cardiff keeper bounced it which should have been deemed as a foul.
On the flip side however, you could argue that Marshall should not have been on the pitch at all, after clearly handling the ball outside of his area – which shows there may be some truth in the whole “football evens itself out” spiel after all.
After missing two clear violations of the rules though, it’s safe to say Anthony Taylor and his assistants are the ones who had a bad day at the office.