Four rounds in, the A-League is as tactically diverse and exciting as ever before. Herea re ten talking points.
Inevitably, the focus of the Friday night match between Melbourne Victory and Newcastle Jets will be on the possible debut of new signing Nathan Coe.
A move for the fringe Socceroos goalkeeper was unexpected considering that the squad position had been made available only recently by the retirement of Danny Allsopp, a striker, and that the Victory already possesses two goalkeepers, Tando Velaphi and Lawrence Thomas, both of whom have made starts this season.
But Postecoglou wants a very specific attribute from his goalkeeper; the ability to play out from the back.
“Lawrence is pretty comfortable with aspects of our game, particularly playing out from the back, and he’s a good keeper as well, but that is a big part of what we do and that gives him the edge at this stage,” says Postecoglou, justifying his surprise decision to start the youngster in the Victory’s first game of the season.
Postecoglou clearly isn’t happy with either keeper’s ability at this point in time. He wants a particular kind of football and has signed players to fit that style. Postecoglou has indicated Coe will start and the new keeper’s distribution patterns will be an interesting feature.
Similarly, much of the focus of the Jets’ pre-season was on how they too would adapt to the demands of a patient possession philosophy.
The signing of Emile Heskey seemingly contradicted that notion, and although the marquee has generally been excellent, coach Van Egmond is aware of his side being too reliant on the Englishman’s presence in the air.
“We’ve been doing it [possession] the whole preseason, but with Emile getting here later, they’ve tended to look at that as an outlet a little bit too soon and we haven’t got that balance right as such,” he says, indicating that despite the two wins in a row, he still wants his side to play a more ideological game.
The possession battle against a Victory side also keen on playing a similar style will revolve around the control of the midfield and promises to be fascinating.
Adelaide United vs Wellington Phoenix
Who will lead Adelaide’s line?
Kosmina’s Adelaide has shown themselves to be a good counter-attacking side, but were disappointing when they needed to take the initiative after going behind against the Victory.
Kosmina wants to them play more of the progressive passing style that was so impressive in the Asian Champions League, and with Neumann’s clever movement across the front of the line ensuring the side is more fluid than the static hold-up play of Djite or Van Djik, he might elect for the Argentine again.
Interestingly, it might not be the same formation; the media was barred from Thursday’s training session as Kosmina presumably tinkered with different shapes, with Adelaide Now reporting he may switch to a diamond formation to accommodate Marcelo Carrusca in his first starting debut.
That might mean the Argentine will come into direct confrontation with one of the best holding midfielders in the league, Manny Muscat. The 27-year-old was primarily used at right back last season but has returned to a more familiar midfield berth this year.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing there,” says Muscat, “you get more of the ball.” Partnering Alex Smith, he will be deployed with ensuring Carrusca doesn’t find space between the lines.
Brisbane Roar vs Western Sydney Wanderers
Berisha’s subtle change
The Albanian has played in just 33 A-League games but stands to break the club’s all-time goalscoring record against the Western Sydney Wanderers; if he scores, he will equal Sergio Van Djik’s current record of 25.
Berisha has started the season in superb form, and although his quickly rising goal tally has been the focus of attention, a slight shift to his playing style has also caught the eye.
Berisha still possesses a fantastic work-ethic and awareness of the offside trap, but he’s also shown a greater willingness to drop deep, collect the ball and run directly at defences.
This is a new facet to his game that is fitting of the more direct style being implemented by Rado Vidosic, as Brisbane seek to become quicker and cleverer about their attacking play. He is not quite a false nine, but his vertical movement could cause problems for Michael Beauchamp, who may struggle with the striker’s mobility.
Wanderers attacking problems
The highest scoring team in the league will come up against the team who still haven’t scored once.
The Wanderers search for a first ever goal can be linked to the team’s counter-attacking approach, where they are well organised and can be hard to breach, but the system leaves Dino Kresinger too isolated from the wide players, Mark Bridge and Labinot Haliti.
With two similar playmakers in midfield with Shinji Ono and Aaron Mooy, the Wanderers lack midfield runners to support the hold-up play of Kresinger.
Therefore, Popovic might go for a different approach with the more mobile Tahj Minniecon, whose clever runs and pace might be more suited to the clever penetrative passing of Ono and Mooy.
Sydney FC vs Perth Glory
The idea that Perth is the ‘Stoke’ of the A-League has caught on so fast that it’s become a cliché. There’s no denying that the Glory are a physical side, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
When they can combine that aggressive nature with the technical skills of players like Michael Thwaite and Liam Miller, they are one of the well-rounded sides in the competition, and it was this approach that took them to last year’s grand final.
Jacob Burns is the embodiment of this perceived image of Perth and he will be in charge of shutting down Alessandro Del Piero between the lines.
The midfielder will be aware of how the Wanderers failed to cope with the Italian’s intelligent movement, and the battle between the two will be crucial to the flow of the game.
Del Piero is the heartbeat of Sydney’s style, and without him to link up play, they lack cohesion when in possession. Burns may play combatively and look to move quickly from behind Del Piero to intercept passes being played to feet.
“I wouldn’t be going in there with the intention of hurting him,” says Burns. “He’s too good looking, anyway.”
Louvrek or Mallia?
Ian Crook’s biggest selection dilemma comes up front: he will have noted how his side were more comfortable with using Mitch Mallia’s pace in behind rather than the link-up play of the Croatian import, Kruno Louvrek.
It’s unfortunate for the latter that his style of play is so similar to Sydney’s marquee signing, and he might be dropped to the bench in favour of Mallia, who has generally been used wide this season.
“There’s so much competition for places but I really enjoy that because it brings out the best in players,” says the youngster.
Against Perth, pace might be more suitable. The Glory defence tends to sit relatively deep, and by adding added threat in behind, Crook would be able to open up space between midfield and defence, where Del Piero likes to operate.
Melbourne Heart vs Central Coast Mariners
The Heart has always pledged themselves as a proactive team but their best results have come from playing on the counter-attack. That has been the case so far this season and may have been a factor in Aloisi’s decision to sign Vince Grella.
“Vince will help control the game a lot better so that when we do need to keep the ball we can keep possession and wait for the right time to penetrate the opposition and when we can counter we will counter,” he says.
The former Socceroo seems unlikely to make his full debut against the Mariners, although in light of Aloisi’s comments, it could be a possibility.
Diamonds are forever?
The Mariners have always been known for their use of the diamond formation, but that hasn’t been the case this season: rather, Graham Arnold has switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation, presumably to inject more width higher up the pitch and reduce the defensive responsibility on young playmaker Tomas Rogic.
Yet they’ve switched to the diamond twice midway through games this season, at the halfway point of the second half against the Wanderers and at a similar time against Newcastle.
The usual system appears to give the striker more support than is afforded to the lone striker in the 4-2-3-1, but Arnold will appreciate the two clean sheets recorded so far.
It boils down to how concerned he is about his side’s attacking output.