IT WOULDN'T be quite right to say that Giovanni Trapattoni has removed the handcuffs but he's certainly loosened them.
Points are at a premium against Macedonia tonight and Trapattoni's cautious nature doesn't suit the circumstances. But ground lost, along with five points to Russia and Slovakia during the autumn, sets the rhythm for this match and Ireland must play at a high tempo from the start.
Inwardly, Trapattoni's cautious nature must be offended by the circumstances he finds himself in. He has never had to deal with major injury problems before. Three players – Kevin Foley, Darren O'Dea and Keiren Westwood – will make their competitive debuts and injury doubts remain over his three remaining long termers, Damien Duff, Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane.
Ireland skipper Keane is clearly up for the fight but whether his body can match his ambition remains to be seen. Worries about Dunne will only ease when he hits the ground in the early moments and bounces back up with no consequences for his shoulder.
Duff will be closely monitored for signs that his Achilles is not fully right – and of the three, Dunne is the only man likely to see out the game. But the imperative for Trapattoni is three points and he cannot avoid that fact.
By selecting Darron Gibson and not Paul Green, Trapattoni reflects the need to pick holes rather than pummel Macedonian into submission by dint of endless running and chasing. By any standard, Trapattoni has chosen an attacking team and his accompanying words indicate a change in emphasis.
“I have seen many of Macedonia's games and usually away from home they play very deep. I have told Gibson to get on the ball and when he is on the ball, to shoot,” said Trapattoni, handing Gibson the role he prefers and the licence to get forward.
“The way they play, it is better for Gibson, who can control the ball quickly and shoot. Against opponents who are more technical and creative, Paul Green may be more suited because he is very aggressive. “But in this game, we will have a lot of space until we get to the edge of the box, and I have told Gibson and Aiden McGeady as well to shoot whenever they can. It will be very difficult to work our way into the box, and shooting from outside the box is a good option for us. That is why Gibson, and not Paul Green, is starting.”
Trapattoni rejected suggestions that his system discourages adventure. “It is not forbidden to go up front but we must go with a reason and if a defender goes, another must stay.” “We will approach the game with enthusiasm and to win but we must think also about how we play to win.
You push too many forward and Macedonia are waiting.”
“Without space it is easy for Macedonia to counter-attack. Six players is enough to score a goal. We don't need nine players and we have enough offensive players – Duff, McGeady, Robbie, (Kevin) Doyle and Gibson. They are all attacking players.” Trapattoni has no fears about Macedonia in general play once his players follow their instructions but he did highlight height as a potentially important factor.
“I'm afraid because they have five or six big players over 1.90m. I am afraid about headers from corners and free-kicks. (Goran) Popov scored two goals from corners in the last two games. But I am only afraid of set-pieces, not in open play.” Rarely has Trapattoni gone so far to explain himself. Maybe it was simply down to a more liberal use of his interpreter.
Either way, it was a welcome change and left no room for confusion. He went further when he guaranteed that James McCarthy would get a run and that he will probably feature as a second striker once Robbie Keane is called ashore.
Better still, Trapattoni pointed to the friendly against Uruguay on Tuesday as an ideal opportunity to conduct a full 90-minute experiment built around McCarthy's capacity to occupy the no-man's land between midfield and the main striker.
“He will definitely play. Why not McCarthy as a striker? Maybe in the next game (Uruguay) we will try another system – one striker with McCarthy. I thought about this a few years ago with Steve Ireland,” said Trap with a wry smile. “Now this is a good opportunity and maybe this is a good option in the future. McCarthy's physique has improved and he is more aggressive. He has improved."