Match Analysis: Adelaide United 1-1 Melbourne Victory

All the action unfolded at the very end of an otherwise tight, tepid match.

Teams

After a fine 2-1 win over the defending champions last Sunday, Josep Gombau made no changes to his starting XI and kept with the unusual 4-3-3/3-4-3 system.

Kevin Muscat welcomed back captain Mark Milligan from international duty, so Leigh Broxham was unlucky to be dropped to the bench. The rest of the side remained from the sensational 4-1 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers seven days earlier.

Formation battle

As this is the first time Australia Scout has analysed an Adelaide game this season, it’s worth discussing the finer points of their new formation – a 4-3-3 without the ball, a 3-4-3 with the ball.

The key player is Isaias, nominally a defensive midfielder who becomes a centre-back without the ball in the new formation. When Adelaide are defending, it’s their usual 4-3-3 shape, with the midfield triangle facing forward – so Craig Goodwin, Bruce Djite and Cirio across the front three, Marcelo Carrusca slightly ahead of James Jeggo and Pablo Sanchez in midfield, and Tarek Elrich and Dylan McGowan at left and right-back respectively.

When Adelaide win possession, however, the latter two (McGowan and Elrich) tuck in narrow, form a back three alongside Nigel Boogard with Isaias moving forward into midfield, creating a diamond through the centre of the pitch. The dynamics of the side are the same – looking to retain possession, using Djite as a ‘bounce’ player upfront and attempting to create 1v1 situations out wide – but the positioning of certain players has been altered, creating a very difficult and fascinating shape for the opposition to try and counter.

Melbourne Victory kept with their 4-2-3-1, but the wingers pressed ‘inwards’ so the side was often quite narrow when pressing. More crucially, Muscat instructed Guilherme Finkler, with help from Besart Berisha, to pick up Isaias without the ball.

Midfield battle

Therefore, there was a very obvious and fiercely contested battle in the middle of the pitch, with the Victory trying to stick tight in that zone, and prevent Adelaide from playing through midfield. Adelaide themselves reciprocated this approach, and actually adjusted their shape when defending so that there were three clear 1v1 battles without the ball – Jeggo moved from a left-of-centre position into a deeper role to mark Finkler, while Carrusca then rotated into Jeggo’s position to pick up Carl Valeri, with Sanchez up against Milligan.

Adelaide adjust midfield v Victory
How Adelaide adjusted their midfield to occupy all three of Melbourne Victory’s midfielders, with Jeggo moving to pick up Finkler

With what was practically man-marking from either side in midfield, there was an incredible amount of sloppy passes and poor first touches. The game was characterised by these frustrating errors on the ball, and for long periods, there was an incredible lack of fluency from either side. This was summed up by Adelaide’s inferior possession count compared to average (52%, as opposed to usual numbers of around 55-65%), while the pass completion from both teams was very poor – 67% for Adelaide, 72% for the Victory.

High pressing

Eugene Galekovic's distribution v Melbourne Victory
Eugene Galekovic’s distribution v Melbourne Victory

This inability to play passing football was exacerbated by the eagerness of either side to press high up the pitch, particularly the Victory, who took a cue from Brisbane last week by also sitting high up at goal-kicks, preventing Eugene Galekovic from comfortably playing out from the back. Twice now this season the goalkeeper has had to attempt ambitious chipped balls to his full-backs, and being unable to build up possession from back had serious ramifications for Adelaide’s attacking play during this match.

With Finkler and Berisha taking turns to pick up Isaias, it was interesting to see the Spaniard attempt to find space by pushing quite high up the pitch, trying to drag away his markers. It was similar to the way Luke Brattan tried to circumvent the attention of Bruce Djite last Sunday.

Victory get in behind high line

Adelaide’s own attempts to press high up the pitch meant they consequently had to play with a high line, which the Victory frequently looked to break in behind. This was the defining feature of the same fixture between these two sides last season, and like in that match, the Victory (and Archie Thompson in particular) recorded a high amount of offsides – 6, with Thompson responsible for 3.

Like against the Wanderers, Melbourne focused their attacks down the right, with Barbarouses getting in behind on a number of occasions early on. He targeted his runs in the channel between Boogard and Elrich, on one occasion cutting a cross back for a Finkler shot the Brazilian smashed over the bar.

An example of Barbarouses getting in behind, in the channel between Boogard and Elrich
An example of Barbarouses getting in behind, in the channel between Boogard and Elrich

Adelaide get half-chances

Instead, the general theme, as mentioned earlier, was the overall lack of fluency. The match itself was of quite a poor quality. However, Adelaide got a few good chances when they were able to play quickly and directly into Djite – this seemed a particular tactic, and their attempts to play quick forward balls into the forward was another contributing factor to the poor pass accuracy percentage.

It may have been a tactic to try and hit the Victory on the counter, and perhaps to try and avoid their closing down immediately after losing the ball. Very early on, in a good example of this pattern of play, Djite got played in on goal by Goodwin having initially released the left-winger in behind, but failed to connect with the volley – significantly, the move stemmed from an immediate forward pass into Djite by Boogard, effectively bypassing the Victory pressure in midfield.

Another area of promise was when Marcelo Carrusca drifted towards the flanks to escape the attention of Valeri and Milligan. As Adelaide had four players in midfield verus the Victory’s three (with Finkler picking up Isaias), they had a numerical advantage in this zone. Space opened up between the lines when Milligan and Valeri pressed up onto Jeggo and Sanchez. Carrusca was able to exploit this when receiving passes in the channels, and he often drifted towards the left to combine with Goodwin, who subsequently was far more involved than Cirio on the opposite side.

The fact Elrich pushed forward far more from left centre-back (remembering Adelaide use a 3-4-3 with the ball) compared to McGowan on the right also contributed towards this bias towards the left. On a separate note, this would eventually prove important when he provided the assist for the opening goal with a cracking pass.

Finkler's (and sometimes Berisha's) man-marking on Isaias meant the Victory stopped Adelaide playing through midfield, even though the 'spare man', Carrusca, found space between the lines when drifting to the flanks
Finkler’s (and sometimes Berisha’s) man-marking on Isaias meant the Victory stopped Adelaide playing through midfield, even though the ‘spare man’, Carrusca, found space between the lines when drifting to the flanks

Second half

Despite an underwhelming first half, both coaches might have been happy with the pattern of the game, as it was being played at a far less frantic tempo than is usually the case between these two sides.

With no changes to the formations or personnel at half-time, the pattern of the game was similar to the first – although it became increasingly clear that Adelaide were now getting their wingers on the ball far more. They switched the focus of attacks much quicker, hitting some nice cross-field passes, and it helped that the game opened up much more as playes tired. It basically became all about the 1v1 battles down the flanks – Goodwin v Jason Geria, Cirio v Daniel Georgievski, with both Adelaide attackers looking to go down the outside of the defender onto their stronger foot.

Therefore, when Gombau introduced Fabio Ferriera with ten minutes to go, it was straightaway encouraging to see Cirio switch to the left, where he played last season and is far more comfortable cutting inside onto his favoured right foot. Tellingly, for a Djite shot that flashed wide of the far post minutes earlier, Cirio had half-created the chance with a cross from the touchline – and conversely, on the left, he made his more ‘natural’ runs in behind. He scored the opener from this exact move, but the makeshift nature of the right-hand side of the Victory’s defence must also be acknowledged – Milligan had had to drop into centre-back with Geria’s injury, with substitute Broxham shifted out to right-back.

Victory substitute Ben Khalfallah equalised from a corner, and although the game probably didn’t deserve two goals, a draw was probably a fair result.

Conclusion

Indeed, the action-packed final five minutes felt rather separate to the rest of the match, which was otherwise about slow, cagey football punctuated by frustrating turnovers and fouls.

This, of course, was linked to the man-marking from either side in midfield, with the Finkler/Berisha job on Isaias playing an important role in nullifying Adelaide’s usual possession game. Normally, the holding midfielder (now also a centre-back) plays the crucial role in facilitating Adelaide’s ball movement into the final third, and with him unable to receive passes, the rest of the side suffered as a result. In particular, Carrusca’s clever movement towards the flanks to become the ‘spare’ man in the midfield battle could have been better exploited had Isaias been able to get on the ball more.

Adelaide, too, will be encouraged by the success of their midfield tweak, with Jeggo doing a good job moving into a holding midfield position to pick up Finkler – the Brazilian, like Carrusca, struggled to influence proceedings. The discipline of Carrusca and Sanchez in pressing up onto Valeri and Milligan respectively was also important, restricting the Victory’s own ability to play out from the back.

For once, the cliche ‘a tactical battle’ isn’t misleading, but it’s a shame it affected the quality of the match.

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