North­ern Ire­land tin­ker to find flex­i­ble so­lu­tions

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - TOTAL FOOTBALL - By Liam Black­burn

Michael O’Neill is look­ing to con­tinue tin­ker­ing with North­ern Ire­land’s for­ma­tion as he wants adapt­able sys­tems to cause other coun­tries prob­lems at Euro 2016.

In the 1-1 draw with Wales in Cardiff on Thurs­day night, O’Neill switched from a first-half 3-5-2 to the 4-3-3 he pre­ferred in a qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign in which North­ern Ire­land fin­ished top of their group.

The ad­van­tage of play­ing three cen­tre-backs is that it al­lows O’Neill to play Jonny Evans, Gareth McAu­ley and Craig Cath­cart, al­though his side were more ef­fec­tive go­ing for­ward af­ter the break when they re­verted to a back four af­ter striker Conor Wash­ing­ton was with­drawn.

Re­flect­ing on the Wales game, he said: “We were a lit­tle bit dis­ap­pointed that maybe we didn’t have more of an at­tack­ing threat with that sys­tem.

“There’s al­ways com­fort as a coach and a man­ager when you say you’re go­ing to change to four. We threw Jonny in at left-back and he doesn’t bat an eye­lid and we played 4-3-3 and are able to deal with it.

“It’s ex­actly what we want. In the sum­mer we are go­ing to have to be flex­i­ble. Ei­ther sys­tem has strengths or weak­nesses de­pend­ing on how the game’s go­ing.

“The most im­por­tant thing be­tween now and the end of the sum- mer is that the play­ers are able to adapt to it and un­der­stand it very quickly.”

One player who is im­per­a­tive to the North­ern Ir­ish in ei­ther sys­tem is striker Kyle Laf­ferty, who played 81 min­utes against the Welsh, de­spite to­talling just 45 min­utes all sea­son for club side Nor­wich.

Af­ter Laf­ferty com­pleted a loan switch to Birm­ing­ham ear­lier in the week, O’Neill hopes he will get up to speed by the time North­ern Ire­land reach France, adding: “Hav­ing a good fin­ish to the sea­son means he’ll be in a bet­ter frame of mind when he comes away with us in the sum­mer.”

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