John Kosmina’s second chance at Adelaide appears to be his last opportunity to assert himself in the A-League. Kosmina’s return to Adelaide midway through last season was a popular choice amongst dissatisfied Adelaide fans, who had seen the team lunge from crisis to crisis under Dutchman Rini Coolen.
Significantly, much of Adelaide’s pre season has been focused on physical preparation, and understandably so, following the disastrous preparation that undermined Rini Coolen’s second full season in charge. In an interview with FourFourTwo, goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic said that Kosmina’s focus has been to get the players “battle hardened. [Kossie’s] got us working hard and we played a lot of games in pre-season.” The approach appears rudimentary and stereotypically “Kossie”, but it was necessary: not only did Adelaide suffer a colossal amount of injuries last season, they also had Asian Champions League matches to play, meaning their season started a month before the rest of the league.
The competitive ramifications of the quarter-final against Bunyodkor aside, this extended pre-season has allowed Kosmina to fully assimilate his side into a new style of play, moving away from the counter-attacking play that characterized Coolen’s tenure. In his time away from the game, Kosmina has seemingly learned from his time at Sydney, and more open towards a possession based game than ever before. Adelaide switched to 4-3-3 upon Kosmina’s arrival last season, and adopted a conservative approach as the club battled to salvage what was left of the season, a tactical switch crucial to their Asian Champions League victory over Gamba Osaka.
Now, with the benefit of a full pre-season, Kosmina has been able to rebuild Adelaide to a more modern style. “They move forward now, they’re trying to play out from the back, they are even applying pressure on opponents in their half,” said Rado Vidisic before Brisbane’s friendly match against Adelaide. “So it’s not the Adelaide we are used to seeing from last year, or even from the Champions League. This is the Adelaide for the new A-League season. What I’ve seen so far, they are taking big steps forward.”
The bold commitment to playing out from the back was exposed in another friendly against Melbourne Victory, where Ange Postecoglou’s high pressing side were able to take advantage of errors in possession in the defensive third. Just as the Roar had teething problems as they adapted to their now iconic playing style, so will Adelaide, and it will be a test of Kosmina’s commitment to this philosophy when his players inevitably make mistakes.
Curiously, Kosmina has chosen to keep faith with much of the same squad that Coolen put together, with departures far and few between (Sergio van Djik’s rumoured move aside) and arrivals similarly scarce. Crucially, Dario Vidosic has been retained, as the Australian playmaker will thrive in a system where much of the ball will be played on the ground and to feet. To ensure the creative burden doesn’t overwhelm Vidosic again, Kosmina has brought in two new foriegn recruits: Jeronimo Morales Neumann and Marcelo Carrusca.
Of Carrusca, Kosmina remarked ‘I wanted someone who was good in one-on-ones and I wanted a bit of elegance.’ From a left sided position, Carrusca will look to come inside, contribute to the build of play and provide sophistication to the attack. Neumann’s game appears to be based more around pace and directness. Both will work off the target man figure of Bruce Djite, who despite a poor goal scoring record (he hasn’t scored since February), will remain Adelaide’s focal point.
“He occupies the central defenders and makes it difficult for them,” said Kosmina, “so people around him can get in.” This will provide Adelaide not only with a direct option if needed, but also a foil in attack. It wouldn’t be unfair to compare his role to the one played by Oliver Giroud at Arsenal: acting as a decoy, providing the more technical players with space between the lines. Additionally, assuming he stays, Van Djik will be a useful option to combine pace and height into the Adelaide attack, making it more difficult for the opposition to set their defensive line.
In any possession based system, width and the ability to play the ball across the park is essential. Fullbacks play an important role, and Kosmina will ask Cassio and Daniel Bowles to make storming runs down the flank: the latter does so extremely effectively, and should strike up a good partnership with Carrusca as the Argentine drifts inside. Kosmina also experimented with Iain Ramsey at fullback last season, and although that experiment will most likely not continue, Ramsey’s energy will be crucial in dictating the possession game.
That will be the responsibility of the midfield, and Kosmina will look to Fabian Barbiero’s legs in midfield to do the running up the pitch. Of concern for Adelaide will be the pace of their central defenders, in particular Iain Fyfe, who could struggle with any anticipated high line that would presumably come with Adelaide’s new style. That doesn’t bode well considering little has been done to change the personnel of the defence that conceded forty-four goals last season, easily the most in their short history.
Adelaide are just one of the sides looking to evolve to a new possession-based style, and the fear is that there has not been adequate enough recruitment to implement this philosophy. This season will be a test of Kosmina’s nerve as well as his coaching skill.