After eight rounds, Perth still sit top of the A-League ladder. It’s felt a bit like no one has taken them seriously, but increasingly, Kenny Lowe’s side are proving they are genuine challengers this season.
Whereas in the first five rounds of the season Lowe tinkered with the structure and personnel, in recent weeks he’s found a consistent formula and starting XI. Perth have played the last four games in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Rostyn Griffiths everpresent in the holding midfield role. He rarely strays forward, but hits calm forward passes into the attackers, and can also drop deep to allow the full-backs forward.
He’s the fulcrum around which this side is built. His security as a #6 gives Richard Garcia and Nebojsa Marinkovic ahead of him positional freedom in attack, with Marinkovic often drifting forward into pockets of space in the #10 position, while Garcia tends to drift wider, creating space for Josh Risdon to push forward from right-back.
Having a three-man midfield has proven much more viable defensively, too, than the previous 4-4-2 formation. Garcia and Marinkovic have been instructed to defend very tightly to their direct opponents in midfield, with Griffiths covering in behind – combined with Andy Keogh’s tireless running upfront, it’s meant they’ve been very effective when pressing high up the pitch.
That was obvious in the first 20 minutes against Brisbane Roar on the weekend, winning the ball off Brisbane high up and then attacking directly. After they took the lead via Dino Djulbic’s smashing volley off a corner, they sat slightly deeper – but the initial spell of intense pressure meant they had set the early tempo, and made it difficult for Brisbane to settle.
Crucially, striker Andy Keogh stood between the two Roar centre-backs, Matt Smith and Jade North. This immediately meant the play was forced to one side, as the pass between the two centre-backs was blocked off by Keogh. If Smith had possession, Hersi occupied left-back Corey Brown; if North had possession, De Silva occupied Brisbane right-back Daniel Bowles. In this situation, having ‘locked up’ the ball towards one side of the pitch, Perth were then able to begin applying pressure high up, again with Garcia and Marinkovic taking turns to move forward depending on whether Smith or North had possession respectively.
When one midfielder moved forward, the other plus Rostyn Griffiths marked tight man-for-man against Brisbane in midfield. As Brisbane had three players in this zone, it meant the Perth winger on the opposite side to which the play was being funnelled tucked inside to occupy the ‘extra’ midfielder, and maintain the man-marking.
Often, this meant the full-back on the far side was free if Brisbane were able to hit a switch of play across the pitch. However, Perth’s pressing on the man in possession, lead by Garcia and Marinkovic, prevented Smith or North from having enough on the ball to hit any diagonal passes. Furthermore, with the man-marking in midfield, Brisbane’s #6 Luke Brattan found it difficult to find space in front of the defence, the position where he normally receives passes off the centre-backs.
Another area of weakness in Perth’s pressing structure was if Thomas Broich, playing upfront as a false nine as he has in recent weeks, dropped off into midfield. In these situations, centre-back Michael Thwaite followed him upfield, which was creating gaps in the channel between the centre-back and left-back Scott Jamieson that could have been exploited by Brandon Borrello making runs inside.
The major recurring theme, though, was that Brisbane were unable to expose any of these weaknesses simply because of the pressure that Perth put them under. Even though the Roar looked to play out under the pressure – especially in contrast to last week against the Victory – Perth were able to disrupt their periods of possession play.
It was tiring, though, and from around the twentieth minute onwards Perth sat much deeper, allowing the Brisbane centre-backs to have time on the ball and bring it forward into the middle third. Increasingly, the game became about a simple battle between attack and defence.
Tactically, the most interesting feature was Perth’s pressing, which has been a hallmark of their successful season so far.
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