Football tactics can almost simply be boiled down to two ends of a spectrum – proactive and reactive, attack and defence.
Tony Popovic has swung quite wildly between these two spectrums in the past two months. The Asian Champions League victory was achieved via a series of inspired defensive displays. In the knockout stages, they conceded just once at home, and kept Al Hilal scoreless across two legs in the final. It was indicative of Popovic’s conservative approach, where he asked his side to sit quite deep, instructing the front four to drop back rather than press as they do in the A-League. Mark Bridge and Tomi Juric created the first line of defence by occupying opposition midfielders and making the side compact from back to front, while the midfield duo of Mateo Poljak and Iacopo La Rocca protected the back four and reduced the space between the lines.
It worked to great success against not only Al Hilal, but FC Seoul and Guangzhou Evergrande, with the Wanderers winning the ball in deep positions, and then breaking forward quickly. At times, they simply rode their luck, with very few attacking opportunities but being incredibly clinical when they came. Over the two legs of the final, for example, Al Hilal had 15 shots on target compared to 4 – yet the Wanderers won 1-0.