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Adelaide United 0-1 Brisbane Roar: Two flawed teams, one poor game

Henrique’s second half goal was enough for Brisbane’s first win under Mike Mulvey.

The starting line-ups

The starting line-ups

True to his word of not reacting drastically to last Friday’s 6-1 defeat to Western Sydney, John Kosmina made just two changes, with Daniel Bowles returning at right-back in place of Cameron Watson, and Jeronimo Neumann replacing Evan Kostopoulos.

Mulvey gave former protégé Ben Halloran a first start under the new leadership, with the speedy winger allowing Thomas Broich to move into a central midfield role alongside Mitch Nicholls. Massimo Murdocca was on the bench.

This was an uninspiring game. Both sides had very clear flaws in their structure, but neither took proper advantage of the others weakness, leading to an open match, but little entertainment.

Adelaide weakness

Starting with the home side and the more obvious weakness, John Kosmina’s attacking ambition has very notably created a ‘broken’ team of five defenders and five attackers, with Osama Malik, the holding midfielder, given a very difficult job of protecting the back four.

Sydney were the first to exploit the flaw, and Adelaide’s last two defeats against the Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney stemmed from an obvious focus from the opposition on exposing the space between the lines.

Kosmina did make a slight structural change – he instructed Marcelo Carrusca to sit slightly deeper in midfield (as he did in the second half against the Wanderers), while Dario Vidosic was deployed on the left with the freedom to drift inside. Jeronimo played close to Bruce Djite, meaning without the ball, Adelaide’s shape best resembled a 4-4-2. They also sat much deeper than in previous weeks, pressing more reservedly and allowing Brisbane freedom on the ball inside their own half.

Still, there were pockets of space all across the pitch, the two most obvious being just in behind Carrusca, who was lax with his tracking, and on the left hand side where Vidosic’s roaming left Cassio exposed.

Brisbane weakness

The most recognizable weakness for the away side was a lack of confidence. They simply don’t seem as comfortable on the ball this season – due in part to Vidosic’s reduced focus on set patterns of play – while their physical preparation, tailored around the Asian Champions League at the end of the season, has also restricted their ability to play at 100%.

Tactically speaking, here they played aggressively, pressing high up the pitch and defending with a high line, meaning their weakness lay in the space in behind, where well-timed balls over the top was the obvious strategy.

Mulvey tweaks

Mulvey recognised the flaws in Adelaide’s system, and set up his side accordingly by moving Broich centrally, which meant the German playmaker could take advantage of the room on either side of Malik. He also took a cue from Western Sydney by closing down Adelaide from the front – Nicholls pushed forwards alongside Berisha and tracked the runs of Malik, preventing the easy pass and forcing Adelaide to frequently go long.

It was very similar to how Shinji Ono and Dino Kresinger worked to prevent the Reds playing out from the back, and a lack of vertical movement towards the ball from the advanced midfielders only exaggerated the problem further.

By contrast, Kosmina’s side frequently attempted to exploit Brisbane’s high line with a number of balls over the top, but the timing of their forward runs was extremely poor as was the quality of the final pass. Jeronimo and Vidosic positioned themselves very poorly – they weren’t an option with a short or long pass, while the timing of their runs in behind was poor.

On the other wing, Fabio Ferriera kept good width but was easily tracked by Shane Stefanutto, while Bowles rarely got forward, as he was pinned back by the danger of Henrique.

Slow passing

Therefore, it seemed far more likely that Brisbane would score – they were dominating possession and the space between the lines was perfect for the likes of Broich and Nicholls. The problem was that they weren’t getting the ball to that duo quick enough, as they focused on keeping possession immediately after winning the ball.

That meant, instead of choosing the risky forward pass, they’d opt for the safe sideways option, ensuring they monopolised the ball at the cost of allowing the home side time to assume their structure. By the stage where Brisbane would work the ball forward, Adelaide had dropped into their 4-4-1-1 shape, which reduced the openness in midfield.

Halloran's unsuccessful dribbles

Halloran’s unsuccessful dribbles

But still, there were spaces in between the lines, and the off-the-ball movement of Nicholls was perfect: he continually positioned himself Berisha in a pocket of space behind Carrusca, free of any marker. Too often though, Brisbane failed to find him, focusing their passing instead towards the flanks (as Mulvey prefers). This allowed Henrique and Halloran to become more involved in the game – with the latter losing out frequently in one-on-one situations down the right – and the two switched in flanks midway through the half, presumably to see if Henrique would have more success in the open spaces down that side.

But on the balance of the tactical battle, the better option would have been playing through the centre.


When Kosmina took off Jeronimo and introduced Kostopoulos, he reverted to his ‘usual’ 4-3-3 system, with Carrusca and Vidosic floating ahead of Malik. This formation, with two natural wingers in Kostopoulos and Ferriera, made Adelaide even more open through the middle – given that the creative midfielders tried to press high up the pitch – and immediately after the change, Brisbane created a good chance by working the ball across the park towards Henrique.

Not long after that, the game’s only goal arrived, with Nicholls the creator by dribbling his way into the box after collecting the ball unmarked outside the area. The assist was a good reward for the man of the match, and the nature of his goal – with Malik in no-man’s land to the right of him – was a fitting reward for the clever awareness he displayed throughout the game.

Kosmina immediately reacted by replacing Malik with Watson – it was the right player to bring on, but the wrong player to take off. Granted, the Adelaide coach was obliged to chase the game, but the switch didn’t help solve the issue in midfield, and the late Fitzgerald chance created from a fine pass from Broich only highlighted it further.

End notes

Just like last week, Kosmina well and truly lost the tactical battle. Structure has been sacrificed for his attacking ambition, and while clever movement and outstanding technical ability temporarily papered over the cracks, he now needs to find a balanced system. And for all the exciting attacking talent he squeezed into tonight’s team, his side mustered up just one shot on target.

It is still difficult to assess Mulvey’s impact so far. Brisbane were discernibly trying to play down the flanks more – especially towards the right – but this doesn’t play to the strengths of Halloran, who continues to appear one-dimensional with his tendency to dribble down the outside. He is more suitable to a counter-attacking side, and integrating him into the more patient, probing Brisbane style will be a big challenge for the new coach.

Mulvey will, however, be pleased with the formation of his midfield tonight: Broich was good in a slightly deeper, central role, while Nicholls was the game’s key player: by tracking Malik, Adelaide were forced to go long, while his intelligent movement in attack was undermined by his teammate’s slow passing.

He should have had a more tangible impact on the scoresheet beyond his lone assist – although that was all that was really needed in an unexciting fixture.

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  1. I took a few notes tonight at the game & I think you got it spot on mate. Once again mid is our undoing – not sure why he thought Carrusca deeper would work tonight after failure v WSW 2nd half. Noticeable very early on yet was never fixed.

    Brisbane seemed to be going after Cassio all game. Nearly created a couple of chances early with Halloran pulling him inside & Franjic moving into the space unchecked. Halloran was largely ineffective after those two early moves; Roar should have been playing through the middle anyway. Noticed Malik helping out on that flank a few times – he could have been cut out of the play if they went central instead of wide.

    Noticed Djite marking Paartalu on and off to try to stop easy ball out of defence while Jeronimo pressed the defender with the ball. Goal came while Bruce was off him. Went back to him after Watson came on & BR using easy options in midfield.

    Strange that Kossie seemed to be concerned with stopping Brisbane yet failed to properly address the key flaw in our structure. Uninspired subs changed nothing either.

    We could have won tonight if our runs in behind were timed better – many wasted chances – but that just shows Brisbane has issues with their structure too.

    • JC,

      Thanks for your points. It\’s amazing how much the recent struggles can be linked to the midfield. It\’s starting to feel like an \’easy\’ excuse, but the reality is it\’s such a glaring flaw it accounts for most of the issues you raise.

      Kosmina\’s strategy was very strange. I suppose the idea of \’stopping\’ Brisbane was the positioning of Djite, as you mentioned, but this wasn\’t a coherent strategy throughout the match, which undermines any efforts to try and \’stop\’ the opposition.

  2. I am a big fan of sites like this and it is fantastic that you are doing this. In terms of some feedback on this article, it would have been great for you to have shown some examples of the themes that you focused on – ie Nicol\’s good positioning, Adelaide\’s 5-5 attack/defence split etc. Otherwise, for most people I would guess, the article become a bit inaccessible to those without the same level of knowledge as you and less of an education tool. For example, it was difficult to understand exactly what you are talking about by \”good positioning\”, how the 5-5 split causes issues and makes it difficult for Malik (without seeing it in some kind of visual). Other than that (and I mean it in the most constructive way), thanks for the website I\’ll be checking it after ever game.

    • Revolver,

      Thanks for reading, taking the time to comment and for your feedback.

      I\’d love to use graphics, but as long as there\’s no place to download games, it\’s difficult to use images to illustrate what I\’m saying. I do have access to a coaching tool called ONCE Football which has video content, but it takes a long time to load and sometimes isn\’t available until days after the game, which defeats the purpose of producing the analysis as a tool for immediate post-match discussion.

      I do use the Fox Sports Match Centre to take screenshots (if you look around a few other articles, you\’ll see examples) but that has it\’s obvious limitations in what video they put on that site.

      I will try to pair down the terminology a bit and explain things more so that those who don\’t obsess over tactics 24/7 can understand a bit more. And please do come back for more, every read is greatly appreciated.

  3. I don\’t blame Mulvey, but as a Victory fan, I\’m rather peeved that he left our W-League team mid-season. He was doing a great job, having come in at short notice. Couldn\’t he have stuck around another few weeks?