Why Sydney FC may struggle under Steve Corica

A major injury may have dealt a major blow to Sydney FC’s hopes this season

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 centre-backs to full-backs, making it difficult for Sydney to progress the ball forward cleanly, especially with the front two and the central midfielders working hard to stop opponents getting free on the ball centrally. Isaias and Vince Lia, in particular, were able to protect the space in front of the back four to prevent Sydney’s narrow playmakers, Milos Ninkovic and Siem de Jong, from receiving killer passes.

Adelaide’s pressing structure, with the right-winger (Ryan Strain) blocking the pass from Sydney centre-back to full-back

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.

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.


Great work to get the analysis up on here so quickly after the game. I agree 100% with what you wrote Рmaybe Sydney looked slow (& sloppy) because Adelaide pressed so aggressively? However, Corica is going to have to find a way to give Ninkovic & de Jong more time on the ball with space around them as they were shut down very quickly by Isaias & co and hardly created a chance worth mentioning (apart from LeFondre’s goal of course!).

Thanks Arto. Been a while since I’d written so I was very keen to get back into it again! Thanks for your comment. In all honesty, I don’t think either team was that impressive – Adelaide pressed decently, but a sharper opponent would have caught them out earlier than 78 minutes.

Wasn’t able to watch game really closely but thought that Sydney goal came in part to Strain (?) running out to press CB at wrong time which allowed easier ball to Zullo which he had denied for most of the game I’d seen.
Once Zullo on ball in space Sydney took advantage of FB coming out to close him down.
I am glad to see your analysis again.

Thanks Sean. You’re completely right. Strain defended higher and moved forward more than Goodwin all game, and the goal was one of few times Sydney found a solution and were able to ruthlessly exploit it. The fact they were eventually able to do this, and that Ninkovic was able to make the forward run I discuss in the article, suggests to me Sydney should be able to solve this problem in time.

Leave a Reply