It may have been just a friendly but the match between Spain and Ireland on Tuesday night still provided plenty of interesting talking points. Here are three thoughts from the clash in the Bronx.
Gerard Pique Fancies Himself
One thing about Gerard Pique, the man really fancies himself an offensive weapon. That’s not to say that he shouldn’t, as we’ve all witnessed the Barcelona man’s quality going forward, but it is quite remarkable how frequently he leaves the Spanish defense exposed.
In last night’s match Pique spent the first half slipping into positions high on the right wing where he sought to collaborate with David Silva in giving Ireland right-back Paul McShane a nightmare. Pique’s advancements resulted in numerous headers that provided Spain a handful of second ball opportunities and a volley that required a goal-line clearance by the Irish.
In the second half Pique took a more proactive approach to his advancements, dribbling out of the back with a flair and panache remniscent of Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer. At one point, in the 66th minute, Pique literally danced around two defenders in his defensive third before throwing a Cruyff move that luckily earned him a free-kick. It was an Olé-worthy display but also a reckless act of self-promotion that, had he lost possession, would have seen Ireland through on goal.
Granted, it was a friendly match so perhaps Gerry was being a tad bit more aggressive than normal. But keep a keen eye on his movements during the Confederations Cup, where punishment is certain to be swift and costly.
Giovanni Trapattoni Had A Plan
At the tender age of 74, Giovanni Trapattoni remains a cheeky manager. Knowing his Ireland squad would be facing Spain’s first-string, he deployed a young Starting XI in a 4-4-2 formation that likely had La Furia Roja thinking the match would be a walk in the park. But as Spain would soon find out, breaking down Ireland was anything but easy.
Utilizing Seamus Coleman, a lung-busting full-back, and Andy Keogh, a forward with searing pace, as outside midfielders, Trapattoni was able to get eight players behind the ball and compact within the 18 yard box. It was a tactic that Spain had seen on numerous occasions but one that Ireland executed well, consistently forcing the Champions into outside shots or poor passes through non-existent holes.
Once they recovered possession, Trapattoni’s men looked for Coleman and Keogh on quick outlets or Conor Sammon through the air. The result was two marquee chances that Ireland failed to capitalize on. But give credit to the Italian gaffer – he had a plan and it nearly foiled Spain.
Final Pass Still Spain’s Downfall
For all the possession they enjoyed on the night, Spain still had difficulty un-locking the Irish defense. The final entry pass remains the Achilles heel of the tiki-taka specialists.
As they inch up the pitch, one and two-touch passing through the quadrants, Spain are particularly comfortable. David Villa interchanges with David Silva, Silva with Pedro, Pedro with Andres Iniesta, and Iniesta with Xavi, and so on and so forth. It’s a mesmerizing display until they reach the top of their opponents’ box where suddenly, the number of defenders doubles and the space shrinks from a 70×40 yard grid to 40×15.
At this point, Spain (or, Barcelona, however you want to look at it) typically utilizes one of two options – slip a low pass through defenders or scoop a lofted pass over their heads. Problem is, a compact defense and a goalkeeper who is good at reading the game and quick off his line can sniff these passes out.
That’s when things get interesting. What to do? Outside shots are not Spain’s forté and relying on set-pieces can be a risky move.
Perhaps it’s time to reinvent?