Melbourne Victory stormed to a home Grand Final with an emphatic 3-0 derby defeat of Melbourne City.
With the benefit of having the first week of the final series off, Kevin Muscat was able to name something close to his first-choice XI, with the exception of Leigh Broxham at right-back and Lawrence Thomas in goal. Mattheiu Delpierre continued at centre-back, while Kosta Barbarouses was preferred ahead of Archie Thompson in attack.
John Van’t Schip made one change from the surprise 2-1 win over Wellington, bringing Kew Jailiens back into the side at the expense of Paolo Retre at right-back. He kept with the 4-2-3-1 formation.
Same formation, different styles
Both teams may have been using a 4-2-3-1, but this was a good example of how the same shape can have two different applications. Put simply, Victory are more attacking than City, and when in possession play with great width and depth, looking to construct attacks from the back through midfield and then into the final third.
City, by contrast, used the 4-2-3-1 more reactively. The holding midfield players, Mooy and Koren, stayed close to the back four, even when in possession. Presumably, City didn’t want to leave that space exposed on the counter-attack, but it meant City attacked quite directly through their wide players, often with the full-backs hitting straight passes down the line.
Victory’s 4-2-3-1 was proactive; City’s reactive.
Battle in wide areas
With Mooy and Paartalu sitting deep, David Williams and Harry Novillo tracking back into narrow positions, and Robert Koren and Josh Kennedy offering little in terms of defensive pressure, Victory were often able to work the ball forward quite easily from the back. Delpierre, in this regard, was excellent, constantly dribbling the ball forward powerfully and hitting accurate cross-field passes. Furtthermore, one of the deeper central midfielders (Mark Milligan and Carl Valeri) would be able to collect possession off the back four unchallenged.
This was because Mooy and Paartalu were focused on occupying the space between the lines that Guilherme Finkler normally operates in. The effect of this, though, was, free of pressure, Victory’s midfield and defence were able to knock the ball wide. Combined with City’s focus on attacking down the flanks, it meant the 1v1 battles in these areas were the game’s major source of creativity.
Barbarouses and Novillo, in particular, repeatedly received the ball out wide and looked to dribble inside – the latter also came close with a couple of free-kicks.
The best chances, however, came when the full-backs from either side got forward to create 2v1 overloads.
The clearest example of this was when Broxham stormed forward past Barbarouses in the build-up to the Victory’s first goal, with the resulting cross headed in by Besart Berisha.
The second goal is a subtler example of a 2v1 overload, as in this move the overlapping full-back (Daniel Georgievski) actually runs infield, drawing Jailiens inside and creating space out wide for Ben Khalfallah to receive the ball. His cross finds Barbarouses, who finishes with a sublime volley.
Georgievski’s underlapping run is interesting because it’s typical of the combination between him and Khalfallah. Where we often talk of full-backs overlapping to allow a winger to move inside, there’s an underrated benefit of the reverse movement – when the winger stays wide and the full-back moves into the space on the inside. Georgievski has scored two goals this season from this move, including the spectacular curler two weeks ago against the Central Coast Mariners in the final round of the regular season.
At the other end, too, City’s Jonaton Germano got forward to overlap past Harry Novillo, before firing a low cross across the face of goal that David Williams just missed at the far post.
City’s efforts to reverse the 2-0 deficit were scuppered by three separate injuries to three key players – Williams was forced off late in the first half, before both Mooy and Novillo had to be replaced in the first fifteen minutes of the second half. Unfortunately, this removed Van’t Schip’s opportunity to try and chase the game from the bench.
With the Victory happy to slow the tempo of the game and play more defensively, the second half was relatively uneventful. City had a few chances off set-pieces and Jailiens’ long throws, but never really looked like getting back into the game.
Tactically, this was a relatively uneventful game. The Victory have been fairly consistent with their approach this season and this match was completely true to form – they were clinical in front of goal, converting six shots on target into three goals.
The suggestion in some quarters was that City, who out-shot the Victory 17 to 14, were unlucky to convert more of their chances. The reality, however, is that chances are not created equally. The Victory created higher quality chances from more favourable positions, and City were more reliant on speculative shots from range and were often shooting inside a crowded penalty area.
Ultimately, their reactiveness got them this far, but it wasn’t enough to take them any further. That has been something of a theme this season, with the more proactive sides proving more successful. More specifically, it’s the more organised teams, like Victory, who have a clear, tangible identity, that have done well.
City, for all their investment, are still missing that.