Henrique scored the A-League’s first ever substitute hat-trick thanks to a shockingly bad performance from the Jets in the second half.
Phil Stubbins kept with the 4-3-3 first used in last week’s 2-2 draw with Melbourne Victory. Adrian Madaschi and Billy Celeski both made their Newcastle debuts, with the latter alongside Zenon Caravella and Ben Kantarovski in midfield. There were basically four centre-backs across the back four, with Kew Jaliens playing at right-back, Sam Gallagher on the left, and Taylor Regan partnering Madaschi in the middle.
Mike Mulvey made three changes from last week’s 3-1 defeat to Melbourne City, switching to the false 9 system with Thomas Broich upfront. Jean Carlos Solorzano and Brendan Borrello both started for the first time this season, flanking Broich, while Dimitri Petratos played slightly deeper as one of the two #10s in Brisbane’s midfield triangle. Daniel Bowles was at right-back.
The preview for this round suspected Phil Stubbins would continue in the vein of Adelaide and Sydney by instructing his players to man-mark Brisbane in midfield. Although he selected a combative trio that were capable of doing this, however, he instead took a more cautious approach, instructing the side to sit deep and soak up Brisbane’s pressure.
Out of possession, Kantarovski anchored the midfield, with Caravella to his left and Celeski to his right. Up against Brisbane’s usual midfield shape – so Brattan deep, Lustica to his left and Petratos to his right, but playing slightly higher up (rather than the 4-2-3-1 that Mulvey used against Sydney FC) – this meant Kantarovski was generally picking up Petratos, with Celeski on Lustica and Caravella on Brattan. It wasn’t man-marking, but there were obvious battles in midfield because of the positioning of either team.
Brisbane reformat attack
The real feature of the match, rather, was Brisbane’s reformatted attack. The key was Mulvey using Broich in the false 9 role he played in against Melbourne Victory last season, where he was very good at linking play intelligently in the final third and dropping deep to find space between the lines. It’s because of Besart Berisha that we’ve never really seen a repeat of this role, so it was pleasing to hear Mulvey reveal Broich would return to the position during the pre-match build-up.
Put simply, Broich was excellent. His movement in between the lines to become an extra midfielder meant Brisbane had a 4v3 advantage in that zone. Therefore, they were able to both comfortably dominate possession, and crucially, work the ball into the final third, with relative ease. Kantarovski simply didn’t know what to do, because he was being drawn to both Petratos and Broich, and throughout the first half, Brisbane overloaded Newcastle in that midfield zone.
Crucially, Broich’s movement was complemented by the two wingers making diagonal runs in behind. This was a ‘classic false 9’ setup, with the centre forward dropping deep and the space vacated being filled by two wide forwards cutting inside, with Borrello in particular making some brilliant darting runs infield from the right. This meant Brisbane always had a goal threat running in behind Newcastle’s back four, and through their dominance of midfield, were able to find penetrative passes in behind – particularly in the opening quarter of the match.
The chance Borrello scuffed straight into Mark Birighitti’s chest is the clearest, and best example of this. Broich drops deep to overload the Newcasttle midfield 4v3. Borrello makes a diagonal run inside, and Petratos chips the ball over the top – had the finish been better, it would have been a fine demonstration of what Brisbane were trying to do.
Another crucial feature was the willingness of both Brisbane full-backs to get forward, particularly Bowles. As they were providing width on the outside, the full-backs were allowing Brisbane’s wingers to move inside.
Newcastle man-mark in defence
Rather than man-mark in midfield as predicted, it almost seemed like Newcastle’s back four were man-marking Brisbane’s attackers. Jaliens, in an unusual right-back position, was particularly prone to this, being dragged inside on a number of occasions and at times moving so far infield he overlapped past his own centre-back, Regan. This meant the defence at times became completely shapeless, and because Brisbane were moving the ball forward quickly and directly, the lack of structure at the back was often being exploited.
However, when Newcastle sat quite deep around the twenty minute mark, they got into the contest more. There was less room for Brisbane’s wingers to run in behind, and less space between the lines for Broich – the only beneficiary was Brattan, who had a couple of shots from distance.
Newcastle had absolutely no threat on the break, though, and this was outright defensiveness rather than counter-attacking tactics. A big part of the problem was, as aforementioned, how deep Carney and Joel Griffiths were defending because of their willingness to track the Roar full-backs, especially Carney, who at several points ended up deeper than left-back Sam Gallagher. Furthermore, neither Carney or Griffiths have particularly good acceleration, and with Edson Montano dropping deep to hold up the ball rather than running in behind, Newcastle had no-one capable of carrying the ball forward on the counter.
Despite going into half-time 0-0, Stubbins clearly wasn’t happy, and changed formation. Joel Griffiths went central, Zenon Caravella went wide right, and Newcastle were now 4-4-2. They also pressed higher up, which made the game more open.
Brisbane benefitted immediately from this, and they re-established that same pattern of dominance from the first quarter in the second half. Stubbins now only had two players in central midfield – Celeski and Kantarovski – up against Brisbane’s 4, and both Broich and Brattan were the clearest beneficiaries of the tactical change. Broich continued to find space between the lines, and Brattan was now free of any pressure to dominate the tempo. In theory, it would have been logical for one of the front two (Griffiths and Montano) to drop off to occupy or at least block passes into Brattan, but instead, they stayed high up the pitch. In the sense of pure numbers, the Jets midfield simply couldn’t compete.
Brattan played the superb pass for Stefanutto in the lead up to the opener, with Henrique tapping in from the left-back’s low cross.
Barely minutes later, Brattan was again on the ball, this time playing Borrello in behind for the shot that the youngster hit straight at the keeper.
Brisbane’s dominance was exaggerated by how poor Newcastle were. They offered even less counter-attacking threat in the second half, even when Stubbins brought on a natural right-winger, James Virgili, for Caravella, who was plainly uncomfortable in a wide role, summed up by the fact Stefanutto simply ran past him to assist the opening goal.
In the first half, Brisbane’s full-backs could get forward because Jade North and Matt Smith were happy defending 2v1 against Montano. Stubbins’ thinking may have been that switching to a front two could pinned back the full-backs, for fear of leaving the centre-backs 2v2 against Montano and Griffiths. However, Stefanutto and Bowles always made sure to take turns getting forward, ensuring it was still a 3v2 at the back, and Brisbane were not exposed on the break anywhere near to the extent of last week’s match.
They were helped by the fact the Jets passing was all over the shop. Players were knocking passes out of play under no pressure, and there was barely any attempt to play out through midfield. Jaliens and Regan continued to cross over when defending, with Regan sometimes looking like the right-back and Jaliens the centre-back – completely antithesis to the usual principle of ‘passing off’ your man when he crossed over into a different zone.
This lack of structure compounded the fact that Regan couldn’t cope at all with Henrique’s quick feet and close control in 1v1 situations, and the Brazilian dribbled past him twice to score two sensational goals to complete his hat-trick. The final goal, in particular, was an excellent demonstration of the false 9 system – Broich drops deep, turns, and plays the pass to Henrique making a diagonal run infield.
Even ignoring the tactical battle, Newcastle were tremendously poor in basic areas of the game – inaccurate passing, poor body shape when defending, and a complete lack of combination play. They finished with just 3 shots, summing up their impotency going forward.
Tactically, Stubbins’ tactics left them exposed in the midfield, where at first Broich found space between the line by dropping deep as a false 9 to overload the Jets midfield 4v3. The switch to 4-4-2 made things even worse, because then both Broich and Brattan were unmarked, and both were devastating in their use of the ball in asserting Brisbane’s dominance.
Henrique provided the finishes, but this game was through simple numerical superiority in midfield.