As expected for two sides committed to open, possession-based systems, this was an exciting match full of chances and attacking play.
Josep Gombau made two changes from last week’s ludicrous 3-3 draw against the Melbourne Heart, with Bruce Djite replacing Jeronimo Neumann upfront, and Jon McKain returning to the defence ahead of Nigel Boogard, who dropped out of the match day squad completely.
Mike Mulvey went with the expected side – Henrique started on the right.
This was an odd, yet enjoyably open game albeit with no real overall pattern, so here are ten broad points.
1. The focus of much of the pre-match build-up was the “possession derby” – the tag is cringe-worthy, but accurate, as these are the two A-League sides who actively seek to dominate possession, and average the most in the competition (Adelaide with 60%, and Brisbane with 57%).
As it eventuated, possession was evenly split, with Adelaide just scraping it with 51% against Brisbane’s 49%. Linked to this, and more significantly, both teams recorded a high number of passes, which contributed to the positive feel of the match, and meant it flowed quite freely – there were a number of chances created, and both sides were genuinely committed to keeping their passing short and neat, and building attacking moves from the back.
Really, neither side truly dealt with the others’ transition of possession into the middle third – Brisbane’s front three sat high up the pitch at goal kicks and forced Eugene Galekovic to go long, but in open play the ball was worked forward into attacking positions by either side a surprisingly large number of times.
2. In terms of the midfield battle, Brisbane were probably the superior side. On paper, as 4-3-3 v 4-3-3, it was a simple 3v3 battle in the centre, but the Roar frequently kept bringing extra players into the midfield zone and Adelaide seemed uncertain of who was to pick up who. Thomas Broich’s typical drifts inside from the left were particularly effective – it meant Matt McKay could drop slightly deeper to collect possession unchallenged and hit some probing balls over the top, while Broich created chances with his passing between the lines.
Adelaide’s strategy to deal with this was inconsistent – initially, it seemed like Isaias was to push forward from his deep-lying role to win the ball back, but then the two centre-backs started to move off their line to pressure the man in possession, with no-one really covering their position in the back line. Considering Broich’s movement inside has been an obvious feature of Brisbane’s play over the last three seasons, this was surprising.
The real beneficiary of the congested midfield zone, however, was Brisbane left-back Corey Brown, who charged forward energetically from deep positions to overlap down the sides. He, of course, won the penalty for Brisbane’s equaliser.
3. However, both sides looked stronger when they bypassed the midfield zone altogether to create chances, because their high lines – a natural by-effect of a possession-based game – compressed the space through the middle but inevitably created room in behind. Fabio Ferriera and Henrique were the obvious targets as pacy, direct wingers, and frequently looked to latch onto passes hit over the top of the defence. Ferriera’s run in behind to meet Jon McKain’s ball over the top forced Matt Acton off his line early on, while Henrique made a number of outside-to-in runs from his right-wing position, although a number of these passes were slightly overhit and Galekovic could easily gather the loose balls.
4. It’s worth noting that when Henrique made these diagonal runs – bisecting the space between left-back Michael Zullo and left-sided centre-back McKain – it obviously meant when the ball was turned over the right flank was temporarily bare. Besart Berisha brings a number of things to this Brisbane side, but his intelligent defensive cover is an underrated feature – he often covered Henrique out of possession and made sure Jack Hingert wasn’t left exposed at right-back.
Furthermore, Berisha frequently dropped into deeper positions to help facilitate Henrique’s running, as the movement between the lines occupied Adelaide’s centre-backs and created space in central areas for the Brazilian to dart into. Berisha’s two goals were rather odd – one was a penalty, the other largely the consequence of calamitous defending, although the striker’s determination has to be commended.
5. Bruce Djite was similarly ‘facilitative’ at the other end. He rarely got into goalscoring positions, but helped build attacks with his clever use of hold-up play both to relieve pressure and create space in congested areas. His use of his big, solid frame was impressive, turning his back on defenders with the ball at feet so that possession wasn’t turned over, and Adelaide used him in two respects – to escape the times when they were caught under pressure high up the pitch, and in and around the penalty area as Brisbane restricted the space to attack.
This kind of physical, target-man play might seem at odds with what Gombau wants to create at Adelaide, but there’s an important distinction to be made between a long-ball, direct style of play, and using a physical player to retain possession.
6. Another keen source of attack for Adelaide was getting their wingers to the by-line, and swinging crosses away from the face of goal. Ferriera likes to drive to the by-line, and repeatedly sent balls into the penalty area. The problem was there was no-one actively attacking them, and in this regard it was pertinent to consider the departure of Dario Vidosic over the off-season. The playmaker’s creativity was easily replaced by Marcelo Carrusca, but an understated feature of his good form last season was his goalscoring – 10, the top scorer at the club. Many of these goals came from well-timed runs from midfield positions, and there was a distinct lack of that quality here.
Furthermore, in the very early stages (the opening ten minutes) Adelaide twice looked to switch the play quickly across to Cirio, who dedicatedly kept the width down the left flank. It looked promising – the first time he managed to dart past Hingert into a good crossing position, then the second time, it created a long-range shooting opportunity for Isaias, who blazed just over. This kind of build-up play, by changing the point of attack after a succession of short passes down one side, has been a feature of Gombau’s tenure, and it was surprising Adelaide didn’t utilise it more often as the game progressed.
Finally, Adelaide were also threatening from corners throughout the match, and Marcelo Carrusca’s delivery from the left hand side was constantly dangerous. Malik’s goal wasn’t a one-off incident, and Brisbane struggled to clear their lines on a number of occasions.
7. The roles of the deep-lying players, Luke Brattan and Isaias, in the midfield triangles were very interesting. Both finished as the highest passers for their team, but largely because they both played a number of incisive long ground balls forward into the attackers. Brattan, in particular, found freedom in a pocket of space just in front of the back four, and was very positive with his distribution.
In particular, he linked up nicely with Ivan Franjic, especially after the latter switched to right-wing upon the introduction of Liam Miller, twice receiving balls high and wide in dangerous space down the touchline.
Isaias, too, provided creativity from deep – his excellent ball over the top for Jeronimo in the eighty-eighth minute saw the striker finish (with his head) wide.
8. The introduction of Miller was probably the game’s most important change. Naturally, he brought a little more ‘order’ to midfield, linking up through the middle intelligently, but it also meant the versatile Franjic went wide right – he was frequently free in the channels, and sent in a series of dangerous lofted and drilled crosses.
In fact, Brisbane created two chances in quick succession through square cutbacks to the edge of the area, and this was an area where it felt Adelaide were quite vulnerable – the winning goal came from Berisha picking up the ball in this zone, from a clever sideways pass by Miller.
9. The other substitutions were fairly ‘standard’ – Gombau made two changes prior to Brisbane’s second goal, bringing on Awer Mabil and Jeronimo for Djite and Ferriera respectively, and introduced Jake Barker-Daish immediately after conceding. Mulvey, meanwhile, elected to bring Kwame Yeboah on late for Berisha, the youngster’s pace proving useful to stretch Adelaide’s defence in the final minutes, and he was a threat on the counter-attack.
Brisbane did an excellent job halting the momentum of the match towards the end, and Adelaide’s last few chances came from set plays and long balls into the box – rather ironically, the “possession derby” ended with a typically Route One finish.
10. Adelaide are in a very strange situation, although not an unexpected one. Even before the first game, Gombau suggested his priority was performance ahead of results, and he hasn’t changed his tune despite his side’s poor form. The odd thing is that they’re playing well, in the style he wants, but simply not doing it “well enough”. Against the league’s standard for possession-based football, it was an excellent illustration of how difficult the template can be to implement.
In many ways, this game showed how incredibly good the Roar were at their peak, even if Brisbane rarely found their stride here.