In the opening round of the 2018-19 A-League season, defending champions Sydney FC struggled to create chances against an energetic, organised Adelaide United.
Adelaide pressed well in a 4-4-2 block. The wide players, Craig Goodwin and Ryan Strain, blocked the passing lane from Sydney
While Adelaide defended well, Sydney’s lack of variation in attack was obvious and predictable. Understandably, new coach Steve Corica has largely kept with the system and style of his predecessor, Graham Arnold. The two wide players drift into narrow playmaking positions, with the full-backs moving high and wide, and the no.10 essentially becoming a second no.9.
Here, that player was Alex Brosque, who has been excellent for Sydney in recent years because of his clever movement into the channels and ability to make quick, explosive runs into forward positions. He seems to have lost some of that speed, however. Therefore, throughout pre-season and the FFA Cup, Corica used Trent Buhagiar as the no.10. As aforementioned, Buhagiar would move forward alongside Adam Le Fondre, looking to run into the spaces in between the opposition defence. Buhagiar is very fast, and was proving to be an effective goalscorer with these types of runs during the pre-season.
Buhagiar’s ACL injury is both terrible for the player and a significant blow to Corica’s tactical plan. It would be dangerous to make assumptions from the opening game, but Sydney’s possession felt slow and ponderous without a player actively stretching the opposition’s last defensive line. Not only does this offer a goal threat, but it pushes the backline deeper, creating more space behind the opposition midfield for the narrow playmakers to work in.
Sydney’s equalising goal against Adelaide came from a rare moment where a player – Ninkovic – ran in behind. The clever dart into the space between full-back and centre-back is exactly the kind of run Buhagiar, or a more explosive Brosque, would make, and that it took 78 minutes to see that sort of movement from Sydney is telling of the overall pattern.
Sydney will still succeed because of the quality of their players, but whether they have the variety in personnel to offer multiple threats in attack is a key question mark for Corica to address.