Looking ahead to round three of the A-League

The first two rounds of the new A-League season have seen an interesting contrast between possession and counter-attacking sides, highlighting what is an intriguing round of tactical talking points.

Adelaide United v Melbourne Victory

Despite widespread criticism, Ange Postecoglou was never going to abandon the project in place at Melbourne Victory. “That result [5-0] and the performance wasn’t acceptable under any circumstances so we’ve got to cop that,” said the Victory coach.

“(But) we’re certainly, after two games, not going to throw away everything we’ve worked pretty hard on. We’re pretty determined as a football club to get it right and we will do it.”

That means the round’s opening game on Friday night should be another entertaining fare, as Melbourne look to come to grips with the demands of Postecoglou’s short passing and high pressing system. Postecoglou mentioned this week that goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas’s position will be under review, indicating a rare start for Tando Velaphi.

This is a significant move considering the former was initially selected for his ability to play short, and Velaphi’s distribution will be a telling sign of how committed the Victory will be to retaining possession from the back.

Archie Thompson and Marcos Rojas will presumably return from international duty to provide more incisive runs from the flanks behind the lateral movement of the false nine, Marcos Flores. This experiment remains one of the more intriguing storylines of the season, yet Adelaide’s squad list indicates a surprising selection.

Sergio van Djik and Bruce Djite have both been omitted in favour of playmaker Jeronimo Neumann, who will reprise his second half role as the focal point of the Adelaide attack. Neumann won’t necessarily be a false nine: that position requires vertical movement, whereas the Argentine is a more lateral player, working the channels and looking to link up play with the enticing attacking trio of Dario Vidosic, Fabio Ferriera and Iain Ramsey.

”It’s not something we haven’t considered a while back on how we play,” said Kosmina, yet the coach must take credit for developing what is an exciting counter-attacking Adelaide.

That system will be crucial against a Victory side looking to monopolise possession, although interestingly, Kosmina has suggested his side needs to take greater care with the ball. He has said “we turned the ball over too quick,” although one suspects he might keep with the approach that has served them well so far.

Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets

Graham Arnold chose to replace Alex Wilkinson with Trent Sainsbury, and the battle between the youngster and the experienced figure of Emile Heskey will be the key battle of the F3 derby. Sainsbury definitely knows what he is up against: “He’s a big, strong boy, good in the air … I’ll have to be a lot more clever around him but if we can cut off the service in to him we can kill two birds with one stone.”

Having seen the Englishman’s dominant performance in holding the ball up and bringing Newcastle’s wide attackers into play against Sydney last week, Sainsbury will want his team to prevent long balls being played into the striker, meaning the role of Mitchell Duke will be crucial.

He provides great energy in pressing from the front and will be called upon to shut down direct passes from central defence.

But Sainsbury should be aware of the threat he poses to Newcastle: his diagonal pass from defence for the opener last week was excellent and proved decisive in the Mariners’ 1-0 win over Perth Glory.

Western Sydney v Sydney FC

The highlight of the weekend’s fixtures is the inaugural derby at Parramatta Stadium, testified by the sell-out of tickets. The Wanderers have shown to be a counter-attacking side, and against a Sydney side looking to retain the ball, this will be an interesting contrast of styles.

The Wanderers will have taken note from Craig Goodwin’s impressive performance against the Sky Blues last week, and that might inform Popovic’s decision to start Tarek Elrich or Laminot Haliti, who are more direct, purposeful players, on that flank ahead of Mark Bridge, who prefers to drift inside into central positions.

A lot of Sydney’s chances will hinge around selection in midfield. Crook has defended captain Terry McFlynn after the booing at Allianz Stadium, although he will privately admit his side were better able to move the ball up field with the patient passing of Paul Reid in midfield.

The former Adelaide United player might be partnered with Jason Culina, but it seems more likely that McFlynn will retain his place, with Ali Abbas moving out to the left wing.

Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar

The home side will have been pleased with the point gained against the Melbourne Heart, but they’ll be even more pleased to see the return of a few familiar faces, including coach Ricki Herbert, “Gouldy’s brought the tape back for me that he’s had sent over,” Herbert said.

“So I’m going to grab that. We’ve got a day off tomorrow and we’ll get things right for Friday.” He was referring to the scouting tape prepared in advance of this difficult fixture, and he will have certainly noted Brisbane’s clever long passes towards Ben Halloran as crucial to their crushing 5-0 defeat of the Victory.

He might well opt for a similar strategy and look to play Benjamin Totori, Louie Fenton or Paul Ifil high up the wing to provide an out-ball for the Phoenix’s counter-attacking game. The latter might be given the start despite appearing rusty against the Heart, and although Totori played twice for the Solomons mid-week, he and Fenton will be useful options from the bench.

Perth Glory v Melbourne Heart

This is a difficult game to predict, as it is unclear who will take the initiative. The Heart’s setup would seemingly indicate they are more likely to take a more possession-based approach, but their most successful strategy away from home has been to play on the counter-attack. Perth was cagey against the Mariners last week, but might favour a more proactive approach, something coach Iain Ferguson has suggested might be a focus this week.

The Heart will most likely bring in David Vrankovic to replace the suspended Simon Colosimo, and the Perth might target the inexperienced defender with long, accurate passes towards Shane Smeltz and Billy Mehmet.

That particular strike partnership might dictate the game’s tempo – last season, Jon van’t Schip liked to switch to three at the back against two strikers, as to give his side an extra man in defence. It will be interesting to see if Aloisi opts for a similar strategy.

By Tim Palmer

Tim is a football coach, writer, analyst and sports scientist. He is currently Assistant Technical Director, Head of Player Development & Video and a coach at NWSF Spirit, as well as working with the Pararoos. Previously, he has worked as an analyst with the Socceroos, and in the A-League.

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