Analysis: Two of the Premier League's most creative players last weekend were Irish

Both Stephen Ireland and Wes Hoolahan were instrumental for their clubs on Saturday.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Stoke City v Sunderland - Britannia Stadium Ireland and (right) Hoolahan. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Updated at 12.00

WE REGULARLY BEMOAN the fact that Ireland rarely produces creative footballers, yet two players born on this island outshone the likes of Eden Hazard and Wayne Rooney during the second round of Premier League fixtures.

They may be two very different characters whose career paths and current situations at club and international level bear little resemblance, but on their day Wes Hoolahan and Stephen Ireland are both the type of mercurial talents that most strikers would relish the chance to play in front of.

One of 11 Irish players to feature in England’s top flight over the weekend, Hoolahan joined international team-mate Robbie Brady, a summer signing from Hull City, in the Norwich starting line-up for the trip north to the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

The former Shelbourne and Blackpool schemer had been a key man for the Canaries during their opening day defeat at home to Crystal Palace, setting up Nathan Redmond as they went down 3-1, and Wes continued where he left off after being handed the number 10 role in a 4-2-3-1.

As well as dropping into pockets to pick up possession, Hoolahan made it his business to make runs beyond loan striker Cameron Jerome to stretch the Sunderland defence.

Wes getting forward

In the lead-up to the first goal, he latched onto a cross-field ball and checked back to tee up Jonny Howson, whose shot was pushed around the post by Costel Pantilimon. Norwich would take the lead from the resulting corner.

Wes Sunderland 1

The 33-year-old then proved how simple yet devastatingly effective a one-two can be if executed properly. Not once, but twice.

First pulling out wide to create space for Steven Whittaker, Hoolahan flicked the ball back into his path and the full-back slammed the ball home.

Wes Sunderland 2

Norwich had the result wrapped up early in the second half as Hoolahan showed his determination to get on the ball and make something happen by coming short to Redmond playing the return with the deftest of touches. On 62 minutes, Norwich boss Alex Neil opted to protect the three-goal lead and Hoolahan was replaced by Bradley Johnson.

Wes Sunderland 3

As we can see below, Hoolahan’s pass success rate on the day was 87.2% as he played five of 39 astray. However, Norwich and Ireland fans will know that this can often be down to the fact that he tries things others wouldn’t even consider.

After two games, he sits level with David Silva and Marc Albrighton for most Premier League assists this season (3).

Wes Hoolahan pass completion Source: FourFourTwo Stats Zone

With the recent arrivals of Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay and Joselu to Stoke City, many will have wondered whether Stephen Ireland’s future could lie elsewhere.

The Cork man, who made 21 appearances in all competitions for the Potters last season, was an unused substitute in the 1-0 loss to Liverpool and again had to settle for a place on the bench as Mark Hughes’ men travelled to White Hart Lane on Saturday.

Trailing 2-0, however, the Stoke boss withdrew Marco van Ginkel and Jon Walters for Joselu and Ireland on 59 minutes. His impact was immediate. As soon as he took to the pitch, the former Man City man was getting onto the ball, playing passes and surging forward to receive the ball back.

Ireland getting forward

Mame Biram Diouf scored one, but could have had a hat-trick as Ireland looked to pick out the Senegalese striker as often as possible.

Ireland Spurs 1

Ireland Spurs 4

Stoke halved the two-goal deficit from a Marco Arnautovic spot-kick but Ireland’s vision was crucial in winning them the penalty.

Ireland Spurs 2

And the equaliser, on 83 minutes, was a brilliantly-worked goal. Ireland fed Arnautovic and sprinted beyond the Austrian. Getting the ball back, he clipped in an exquisite cross and Diouf only needed to make the slightest of contact.

Ireland Spurs 3

With just one misplaced pass from 21, he an impressive 95.2% pass completion —  creating three chances and one assist in just over a half hour.

Stephen Ireland pass completion Source: FourFourTwo Stats Zone

Ireland said afterwards that he is happier than he has ever been at the club, while Hughes spoke glowingly about the midfielder:

“Stephen knows how highly I value him,” he told the Stoke Sentinal. “I probably don’t show it as much as I should in terms of appearances, but we have discussions.

He understands I respect his ability. I’ve worked with him a long time and he’s a very talented lad.”

The 28-year-old will have to keep up that kind of form if he is to hold onto his place ahead of the new signings. Interestingly, Hoolahan and Ireland could well face this weekend as Norwich host Stoke at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Originally published at 18.00 on 17 April 

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Ben Blake

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