Match Analysis: Western Sydney Wanderers 0-1 Brisbane Roar

Henrique’s early penalty was enough for Brisbane to secure a first win under new boss Frans Thijssen.

Teams

Tony Popovic made four changes from Saturday night’s Sydney Derby. Tomi Juric, Nikita Rukavytsya, Brendan Hamill and Iacopo La Rocca made way for Labinot Haliti, Vitor Saba, Shannon Cole and Kearyn Baccus respectively.

Thijssen made one change from his first game in charge of Brisbane Roar, with Thomas Broich missing out for the first time in 68 consecutive games due to his ankle injury. Mensur Kurtishi was his replacement upfront, while Corey Brown continued in place of Shane Stefanutto at left-back.

Press v playing out

Both these sides have had disappointing starts to this A-League season, primarily because neither of them have been able to execute their usual tactics at the high standards required. Brisbane, of course, like to retain possession, and the distinctive feature of the Wanderers approach is their suffocating press high up the pitch, but we haven’t really seen this from the two sides so far this season – until, at least, last weekend. Thijssen has obviously emphasised the importance of Brisbane returning to their roots in his short time at the club, and they were much keener to play out against Perth Glory than they had been in the final games of Mulvey’s tenure. The Wanderers, meanwhile, as explained by Australia Scout for FourFourTwo, showed encouraging signs of re-implementing the high press in their match against Sydney FC.

First of all, it’s telling to go back to last season’s Grand Final and revisit the major themes of that match. “The Wanderers started extremely energetically,” reads the match analysis, “closing down high up the pitch and immediately setting the tone of the match. It took fifteen minutes until Brisbane were able to settle on the ball and put together a sustained period of possession, because the Wanderers front four prevented the Brisbane backline from playing easy passes forward”.

Here, the major feature of the first half was Brisbane’s desire to play out from the back versus the Wanderers high press. It was similar to Adelaide v Melbourne Victory from last Friday, where there was no clear winner in the ‘press v playing out’ battle. Sometimes the Wanderers were successful in breaking up Brisbane’s build up play; other times, the Roar successfully played through the lines.

With a 4-2-3-1 v 4-3-3 formation battle, meaning the two midfield triangles were perfectly aligned, there were clear match-ups across the pitch. The Wanderers pressed by having Haliti work hard to close down the centre-backs, and their two wingers, Mark Bridge and Romeo Castelen, occupying the Roar full-backs. Vitor Saba defended close to Brattan, but sometimes moved forward to help Haliti. Behind him, the two midfielders, Baccus and Poljak, shut down their direct opponents, McKay and Petratos.

Roar playing out v WSW

Where Brisbane were able to play out was when their wingers, Brandon Borrello and Henrique, came short towards the play. This often meant Adeleke and Cole were pulled high up the pitch, and the former was booked for a barge on Borrello from behind.

Brisbane’s main inroads, though, were coming down the left, where Henrique had the better of Cole. In this tight ‘press v playing out’ battle, this was one area of superiority for the Roar, and they deserve credit for the bravery they showed in attempting to play out. In terms of this particular phase of play, this was ‘classic’ Brisbane, and much closer to the style they played in Mulvey’s Championship winning season.

However, in the context of the game, it was still something of a stalemate, despite the early goal (from a penalty). There were few out-and-out chances.

Second half

At the break, Thijssen brought on Jean Carlos Solorzano for Kurtishi. Solorzano is blisteringly fast and provided fresh energy upfront, but was more useful late on when Brisbane when chasing the game as an outlet for counter-attacks.

Despite Brisbane assistant coach Jeff Hopkins suggesting the half-time team talk encouraged Brisbane to retain possession more in the middle third, it was actually the Wanderers who controlled the ball for the majority of the second period, as they looked for an equaliser.

Against Sydney FC, their more patient, probing approach to attacking play was obvious, and that was again the case here with the overwhelming focus on creating combinations in narrow positions between the lines. Castelen in particular drifted inside to combine with Saba (and the two swapped positions for the first five minutes of the second half), and the Wanderers focused the majority of their attacks down this right-hand side.

Castelen’s narrowness meant there was lots of space for Cole to move forward on the overlap. He received lots of passes out wide, and whipped in crosses – his freedom probably encouraged Popovic to bring on Brendan Hamill, who had been good pushing forward against Sydney.

Brisbane defend deep

Considering the teams as a whole, this was something of a role reversal, because for long periods of the second half Brisbane defended very deep and simply soaked up the Wanderers pressure. They completed a significant less number of passes here compared to the season so far, with the exception of one other game – the Victory game which saw the end of Mulvey.

Roar passes per game

If Mulvey was sacked for deviating too far away for Brisbane’s philosophy, this game wasn’t really a major step forward in restoring it. Rather, it was a side defending deep to protect a lead – not something morally wrong, of course, but something the Roar hierarchy didn’t seem keen on being part of their style.

For their part, the Wanderers were probably a little guilty of being too predictable in attack, with their narrowness making it easy for the Roar. A surprising reluctance to shoot from outside the box didn’t help, and the few times they looked dangerous was when they mixed up their build-up play by going long from the back – it wasn’t necessarily the directness, but the variety that was important.

Conclusion

This wasn’t a particularly great game, with the quality not helped by the ferocious storm that drenched the pitch an hour before kick-off. The first half was notable for the mini-battle between the Wanderers pressing and Brisbane’s risky attempts to play out, where the Roar had the slight upper hand thanks to Henrique’s movement upfield, which dragged Cole forward.

In the second half, the Wanderers comfortably controlled the tempo and possession, and threatened sporadically without outright dominating. They seemed fatigued – probably still a hangover from their exhausting schedule – and as pointed out both in the 442 Breakdown column and by Doug Kors, the increased number of matches has undoubtedly had an impact on their ability to work on the training ground.

For a coach like Popovic who drills his players meticulously in their responsibilities with and without the ball, that is significant. His side are performing well in patches, but are yet to put in a convincing performance for ninety minutes, and as a result, are still without a win.

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