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Tactics Board: Was Katie McCabe used to best effect?

Shane Keegan looks at the key tactical elements behind the 1-1 draw against Slovakia.

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Vera Pauw’s Irish team came into this tie against Slovakia looking to build on the momentum of their fantastic 2-1 win away in Finland last month.

This game would be a very different challenge though. Playing at home to a side ranked 12 places below them in the FIFA World rankings, could Ireland seize the initiative and take the game to the Slovaks?

Ireland play out through wrong side far too often.

Vera Pauw, somewhat surprisingly, decided to stick with the 3-5-2 formation that had worked so well for her side in their previous game.

The success of the shape, from an attacking perspective, would be reliant on how dominant Ireland could be in possession.

If they could build out from the back and hold onto the ball this would present their more creative players with ample opportunity to cause problems in the final third.

In just the second minute of the game we got a really good example of exactly what they needed to do.

The play starts with Fahey on the ball. With bodies in front of her stopping her advancing, she switches the play all the way across to McCarthy.

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McCarthy then carries the ball forward but as opposition bodies get across to her side, we can see O’Sullivan further forward intelligently advising her to stop and go back.

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McCarthy does this, coming back through Quinn who plays it back out to the right Fahey who is just out of shot.

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Fahey, who is an excellent distributor of the ball, now has room to move in to and she plays a great pass into the path of O’Sullivan who has drifted all the way across from the opposite side.

Ireland are now into the final third and O’Sullivan has the opportunity to drive at the Slovak defence.

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Unfortunately, things went downhill from here.

Far too often Irish players made the wrong decisions on the ball resulting in the play being forced down the left through McCarthy rather than down the right with Fahey.

Here we can see Fahey with her arms out asking Quinn to give her the ball, but she opts to turn left and play to McCarthy.

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Under pressure from a Slovakian attacker, McCarthy plays a hopeful long ball forward that is all too easy to defend.

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Soon after we see a similar situation.

Here we see Quinn again play the ball out to McCarthy. With the Slovakian attacker already moving towards McCarthy, ideally you would like to see her bounce the ball straight back to McCarthy so as to retain comfortable possession.

By repeatedly doing this, the Slovakian attackers would soon grow tired of chasing the ball around to little effect.

Instead though, McCarthy looks to step forward and again is forced into an almost identical pass to the previous one and the ball is turned over.

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This pattern repeated itself far too often for Ireland’s liking.

Later in the half, we again saw the difference when Ireland managed to come down the right-hand side when Fahey played a lovely dinked ball over the top for Lucy Quinn to spin and latch on to.

She drove forward and drilled the ball across the 6-yard box but some good defending denied Finn the opportunity to turn it home.

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McCarthy and Fahey have very different strengths.

McCarthy, while an excellent defensive player, was not as comfortable on the ball as the Liverpool centre half.

Their pass completion stats – Fahey 83%, McCarthy 59% – showed this. Yet far too often poor decisions on the ball meant it was the latter who was forced into playing the forward passes.

Was McCabe used to best effect?

In my post-Finland column, I showed some examples of why vera Pauw’s decision to use McCabe at wing-back had worked so well. The threat of the excellent Engman justified McCabe’s requirement in a defensive position.

It is questionable whether the same could be said this time around though.

Too often she was receiving the ball far too deep to do any real damage and it was only when Ireland went behind that she seemed to be given more attacking freedom.

Thankfully it paid off.

Shortly after going behind, we see her pick up a pass in the final third and deliver a sumptuous cross to Payne, who maybe could have stuck her head to it first time rather than trying to control it.

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When McCabe picks up the ball here there initially looks to be little danger as the Slovakian defender is goal side of her.

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But just seconds later, having performed a pirouette, she is sprinting away from the same defender.

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She then brilliantly picks out Payne but neither she nor O’Sullivan can quite turn the chance into a shooting opportunity.

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Seven minutes later McCabe came up with the good herself.

Her starting location here on the Slovakian throw is extremely high and narrow and its hard to imagine that she would taken up such a position had Ireland not been behind.

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Ireland force a turnover and Connolly finds Payne she does wonderfully to chest the ball down and set back O’Sullivan.

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We finally get an opportunity to see McCabe’s explosiveness in the final third as she powers past Matakova to chase after O’Sullivan’s through ball. The finish was exquisite.

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Conclusion

You can’t help but feel, had she been granted a more of an attacking role from the off, then the above situations could have been far more plentiful.

Pauw’s decision as to where to play her in the now must-win game against Georgia on Tuesday night will be interesting.

Ireland finished the game with just 47% possession at home to a team ranked 12 places below them in the FIFA rankings and were beaten 1.69 to 0.51 on xG.

For a team boasting players with the technical ability of McCabe, Connolly, O’Sullivan and others, that just isn’t good enough.

A big improvement will be required Tuesday night and beyond if they are to qualify from this group.

About the author:

Shane Keegan

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