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How did 2 key Ireland players fare against the Premier League’s in-form team?

Everton were beaten 2-0 by Man City, but how did Martin O’Neill’s players do?

McCarthy is a regular presence in Everton and Ireland's midfield.
McCarthy is a regular presence in Everton and Ireland's midfield.
Image: Peter Byrne

ALTHOUGH THEY HAVEN’T always lived up to their billing at international level, if Ireland are to be successful in the coming years, it’s likely that Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy will be key to the team’s hopes.

With that in mind, we took a close look at a major test for the Irish duo at the weekend, as Everton took on the Premier League’s current in-form team, Man City, at Goodison Park.

Coleman and McCarthy were both selected in their usual right-back and centre-midfield positions, as Everton hoped to contain a Man City side that had started the season superbly.

everton team

The Toffees were ultimately outclassed on the day, losing 2-0, but irrespective of the result, there were plenty of interesting points — both positive and negative — to take from the game from an Irish supporter’s perspective.

Sloppy opening

Everton did not enjoy the best of starts to this match. Man City had an excellent chance to open the scoring within the opening two minutes, with Sergio Aguero seeing his attempt from the right side of the box saved by Tim Howard.

The Toffees lacked their usual sharpness initially, as the visitors took control at Goodison Park. The hosts conceded possession cheaply on a number of occasions, and both Coleman and McCarthy were among the culprits.

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Everton had occasional good spells and were unfortunate not to score when Romelu Lukaku hit the cross-bar with a free-kick, but for the most part, Man City bossed the midfield and dominated the game as a result.

McCarthy worked tirelessly off the ball, but at times — like the rest of his teammates — struggled to cope with the pace and power of Yaya Toure, as well as the creativity and footballing intelligence of David Silva.

yaya

Their inability to retain possession ensured Everton were constantly having to focus on quelling Man City’s attack, and eventually, the Toffees’ exhaustion showed, as the visitors ran out deserved winners.

Sterling v Coleman

Perhaps the game’s most intriguing battle saw City’s high-profile summer signing, Raheem Sterling, pitted against Seamus Coleman.

For all the flak Sterling received and all the talk of the England winger being ‘overpriced,’ there is no doubt he has already added another dimension to Man City’s game.

Though the 20-year-old Jamaica-born starlet has yet to fully catch fire with his new club, not always having the end product to back up his pace and skill, he has shown flashes of brilliance so far this season.

Moreover, Sterling has given City some much-needed pace in attack. Whereas last season, the Eastland outfit’s build-up play at times looked all too laboured, this season, their play has noticeable added zip.

Against Everton on Sunday, while delivering far from the perfect performance, Sterling was a constant threat with his considerable speed and clever movement.

Fortunately for Everton though, Seamus Coleman was in fine form. Though he was constantly put under pressure by the tricky winger, the Donegal native passed nearly every test with flying colours.

There was an ominous moment early on, however, as Coleman was slightly put off by the presence of the overlapping full-back and allowed Sterling to come inside and take a shot.

sterling2

This minor mishap was an anomaly though. In general, Coleman was exemplary in his marking of Sterling. The 26-year-old showed excellent strength and aggression to bully the former Liverpool man off the ball, while doing so in a fair manner and avoiding conceding too many free kicks in the process.

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Coleman is also clearly benefiting from the experience of playing regularly in the Premier League, as he’s reading the game better than ever these days, as illustrated by a number of well-timed interceptions he made over the course of the 90 minutes.

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Nevertheless, there were one or two other moments over the course of the game where the Irishman was caught out, and was reliant on a stray City pass, or a teammate covering for him.

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But all in all, it was a consummate performance, prompting Sky’s Gary Neville to describe the Everton full-back as his team’s best player, calling his display “outstanding”.

McCarthy and ‘personality’

Former Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni famously indicated the reason for his reluctance to start McCarthy was that the player did not show enough “personality”. What the Italian boss essentially means is that the midfielder doesn’t impose himself on games regularly enough.

And Trap is far from the player’s only critic, with RTÉ pundit John Giles among others to express similar reservations, while we’ve dealt with McCarthy’s Ireland career in a previous analysis piece,

It must be said, of course, that some of the criticism of the Everton man, most notably Eamon Dunphy branding him a “terrible flop,” has been somewhat over the top – if he was such a poor player, he would hardly have accrued so many Premier League appearances at the still relatively young age of 24.

Yet for Everton on Sunday, McCarthy’s performance was mixed. As he always does, the former teenage prodigy with Hamilton worked extremely hard off the ball, constantly harrying the opposition and curbing their threat in the process.

Though Silva was man-of-the-match, McCarthy’s attempts to stop the Spanish international from dictating the play succeeded up to a point.

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Also, like Coleman, McCarthy proved relatively successful in curtailing Sterling.

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The Scottish-born player’s work-rate and positioning, particularly in the second half, was often impressive.

Watch below and notices how quickly he gets back, just doing enough to create an element of doubt and thus put Jesús Navas off with the finish

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Furthermore, notice how he busts a gut to get back towards the end of the match and at least temporarily prevents substitute Wilfried Bony from having a clear run in on goal.

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However, the usual criticisms applied to McCarthy on Sunday. He rarely demands the ball, as all world-class midfielders do. While it’s a difficult enough skill, McCarthy seems to lack the confidence to genuinely offer for the ball and try to receive it in tight spaces.

McCarthy is a good midfielder, but watch the clips below. Although he makes a token effort to run towards the ball, he looks as if he has no real desire to receive it. Again, it’s not a major flaw, but it’s one element of his game that prevents him from being rated alongside the very best midfielders in the world.

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He is simply too casual and needs to roar for the ball, as his Ireland assistant boss Roy Keane used to invariably do. He may even be under instructions to play a restricted role in the final third, but it’s no excuse for almost always taking the easy option and refraining from influencing the attack in any way.

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Though he was linked with a move to Man City at one point, none of the top teams ultimately went out of their way to sign McCarthy this summer. Perhaps the lack of dynamism in his game was a factor. Granted, the former Wigan man is capable of moments of brilliance, as he showed against Man United last year, but they’re too rare in his game at present.

Contrast it with teammate Tom Cleverley, playing on the right-side of midfield, who looked far more willing to take risks going forward (see below).

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McCarthy did wander into more advanced positions occasionally, but his influence in this regard was minimal, and one such instance, in which he lost possession, led directly to the visitors’ opening goal.

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ambition

While the most simple pass is often the best one, at times, it feels almost as if McCarthy is trying to boost his pass completion ratio simply for the sake of it. These two examples below, while not necessarily poor decisions, are the type of all-too-easy, risk-free pass that McCarthy produces 99% of the time.

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The player is talented, though, and has the capability to pick out a good pass, as he demonstrates in the clip below. He simply needs to acquire the confidence to do it more consistently.

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Mental fatigue

Unfortunately, for all the hard work he clearly put in, McCarthy twice lost concentration at vital moments, one of which proved fatal for his team.

Watch below, as he gets caught ball-watching, leaving David Silva free in the process.

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And for the late second goal, a clearly spent McCarthy fails to properly track the run of substitute Samir Nasri.

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These mistakes are forgiveable, as tiredness was inevitable at the end of such an intense game, but what’s less understandable is McCarthy’s continual unwillingness to show for the ball and try to influence the play more. Even if — as a sitting midfielder — his primary task is to break up the opposition’s play, it’s hardly an excuse to virtually abstain from showing any attacking prowess.

Summary

So while McCarthy still has plenty to work on, Coleman can be more satisfied with his 90 minutes at the weekend.

While the ex-Sligo Rovers defender was kept extremely busy by Raheem Sterling and — to a lesser extent — Samir Nasri, who replaced his fellow wide man on 76 minutes, Coleman did also have some promising moments going forward, amid the rare opportunities Everton had to attack.

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On a similar note, he can also pick out a pass when given the chance.

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Coleman’s composure and reliability in defence, meanwhile, continued to earn him acclaim from an appreciative home crowd.

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So with a number of crucial Euro 2016 qualifiers on the horizon, Martin O’Neill will surely be encouraged by the form of Coleman in particular.

While the full-back has always been thought of as highly talented going forward, despite Everton shipping two goals — on the basis of Sunday’s game — the player’s defensive prowess appears to have developed substantially in recent months.

On the other hand, the Ireland boss will be less pleased with McCarthy’s display. The midfielder’s attitude was flawless throughout the match, but the occasional lapses in concentration are a concern, as is his continuing lack of assertiveness in possession.

McCarthy needs to understand that even defensive midfielders can be direct and take risks at times, and he will surely benefit in the long term from doing so.

That said, the season is still only three Premier League games old, and many footballers are only just getting out of pre-season mode. McCarthy, in particular, will surely acquire an extra level of confidence and sharpness with the benefit of more playing time.

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Paul Fennessy

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