Neither side really benefitted in terms of the league table from this draw.
Matt Thompson and Joel Chianese returned to the starting line-up, while Frank Farina decided to shift Alessandro Del Piero inside as the centre forward of the 4-3-3, meaning Richard Garcia went out to the left.
Kevin Muscat brought Adama Traore, Pablo Contreras and Archie Thompson back into the starting line-up, and returned to the attacking quartet Ange Postecoglou preferred at the start of the season, with James Troisi alongside Guilherme Finkler in attacking midfield. Tom Rogic was omitted from the match day squad entirely.
Both Finkler and Abbas were the key players for their sides going forward, and fittingly, finished with an assist apiece.
Farina’s decision to move Del Piero centrally had an interesting effect on Sydney’s play – they didn’t completely revert back to the diamond formation that was so wildly successful in the last fixture between these two sides, a 5-0 Sydney thumping, but came close to replicating it because Del Piero dropped off into positions between the lines, creating a diamond through the centre of the pitch for Sydney.
This, in turn, meant the wide players had to provide penetration in behind – so Garcia and Chianese kept their starting positions very wide, being outlets for long passes when Sydney were on the break, before moving inside with diagonal runs in behind to provide the goal threat. The Contreras yellow/marginal free kick call (and resulting handball no-call) at the very end of the first half comes from Del Piero coming short, and Chianese running in behind – it’s a very basic long ball from the back to create the chance, but still a good illustration of Sydney’s attacking patterns.
On a few occassions, too, Del Piero playing as a false nine helped Sydney win fouls in positions around the edge of the area, because the Victory centre-backs had to rush up and challenge him from behind when he gave them the slip with his movement.
Abbas has done a terrific job in complementing Del Piero in recent weeks by darting forwards and backwards down the left flank to compensate for the Italian’s weaknesses, and even though it was now Garcia ahead of him, he still performed the same role.
It’s similar movement, in a way, to that of Angel Di Maria in last week’s Real Madrid v Barcelona game. Madrid play a 4-3-3 system with Di Maria to the left of the midfield triangle, and he constantly got in advance of Cristiano Ronaldo (who vacated his nominal position on the left flank) to find space down Madrid’s left hand side, providing two assists with crosses from the left.
It works because opponents become unsure of who’s marking who – and Abbas, too, looked dangerous when moving forward into space, and like Di Maria, has the energy to fulfil this demanding role. Early on, he whipped in a ball that Garcia headed over the bar (evidence, too, of how Sydney’s system needed the wingers to become forwards). Later, he and Garcia combined to win a foul in a dangerous area, with Del Piero hitting the resultant free-kick just high over the bar.
The passes between Garcia and Abbas are telling – the former repeatedly hit balls down his outside for the midfielder. Also, Abbas continued to enjoy a good relationship with Del Piero, linking up with him throughout.
The goal, unsurprisingly, came from Abbas on the counter, as he drives the attack forward with the ball at his feet, with his low shot rebounding off Lawrence Thomas and falling to the feet of Chianese for a simple tap-in.
Victory dominate possession
It didn’t take long for the Victory to dominate possession, becoming comfortable on the ball and working it forward into Sydney’s half to build attacking moves. Particularly at the start of the first half, Sydney defended deep. then attacked quickly and directly, although they gradually enjoyed more of the ball as the game progressed.
As always, the zone Del Piero was defending was an area of opposition strength, because of his lack of impact defensively – though here, as the centre-forward, there was more leeway for his lack of work without the ball, and although Mark Milligan and James Jeggo benefitted with freedom in midfield, they generally dominate matches with their passing anyway.
Further up the field, though, the Victory were noticeably keen to focus their passing down their right, as if they’d expected Sydney’s left side to be “defended” by Del Piero, and were keen to exploit this weakness.
As it were, because Garcia was shuttling forward from out wide into the centre, and then covering acres of space to come all the way the back to form part of the midfield five, there was still an advantage for the Victory down this side, and they constantly created chances from their right.
Key was Finkler, who constantly varied his position. Imagine if you split the pitch into four quadrants: Finkler worked up and down the upper right – moving wider into the channels, dropping deep close to the midfield pivot, and darting forward to space on the edge of the penalty box. The format of Sydney’s midfield trio also helped – because the two facing forward in the triangle (Abbas and Thompson) were drawn towards Jeggo and Milligan, it left Antonis to deal with both Troisi and Finkler in front of the defence, with the latter finding space to his left (Finkler’s right).
Combined with the movement of the other attackers into this zone, it was an area where Victory looked constantly dangerous – like in the 18th minute when Finkler ignited a series of 1-2s around the edge of the area, eventually releasing James Troisi for a shot struck over the bar. Thompson, in fact, drifts over from the left to get involved with the move, leaving his flank completely bare – evidence of how the Victory were looking to overload Sydney down that side.
As always, too, Victory looked dangerous when attacking quickly through the wide forwards – Kosta Barbarouses, in particular, had a number of good chances from immediate passes at transitions, wasting one particularly good opportunity with a shot that went wide of the far post.
As aforementioned, Sydney scored almost immediately after the break, fittingly through Abbas. After the goal, they dropped very deep, inviting Victory pressure which built through their dominance of possession. Like in the first half, they created chances through overloading that pocket of space in the right channel – and their equaliser came from Finkler slipping Troisi in behind from that exact zone.
Sydney were attacking sporadically on the counter – but their decision-making was often quite poor, and even in situations of clear numerical advantage, struggled to make the most of these chances. They also seemed keen to push the full-backs forward, with Seb Ryall getting into advanced positions down the right.
In fact, after the Victory goal, the game actually became quite stretched, with both sides hitting the other on the counter – so attacks flowed back and forth, which meant the tempo stayed quite high. On the whole, though, the Victory had more of the ball, and were more constructive with their attacking play.
The substitutions, a series of like-for-like (or injury enforced) changes, were fairly irrelevant.
A relatively intense encounter with a few points of tactical interest – both sides had a particular area of strength in attack (both, interestingly, down the same flank), with Finkler getting into good positions down the right channel, and Abbas likewise down his left.
To reiterate a previously discussed point, though, this wasn’t a particularly ‘tactical’ battle, as neither coach reacted to the other. Neither Farina or Muscat really did much to change the game’s pattern, probably because neither side was particularly dominant throughout the course of the match, even though the Victory dominated possession – perhaps it was fair, then, it ended 1-1.