Five things to watch: A-League Round Two

Round Two sees questions of the Victory’s defence and the Mariners counter-attacking, while there’s a good reason why perhaps we shouldn’t look forward to the Sydney Derby

Round Two sees questions of the Victory’s defence and the Mariners counter-attacking, while there’s a good reason why perhaps we shouldn’t look forward to the Sydney Derby.

Can the Victory press effectively?

The Victory put forward the greatest statement of intent of any club from the opening round, thrashing last year’s Grand Finalists 4-1 with a sensational attacking performance. Kosta Barbarouses and Guilherme Finkler were devastating in overloading and overwhelming left-back Shannon Cole, while Besart Berisha demonstrated he’ll be picking up where he left off from Brisbane.

While the attacking qualities of the Victory, however, were never in doubt, there remains question marks over the defence. Mattheiu Delpierre and Daniel Georgievski bring experience to the backline and Carl Valeri provides a much solider presence in holding midfield, but the real worry from pre-season was their inability to remain compact. Berisha works very hard upfront and presses opposition defenders relentlessly, and there’s the danger that if the midfield and defence don’t push up and minimise the space between the lines, they become too stretched out across the depth of the pitch. A side that can play around Berisha’s closing down then has space in more dangerous positions.

Adelaide, of course, always look to play out from the back, and despite that being somewhat nullified by Brisbane last Sunday, will continue to do so in Friday night’s blockbuster. This will be a fascinating test of the Victory’s defensive capabilities against one of the competition’s most dangerous attacks, and it will start from the front.

Read moreMelbourne Victory Season Preview |Adelaide United Season Previeww

Will the Mariners counter-attack more fluently?

Last Saturday against Newcastle Jets, the quality of the Central Coast Mariners counter-attacking was very poor, especially when compared to the very end of last season – where they barely entered the final third against Brisbane and Adelaide, but were devastating with their speed and efficiency.

The primary reason for that was that the Jets kept their full-back positions occupied, with Johnny Steele playing a very deep, covering role on the left to protect David Carney, the Jets left-back, when he pushed forward. On the opposite side, right-back Scott Neville was simply conservative with his forward movement. As a result, there was no space for the Mariners wingers to break into.

On Tuesday night in the FFA Cup, meanwhile, the Mariners task was very different – that was against significantly weaker opposition who wanted to sit very deep. Therefore, Phil Moss’s gameplan was all about breaking down a packed defence, with very little opportunities for counter-attacking because Palm Beach rarely committed players forward. When they took a 2-0 lead, and the Sharks pushed forward, the game opened up and the Mariners could counter more readily.

This weekend’s opponents, Wellington Phoenix, were notable in their 2-1 defeat to Perth Glory for the adventurousness of the full-backs, with both Manny Muscat and Tom Doyle getting into advanced positions. While this helped created width otherwise absent for Ernie Merrick’s side, it may create room for the pacy Mariners wingers to break into, and they will look to exploit this with Nick Fitzgerald, Mitch Duke and Malick Mane.

Read moreCentral Coast Mariners Season Preview | Wellington Phoenix Season Preview

Another scrappy derby?

The Sydney Derby has become a high-profile match because of the colour and passion of the fans, rather than for the actual matches themselves. Recent fixtures between these two sides have been physical, combative matches, with the tempo often ruined by successions of fouls and goals coming primarily from set-pieces and defensive mistakes.

In the draw with Melbourne City last Saturday, Graham Arnold’s side seemed awfully keen to hit long balls from the back, as if wanting to try and circumvent City’s high press by bypassing the midfield zone altogether. It lead to a very poor performance in terms of passing from Nikola Petkovic and Sasa Ognenovski, who often gave away possession cheaply with overhit long balls. As the Wanderers will, too, look to press on Sydney’s back four, we might see a similar tactic – perhaps with Arnold looking to use the pace of Corey Gameiro and Bernie Ibini to get in behind.

As the Wanderers will continue their usual attacking tactics, looking to play off the second ball, we might be in for another derby centred around scrappy, direct tactics. It’ll be a spectacle, but not on the pitch.

Read moreWestern Sydney Wanderers Season Preview | Sydney FC Season Preview

Jets centre-backs v a false nine?

An interesting feature of the Jets v Mariners match from last Saturday was the tendency of both Kew Jailiens and Scott Gallagher, playing together at centre-back, to be drawn up the pitch by a deep-lying forward. When Malick Mane, for example, dropped deep between the lines, there were two separate occasions where Gallagher came flying in from behind. Jailiens, meanwhile, was booked for a lunging challenge on Fitzgerald near the touchline, demonstrating his tendency to dive into challenges.

That could be a real problem against a team that likes to play with a false nine. A recurring feature of John Van’t Schip’s second tenure at Melbourne City has been his fondness for a deep-lying centre-forward. His first-choice through the middle last season was Harry Kewell, who moved into very deep positions, while he also instructed David Williams, a pacy wide forward who likes to run in behind, to drop deep towards the play. Mate Dugandzic, last Saturday, too, played as a false nine, which shows that no matter the player, Van’t Schip wants his centre-forward to pull away from defenders, bring them upfield and create space in behind for runners.

Whether it be Williams, Dugandzic or even David Villa, City’s centre-forward on Sunday afternoon will draw the attention of Gallagher and Jailiens.

Read moreMelbourne City Season Preview | Newcastle Jets Season Preview

Will Brisbane exploit Perth’s narrowness?

The main topic of discussion surrounding Perth in pre-season was their interesting use of a 4-4-2 diamond formation, which accommodated the numerous hard-working central midfielders that brought in over the the break. There’s very few genuine wide options left in the squad, with Youssouf Hersi, Sidnei and Chris Harold instead likely to be used upfront this season.

Against Wellington last Sunday, they played an odd hybrid of a 4-4-2 diamond and a flat 4-4-2, often adopting the latter when defending, but then to the former when they had the ball. Formations, of course, are only a guide, and the real key to football tactics is movement. Regardless of notation, therefore, Perth’s system was about narrowness – Mitch Nichols and Richard Garcia, ostensibly the ‘wide’ players, tucked in very narrow, with Nichols basically becoming a #10 at times (and booked for a challenge about thirty yards from where he ‘should’ have been had Perth been using an orthodox 4-4-2).

Despite Scott Jamieson and Josh Risdon looking to get forward from full-back, the Glory still felt very congested when attacking, often with seven or eight players packing a narrow strip down the middle of the pitch. The same was applicable when they were defending, with the midfield quartet tucking in very tight and effectively sacrificing the flanks.

Will Brisbane target this? The front three is normally Thomas Broich drifting inside, and Dimitri Petratos driving into the channels, but the full-backs might find joy if they get into advanced positions. Shane Stefanutto does this naturally, but James Donachie, right-back in Round One against Adelaide, was uncomfortable going forward. A return to the starting XI for Jack Hingert, a more natural right-back, might be forthcoming.

Read moreBrisbane Roar Season PreviewPerth Glory Season Preview

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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