“They are very dangerous with corners and free kicks. That’s football for them,” said Dutch manager Danny Blind after the Republic Of Ireland’s 1-1 draw with Holland at the Aviva Stadium.
It’s not the first time an opposing manager has paid Ireland a backhanded compliment under Martin O’Neill but it is a telling sign of how we’re viewed by Tier 1 opposition – disruptive, defensive and dangerous from set-pieces.
Danny Blind now joins German manager Joachim Loew as the second manager in six months to criticise Ireland’s brand of football with both managers sharing a view that Ireland do not come to play football, but that they strive to prevent the opposition from playing it.
Strong views, but are their criticisms valid? Are we a multifaceted force to be reckoned with or are we simply going to France to give it a lash on the back off pinging balls into the box?
Friday’s draw with Holland does suggest that our biggest strength going forward is through set-pieces. Five of our total eight shots on goal against the Netherlands came from either a free-kick or through a corner, and that’s not counting Shane Long’s goal which was a direct consequence of Holland failing to clear a John O’Shea header from a Robbie Brady corner.
If we attribute Long’s goal as being assisted from a set-piece, then 75% of all our shots against Holland came from dead ball situations.
As we can see from the video above, seven out Brady’s nine deliveries either made contact with the intended target, led to an attempt on goal, or was placed in an area that would be deemed dangerous or where Ireland could potentially attack the ball.
Only two deliveries were handled cleanly by the Dutch, and if Ireland can win free-kicks in the right areas, they will create chances and they will score goals.
Six out of eight total shots coming from set-pieces does tend to validate Blind’s claims but is he entirely right? Can Ireland be a threat in open play as well as from dead ball situations? The clips below indicate that we can pose a threat to opposing teams at the Euros from open play, but that we must do a better job of identifying and exploiting space if we are to create chances and goalscoring opportunities.
The first example of good of Irish play comes courtesy of Stephen Quinn who intercepted a sloppy Memphis Depay pass before breaking quickly to set up this chance.
Bad cross but a nice triangle of targets to choose from. Long at near, Walters at far and McGoldrick in the middle pic.twitter.com/pkdlMYnEEI
— Jack O'Toole (@jackjotoole) May 28, 2016
The cross was admittedly poor from Quinn, on his less favoured right foot, but if it had’ve been better, Shane Long has occupied two defenders as well as the goalkeeper at the near post, while Jon Walters run to the far post has froze his defender, meaning he can get a backpost header if the delivery is right, or alternatively there’s room for a McGoldrick shot if the cross is centred.
In the next clip we can see a nice, simple one-two between Brady and Arter create some space down the left hand side but it’s Shane Long’s run towards the corner flag that drags his defender away from Arter and allows him the space to run towards the box and get a shot on goal.
One-two’s are an elementary concept in creating space in football while Ireland are bound to create a couple of chances from open play crosses, but the next two clips are where Ireland really need to do well in if they are to consistently create – the identification of space.
The first clip shows Glenn Whelan picking out Stephen Quinn with a nice pass after the Dutch attackers pushed up on him. With Promes and Wijnaldum pushing up on the Stoke midfielder, it allowed Quinn and Coleman to hold their position and receive the ball in space. Coleman eventually went by Jetro Willems and put himself in a position to create a chance but ultimately put in a poor cross.
A minute later and it is Coleman again who is the recipient after McGoldrick did brilliantly well to pick out the Everton right back after acknowledging his run down the right wing. Coleman puts in a decent cross, Van Dijk clears, Ireland get the corner and 30 seconds later the ball is in the back of the net.
Next play, Whelan steers Ireland out of trouble with an outlet pass to Coleman who finds McGoldrick in the corner and after linking up with the full-back again, Coleman places the ball just outside the six-yard box in an area where Long can compete.
These clips are some of the best examples of Irish play and all hinge on players identifying space and making the right decision.
Conversely, there are also some clips where Ireland do not make the right decision and where they give the ball away cheaply, as seen below with John O’Shea and Jon Walters who both attempt to head the ball on where they could’ve instead taken the ball down, and made a better pass.
Ireland do also have a tendency to play the long ball which is great when it picks out Shane Long and he wins a free-kick, but for someone like Shane Duffy, who barely put a foot wrong last night, a shorter pass would’ve been a better option here.
Duffy was great last night but one mistake was trying to pick out Long over the top when he needed to play it short. pic.twitter.com/2WB9VyfNJA
— Jack O'Toole (@jackjotoole) May 28, 2016
Same could be said for Robbie Brady in the video below as playing the ball back to Darren Randolph would’ve been a much better option that just hoofing it up the field in a panic.
If you look at Eunan O’Kane in the last clip below, phenomenal work by Wes Hoolahan to play him through but O’Kane makes the wrong decision, opting to pass to Jon Walters who was double covered instead of the out of picture Seamus Coleman, who lost his man after he left him to pick up the run of James McClean.
These are all marginal criticisms of split decision moments over the course of a game, but they do add up and more often than not can be put down to making the wrong decision when in possession.
Ireland’s biggest attacking weapon this summer will be through set-pieces, but the Boys In Green are also capable of playing good football, they just need to make good decisions and identify the space, which of course, is easier said than done when drawn with Belgium, Italy and Sweden.
Read More About: analysis, Belgium, breakdown, danny blind, eunan o'kane, Euro 2016, harry arter, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Jon Walters, Martin O'Neill, robbie brady, set piece, shane duffy, shane long, Sweden, Video