Match Analysis: Adelaide United 0-1 Brisbane Roar

Henrique’s lone goal was the difference as Josep Gombau’s constant formation changes dictated the tactical battle.

Henrique’s lone goal was the difference as Josep Gombau’s constant formation changes dictated the tactical battle.


Gombau was without Osama Malik and Marcelo Carrusca, so made the surprising decision to go back to the 3-4-3 formation used in the first three rounds of the season. Michael Marrone, Dylan McGowan and Tarek Elrich were the back three, with Craig Goodwin moving forward to the left flank.

Frans Thijssen introduced Steven Lustica into the starting XI, and left Matt Smith on the bench in the captain’s final match before departing for Bangkok Glass. It was the usual Roar 4-3-3, with Henrique and Dimitri Petratos flanking Jean Carlos Solorzano upfront.

Brisbane press Adelaide

The defining feature of the opening twenty minutes was Adelaide’s struggles to play out from the back against Brisbane’s front three. Gombau, of course, wants his side to retain possession, building up play from the defence. In the 3-4-3, this meant McGowan was in a central position, with Elrich and Marrone to his left and right respectively, and the four central midfielders set up in a diamond format through the middle.

Roar press 0-25

With the three defenders spread out across the width of the pitch, Brisbane’s 4-3-3 was ideal for pressing high up. The attacking three were able to easily move forward and close down their direct opponent. Henrique was on Marrone, Solorzano on McGowan and Petratos on Elrich. Therefore, when Adelaide ‘reset’ the play at the goalkeeper, or looked to play out, all three defenders were under direct pressure whenever they received the ball.

Importantly, this pressure high up was reciprocated by Steven Lustica playing a crucial role in marking Isaias. Isaias is Adelaide’s #6 and constantly varies his position to create overloads in deep positions or to create space for other players to be able to pass forward. With Lustica marking him tightly, however, he was unable to get on the ball comfortably nor drag away Brisbane defenders.

Matt McKay and Luke Brattan were also man-marking their direct opponents – Pablo Sanchez and Cirio respectively. While this restricted their influence, it also left James Jeggo unmarked and free as a ‘spare man’, as Adelaide’s 3-4-3 formation created a 4v3 advantage in the midfield zone. However, because the pressing from higher up was collectively very good, Adelaide were never able to get on the ball in enough time and space to take advantage of Jeggo creating a numerical advantage through the middle.

An example of Brisbane pressing high up on Adelaide's back three, with Jeggo in space
An example of Brisbane pressing high up on Adelaide’s back three, with Jeggo in space

Sometimes, if Jeggo was free in space, Lustica moved from marking Isaias to blocking off passes into Jeggo, which sometimes meant Isaias went free when moving into a deeper position. This was good tactical awareness from Lustica – he picked the moments of who, where and when to press very well.

When this happened, one area where Adelaide did look promising was when the high press was bypassed altogether, and Isaias (or sometimes Galekovic) played a quick long ball over the top for Goodwin or Ferriera. When this pass was accurate, it took Brisbane’s front six out of the play and allowed Adelaide’s pacy wingers to attack from a wide position (most noticeably for the teasing low cross by Ferriera that nearly found Goodwin at the back post). Obviously, though, these were difficult passes to attempt, and most went off target.

The video below illustrates one example of this press being executed effectively, disrupting Adelaide’s distinctive gameplan of establishing and retaining possession.

As a result of all this, Adelaide were unable to settle in possession during the first twenty minutes. Furthermore, because Brisbane were pressing high up 3v3, it meant whenever they won the ball they were able to break forward very quickly. It helped that they had three pacy, direct forwards together on the pitch, as they all naturally drove into space. Three examples of this were:

  1. The Petratos cross that Elrich deflected onto the post
  2. The goal, with McKay intercepting a pass intended for Sanchez, and transferring it to Henrique, who cuts back and curls home a fine right-footed finish
  3. The Petratos curler that hit the far post – he’s initially played in by Henrique, who manages to draw in two Adelaide defenders before switching it across quickly to the right winger

Gombau changes back to 4-3-3

A combination of being unable to play out, going behind, and looking constantly open at the back, seemed to trigger Gombau into making a tactical adjustment around the 25 minute mark, switching from the 3-4-3 back to the usual 4-3-3.

In terms of individuals, Elrich went into centre-back, Goodwin dropped back to left-back, Cirio went left-wing and Marrone went right-back. Having a back four made it easier for Adelaide to play out, as both full-backs pushed high up and pinned the Brisbane wingers (Henrique and Petratos) into deeper positions, which left Solorzano unable to press both McGowan and Elrich.

adl solution


Now, Adelaide had control. They had more possession, were able to progress moves forward from the back, and attacked down the flanks – either the winger taking on the full-back in 1v1 situations, or Marrone/Goodwin moving forward to create 2v1 situations. If the first twenty-five minutes had been Brisbane dictating the pattern of the game, then this was now a ‘typical Adelaide’ period: they were dominating possession, playing high up the pitch and looking to work it forward both quickly but also methodically.

Two examples of Adelaide having more space in deep positions after switching to 4-3-3
Two examples of Adelaide having more space in deep positions after switching to 4-3-3

Furthermore, although Brisbane retained a threat when breaking quickly through the front three, having four at the back meant Adelaide had more cover when they lost the ball, and weren’t as exposed.

As the half progressed, too, Brisbane sat deeper, with the midfielders obviously working to get behind the ball rather than press.

Second half – Adelaide go back to 3-4-3

Surprisingly, Gombau used the half-time break to reformat his side back to a 3-4-3, returning his players to the same positions they started the game in.

A possible explanation for this is that Gombau didn’t trust the ability of McGowan and Elrich as centre-backs to bring the ball forward and progress attacks into the final third. The keystone behind the alternating uses of the 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 formations has been Osama Malik – with him, it’s always been a 4-3-3; without him, it’s been the 3-4-3. Malik missed the first three games of the season with injury, which is the first time we saw the 3-4-3.

Gombau has also suggested in the past that the 3-4-3 is an option for when chasing a game, which makes sense – it ensures Adelaide can dominate the centre of midfield, but still retain attacking with high up the pitch, which is what they needed here to chase an equaliser.

Whatever the reason, an important modification Gombau made to the 3-4-3 from the first half was that Isaias dropped in much more – or if Isaias moved forward, that was the cue for Jeggo to do so, ensuring that Adelaide had a 4v3 at the back when playing out.

Additionally, they were much more patient, working the ball across the back third slowly and calmly, looking to create angles to play forward. They were also helped by the fact Brisbane sat off more, with the wide players not pressuring anywhere near as high up on Elrich and Marrone as they had in the first half, which gave Adelaide time on the ball to pick out forward passes.

Inevitably, an effect of the change was to restore Brisbane’s threat on the break – one incident, highlighted below, showed how open Adelaide were at the back when they lost the ball.

adl open

The flipside, though, was that because the Roar were defending deeper, they had more distance to cover when counter-attacking. That meant Adelaide could get numbers behind the ball, and weren’t exposed as readily.

Increasingly, Brisbane’s defensiveness became very obvious, as they focused on sitting deep and soaking up Adelaide’s pressure. This was similar to the match against Western Sydney Wanderers, where they also started very positively, before dropping off and defending deep for most of the second half. As discussed in the analysis of that match, this seems at odds with the reasons for why Mike Mulvey was sacked (i.e, not sticking to the philosophy), but the evidence here suggests that this will still remain a part of Thijssen’s tactical approach.

The caution was summed up by his last substitution, with Smith coming on for Solorzano. It was another centre-back, with Jade North going into midfield, and signalled Brisbane’s intentions to simply defend the final minutes of stoppage time.

Adelaide, for their part, simply never hit top gear. Awer Mabil was able to get the better of Corey Brown when he came on as a substitute for Ferriera, but the team overall made poor mistakes in possession and, in what is a recurring feature of the season, struggled to finish good chances.


This game was shaped by Gombau’s switching between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3. He obviously wanted to have a numerical advantage over Brisbane in the midfield zone, but the back three had problems both playing out and defending against counter-attacks in the first twenty minutes. It wasn’t until they switched to the usual system that they were able to get some control over the game.

By then, though, the damage had been done – Henrique’s fine finish, in light of some good Brisbane defending and poor Adelaide attacking, proved to be enough for Thijssen’s second win.

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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