Each week, Australia Scout has a short segment on the popular From the Stands A-League podcast where we dissect the tactical features from one game of the round. Here we review Adelaide United 0-0 Sydney FC.
Listen to the podcast – http://www.fromthestandsal.com/fts-pod/
This week I’m going to talk a bit about Adelaide United v Sydney FC. This was the lowest scoring game of the round but probably the most exciting, as both sides, but particularly Adelaide, conspired to miss some great chances in what was an open and entertaining game.
Josep Gombau has experimented with a 3-4-3 this season but he continued to use a 4-3-3 here, with Osama Malik and Nigel Boogard together at centre-back. Graham Arnold was without Alex Brosque, so switched Bernie Ibini, who normally plays on the right, into the middle, playing behind Marc Janko.
This was a surprising selection decision where Arnold wanted to man-mark Adelaide United’s holding midfielder, Isaias Sanchez, and presumably felt Ibini was the best suited to the role. The two, of course, worked with each other at the Central Coast Mariners and Ibini has always been a good fit for Arnold’s tactical approach, because he works hard defensively and understands his role with and without the ball. In this match, he attempted to block passes into Isaias, who was playing as a #6 at the base of a midfield triangle. Adelaide like to play out from the back and it’s through Isaias that most of their possession is created.
However, in recent weeks teams have taken the same approach as Sydney and man-marked Isaias and what Adelaide do really well is react to this, and change their structures in playing out so that they can still achieve their goal. Essentially, the goal of playing out from the back is to get the ball higher up the pitch into the middle or final third. In Gombau’s eyes, the best way to do that is to play out short from the back and try and draw opponents onto you, so that space opens up further down the pitch. So here, Janko and the two wingers tried to close down on Adelaide’s back four, with Ibini deeper and trying to block passes into Isaias. Theoretically, this should have prevented them from building up play.
However, Adelaide recognised that because Ibini was sitting slightly deeper than Janko, it meant the Austrian striker had to cover the ground between the two Adelaide centre-backs. Now, Boogard and Malik position themselves quite wide, separated by about the width of the penalty box, so it’s a lot of space to cover. What they did was work the ball between them so Janko would get tired, and because Isaias was pulling Ibini away, it created space for one of the centre-backs to actually move forward themselves on the ball into midfield and achieve the goal of playing out from the back.
So here, it was Malik who often took the initiative, driving forward purposefully in possession and helping Adelaide get past that first line of Sydney’s defence. When Malik did this, essentially, the entire Sydney front four were taken out of the play.
In this position, Malik knew he had options on both flanks, because both Cirio and Mabil stay very wide, isolating the opposition full-backs and trying to take them on 1v1. Both Cirio and Mabil did this in the first half, were fouled, and from the resulting set-pieces, Adelaide had their two best chances. The key, though, was Malik – he was helping eliminate that problem of Isaias being man-marked. It’s an excellent illustration of Adelaide’s players ‘problem-solving’ on the pitch – Gombau didn’t need to make a change, because he’s coached this side so well that they know what they need to do on and off the ball – and what to do if the opposition sets up to prevent that.
In the scheme of the tactical battle, then, Adelaide had the better of the first half and judging by the number of good chances they missed, they really should have had the lead. Arnold recognised this and so gradually the side as a whole sat deeper, with Ibini starting to not worry about Isaias but instead sort of working with Janko to drop back and make the defensive structure compact from back to front. This meant Isaias got more ball on but in less dangerous situations, because there was less space for Adelaide to work in because their first line of defence wasn’t being bypassed as easily.
Another important change at half-time was the fact Bruce Djite had to come off. His replacement was Michael Marrone, a right-back, so Adelaide had to make a whole series of changes that eventually meant they had Cirio playing upfront as a false nine. What a false nine is a striker that starts high up, but then drops deep into positions that would normally be occupied by a #10. The important distinction here is that they start high, and then drop deep, which is what Cirio did whenever Adelaide had possession in the middle third. The benefit of this is that centre-backs don’t have anyone to mark, so are vulnerable to attacking runs from elsewhere – here, it was James Jegoo, a central midfielder, who was making runs in behind whenever Cirio dropped deep. He had two good chances in the second half from this exact pattern of play.
Even more promising was when Marcelo Carrusca, Adelaide’s number 10, drifted from his starting position in the middle out to the left. This meant he could combine with Craig Goodwin, Adelaide’s left-winger, as well as Tarek Elrich, who was overlapping from left-back, and Sydney’s right-back Sebastian Ryall didn’t know how to deal with all these different threats coming down his side. Adelaide created lots of chances from this left hand side and Ryall’s troubles defensively where summed up by the fact he ended up just trying to rugby tackle Goodwin, a foul for which he was yellow carded. Worried about a second yellow, Arnold took him off.
If this paints a picture of Adelaide’s dominance, then it probably should, for they had the better chances throughout and were tactically superior to Sydney. However, Sydney had chances of their own from set-pieces and you can read about these in a full, in-depth analysis of the game on AustraliaScout.com. This was one of the more entertaining but also more tactically interesting games of the season, it’s been a pleasure to chat about it – I could be here all day talking about it, to be honest – and thanks again for having me on the show.