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Ireland relishes his big change

Stephen Ireland v Arsenal

Stephen Ireland v Arsenal

Stephen Ireland has admitted that he faces a whole new challenge this season as Mark Hughes opts for a traditional 4-4-2 formation to boost City's bid to gatecrash the Premier League top four.

The formidable firepower the Blues manager recruited during the summer - Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz - means that Ireland's great attacking threat is no longer a necessity.

Instead the fans' Player of the Year is being required to adapt his game in centre midfield - and  even his phenomenal last campaign cannot guarantee "Superman" a starting place in Hughes' side.

Ireland explained: "I've gotten used to 4-3-3. I've not played 4-4-2 for four or five seasons, and my game has to be different in that system. Last year I was bombing forward into the box.

 

Now I have to adjust, and it will make me a more rounded player eventually. I have to play with more discipline, especially when Gareth Barry gets forward, but I feel like I'm getting there.

...Stephen Ireland...

 

"I do like to get forward, but it's just different rather than frustrating. I want to be as complete a player as possible, so I will benefit. It's not an easy change to make after a few seasons, but I'm up for the task. It's better for the team, that's the important thing."

Ironically, it was the "old" Stevie Ireland who replaced his midfield rival Nigel de Jong at Aston Villa to help earn what could turn out to be a significant point for City.

His attacking verve was crucial to City's turn-around, and he admitted: "When I came on at Villa I felt a lot freer and a bit more myself. I was able to take a few chances, a few risks, and that's part of my usual game. I felt a bit more like myself."

Ireland was not surprised to be left out at Villa after being taken ill during the Fulham game then missing West Ham's visit, and he is upbeat about waging a constant battle to play.

He said: "If you left for a bigger team in the past, it was always going to be like that anyway - Arsenal have always had that, Chelsea, Manchester United. They had big squads who had to fight.

"For us to be challenging up there we need it to be feisty and edgy, with even the best players having to try to get in the team. It's important to have squad rotation for the cups anyway."

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