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Melbourne Heart 4-1 Brisbane Roar: Champions dismantled

John Aloisi’s second win was a thrashing of the defending champions.

The starting lineups

The Melbourne Heart coach made one change to the side that lost to the Wanderers last week, with Nick Kalmar coming in for Sam Mitchinson. Aziz Behich moved back into his regular fullback position while Kalmar was deployed on the left wing. Richard Garcia was the most advanced of the three central midfielders.

Despite a disappointing loss to Adelaide United, Rado Vidosic only made one enforced change, with Henrique replacing the injured Besart Berisha.

Brisbane dominated possession, as always, but the Heart played ruthlessly and thoroughly deserved their victory.


The Heart have become somewhat of a bogey side for Brisbane having struck upon a good formula to disrupt the short passing game of the champions. John van’t Schip’s strategy was to instruct his side to press the Roar from the front and prevent them from playing out from the back, before dropping deep after the twenty minute mark and focusing on shape.

Aloisi was van’t Schip’s assistant last season, so it is little surprise that he opted for the same strategy here, although he would also have been encouraged by the Wanderers’ 1-0 win a few weeks earlier.

The Heart have preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation that could also be termed a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3, but regardless of terminology, the principles of their pressing remain the same: Josip Tadic closed down the central defenders, Mate Dugandzic and Kalmar played high up on the fullbacks, while Garcia had the key role, tasked with tracking passes into the Brisbane midfield and closing down forward passing angles.

The effects of this strategy are fairly obvious: players have less time on the ball, and forced into sloppy passes and frequent turnovers. That much was clear in the first half, as Brisbane struggled to effectively build up play and work the ball into the final third.

The downside of such a strategy is that it’s physically demanding, difficult to maintain for extended periods. That is where the Heart’s tactical flexibility is significant, as they were able to switch to a more conservative approach after twenty minutes, where they focused on forming two clear banks of four and keeping in compact between the lines.

Breaking down deep defence

Broich passes v Heart

As was the case against the Wanderers, Brisbane was thus tasked with breaking down a deep defence, something they’ve struggled to achieve this season. The central tenet of their playing style is monopolising possession, and although the midfield zone was a clear 3v3 match up, the movement of Thomas Broich from his left-wing position into central playmaking positions gave Brisbane an extra man in that zone, and Hoffman actually received a yellow card following a clumsy challenge on the German.

On the other flank, Ben Halloran has a very specific duty to stay wide on the right and dribble directly at defenders. Although he had a superb game in the 5-0 thrashing of the Victory, he’s otherwise been a detriment to Brisbane’s fluid attack. His decision making is too slow, and he doesn’t offer enough beyond his pace, and comes off as a one-dimensional player. Broich will often come inside and look for passes through the defence, but Halloran won’t have made a run into the channel or behind the defence.

This, coupled with Henrique’s ineffectiveness as a central forward, made it difficult for Brisbane to create any chances of note. Henrique’s characteristics suggested he would play as a false nine, but he was more a ‘normal’ centre forward here, looking to run onto through balls behind the Heart central defence. The fallacy of this was that he doesn’t offer enough of an aerial threat to be a proper hold up player, which further limited the Roar’s usual fluidity.

I discussed the shortcomings of the Heart’s central defensive pairing last week, and considering it’s been such a trend of their season so far, it was surprising that Vidosic didn’t try and take advantage of it. Instead, Patrick Gerhardt was happy to stay in line with the back four and use his mobility to combat Henrique. He rarely had to contend with vertical movement nor was there ever the threat of having to contest aerial balls. When you factor in the goal, this was one of his better games for his new club.

Counter attack

The second half was characterised by the onus on Brisbane, having gone behind, to provide the attacking impetus. This meant that the Heart were content to sit back and pick out passes on the counter attack, and although some of the goals were particularly impressive, they weren’t particularly interesting tactically: simple counter-attacks, prompted by Garcia, who had a superb game in the advanced midfield role. He’s been preferred as a deeper midfielder so far this season, but in Fred’s usual position, he provided energy and manful running.

Brisbane’s fluid midfield?

In the absence of any real significant tactical changes from either manager (although the introduction of James Fitzgerald, which saw Broich move centrally, prompted a relatively good period for Brisbane), it’s worth considering one of the more subtle changes under Vidosic’s management of the Roar, their rotating midfield.

Under Postecoglou, Erik Paartalu was the holding midfielder, instructed to hold his position and play simple passes to recycle possession. However, perhaps as a by-product of Vidosic’s belief in ‘creative license’, he’s been far more willing to move forward this season into attacking positions. He wants his side to be more independent and to play with more freedom – and with Massimo Murdocca intelligent enough to cover for Paartalu when he moves forward, the theory has some grounding – but it does mean that they have a poor defensive shape, as was clear for the fourth goal.

End notes

Press selectively, then drop deep. Is this becoming a standard strategy against the Roar? Perhaps, but there’s obviously other factors, most prominently Brisbane’s changes under Vidosic. If the rotating midfield triangle is a significant change, it needs more work to ensure all three players work in synchronisation to prevent teams simply opening them up on the break.

This was the Heart’s second win of the season, and they’ve benefited in both from open defences. Josip Tadic was superb as the central striker with Garcia in support, meaning Fred’s imminent return throws up an intriguing selection dilemma – the Brazilian’s supremely creative, but Garcia works harder in defence and allows the Heart to play their preferred pressing game.

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