Five tactical insights from a thrilling opening round to the new season.
Sides promising to play proactive need more work
A major theme of the new A-League season was the number of sides promising to play attractive, attacking football, with coaches at Newcastle, Adelaide and all four teams in Melbourne and Sydney looking to transition their teams to avant-garde systems of play. In particular, the Jets and Sydney were extremely poor, with no clear patterns of play and a complete lack of team chemistry. Both sides lacked fluency and the movement required to make such possession-based systems work, and Gary Van Egmond and Ian Crook both know improvement needs to be seen in their next games.
Just as well they’ll be playing each other at the SFS on Saturday, a game which will also see Emile Heskey and Alessandro Del Piero face each other in a marquee clash. Which side manages to integrate their star signing better will most likely secure their first points of the season.
…but counter attacking is still effective
While Adelaide and the Melbourne Heart won, it was telling that both those teams failed to hold onto more than half the possession in their respective games. John Kosmina and John Aloisi might be looking to mix entertainment with results but they will both still be pleased with their three points. Patient possession play may be in vogue but direct transitions can be just as effective, especially when the majority of sides are playing with a high line and leaving space in behind.
The Mariners are the foremost counter-attacking team in the A-League, and although they failed to break down the well-organised Wanderers, their scouts will be pleased at what they saw from the other teams.
The Victory need time to learn
Going hand in hand with possession is the need to play out from the back. A commitment to passing short from goal kicks informed Ange Postecoglou’s decision to start Lawrence Thomas ahead of Tando Velaphi against the Heart, but the youngster was often forced into difficult and risky passes to his full backs. Aloisi was clever and told his front four to push high up onto the centre backs from goal kicks. Thomas’ main strategy was to try and chip the ball to Armand Traore, but the Ivorian was ponderous throughout the match and often gave the ball away cheaply. Postecoglou will be hoping his side can adapt to the demands of his fluent passing game before other sides seize Aloisi’s initiative of pressing high up the pitch.
Even Perth are trying to play out from the back
Perth Glory isn’t every fans choice of aesthetic entertainment last season with direct play to Shane Smeltz and Billy Mehmet their main outlet in attack – but it was successful, taking them to a Grand Final. In a rematch of that Grand Final, it was refreshing to see Perth be more varied in their play, with new signing Michael Thwaite offering technical ability from central defence and a willingness to step forward and play some cute passes. Alongside Bas van der Brink, Perth has one of the more assured central defence partnerships in the league, and with Thwaite offering variety to their play they should remain a force this season.
The Phoenix have the pace and width to threaten
In light of Sydney’s dismal display, the Phoenix may have missed out on some of the acclaim that they deserved. Louie Fenton stole the show with a headed goal capping off a fantastic performance, while Solomons winger Benjamin Totori was also impressive on the right. Both showed a willingness to take on Sydney’s fullbacks and also cut inside for shooting opportunities, but they were equally varied, prepared to go around the outside and play crosses into the middle. By being comfortable with both collecting balls to feet and collecting balls in space, Totori and Fenton provide the Phoenix with a selection dilemma, seeing as Ricki Herbert intended to play Paul Ifil on the right wing this season following the signings of Jeremy Brockie and Stein Huysegems. Herbert has reconfigured his attack around pace and drive, and Sydney won’t be the only side to feel the burn of the new forward line.