Besart Berisha scored against his future side to take Brisbane into a third Grand Final in four years.
Mike Mulvey named his side yesterday, and thus no surprises with Brisbane’s starting eleven. Dimitri Petratos continued on the right wing ahead of Henrique.
Kevin Muscat, too, had no new injury worries, and so named an unchanged side from last week’s preliminary final win over Sydney FC.
After an exciting opening five minutes, the game settled into its expected pattern: Brisbane dominating possession, and the Victory playing predominantly on the counter-attack. However, neither side consistently created genuine goalscoring chances, and there was little progression in the tactical battle – until a dramatic final five minutes.
The key feature of the match was the pressing from both sides, with the Victory starting very energetically, closing down high up through the front four – Kosta Barbarouses nearly tapped in from a calamitous Michael Theo error.
Throughout the game, both sides closed down very quickly when the other had the ball, particularly when in midfield. Overall, there was little time on the ball for any player, and the majority of the play felt rushed – there was no rhythm when either side had possession, and there were a surprising amount of fouls with players pressuring from behind. The one player you’d expect to find space, Luke Brattan, was blocked by the Victory’s front two of Guilherme Finkler and James Troisi, who also took turns to occupy him directly when Brisbane had the ball.
Gradually, Brisbane began to settle on the ball, with the Victory easing off on the tempo of their pressure and bringing the wide players back alongside the midfield, to protect the defence. This was the pattern predicted in the preview, and the approach Muscat has twice previously used against Brisbane – preventing them from setting the early running, before becoming more cautious as the game progresses.
The pattern continued at goal kicks, as both sides sat high up the pitch, forcing the goalkeepers to kick long.
Full-backs stick tight
An interesting feature was how tight the Victory full-backs were sticking tight to their direct opponents, always looking to nip in front of them and win the ball – with Adama Traore playing particularly proactively on Petratos, and booked early on for a rash tackle from behind. On the opposite side, Jason Geria marked Broich very closely when he was in his zone, but generally let him go free when he drifted inside, presumably more concerned in covering the threat of Matt McKay and Shane Stefanutto, who both typically got forward. That meant Broich occasionally found space on the inside, and hit a couple of straight balls in behind for Berisha, as well as one dangerous cross-field pass for Petratos.
Berisha stayed more central and more advanced than he has in recent weeks, but sometimes found space to receive passes on the turn and run directly at the defenders, but overall, Brisbane lacked incisiveness in their possession.
They deserve credit, however, for how rarely the Victory were able to counter-attack – the Roar pressed in packs very quickly when the ball was turned over, preventing an initial forward pass, and the centre-backs played very proactively against Finkler and Troisi, stepping in ahead of the player to win the ball cleanly on a number of occasions. Finkler, in particular, struggled to get on the ball and influence the match. Troisi tended to wander more, and occasionally looked dangerous driving forward on the break from wide positions.
Both sides were probably rusty for two different reasons – the Victory because this was their third game in nine days, the Roar because they lacked match sharpness after a fifteen day break.
There was little progression in the game after the break, and little to comment on until Berisha’s goal, which in itself was a fairly basic counter-attacking goal, with the striker able to drive directly at a defender and take the shot on towards the near post. As always, Brisbane from a variety of angles – the fullbacks overlapping, Petratos attacking directly from the right channel, Broich slipping balls in behind, but none of these players were convincing when on the ball.
After the goal, the Roar continued to control possession, and there was surprisingly little change in the Victory’s overall approach until Muscat rolled the dice (having made a fairly unambitious change of Rashid Mahazi for Broxham in the 68th minute), with Andrew Nabbout coming on for Pablo Contreras. That meant Geria, Ansell and Traore became a back three, with Nabbout high up on the left, and they built pressure in the final minutes with an all-out attacking approach – although the main chance, the header cleared off the line, came from a set-piece. Inevitably, too, the Victory chasing the game lead to them being more open at the back, and they conceded two good chances to Miller and Berisha.
There was nothing particularly sophisticated about Muscat’s changes, however – simply about throwing on extra attackers at the expense of a defender in the dying moments.
Perhaps not a game befitting of the stage and hype. The pressing from both sides was strong and made it difficult for either to settle, but it was aided by some poor execution and players having an off-game, something which can probably be attributed to their intense/non-existent run of games.
It sounds harsh, but it’s felt like Muscat’s been more in damage control than anything else since taking over from Ange Postecoglou, especially since the back-to-back 5-0 defeats. He’s become more cautious in his approach, focused predominantly on squad rotation, and the side has grinded out results rather than consistently performed well.
The ‘problem’ is somewhat compounded by the 4-2-2-2, and the ‘dual no.10’ system that’s become standard with the Victory. It’s an interesting theory, and at times, exciting in practice, but it’s never felt completely convincing, primarily because it doesn’t really account for game states – it’s too attacking a system when defending a lead, not varied enough to break down set defences, and too reliant on space in behind. When unable to play quickly and directly (as they were here because of Brisbane’s pressing), the Victory have struggled – and because the shape makes it difficult to play compact in defence, they struggle to soak up pressure for long periods.
In three consecutive matches against Brisbane, the Roar have dominated possession without truly dominating the game in terms of chances – yet still won every game against the Victory this season (under Muscat).