No-one likes Ange’s new shape.
I’ll bet the players hate it, but they (obviously) can’t say so.
I suspect even Ange hates it, but he’s nailed his colours to the mast and is too proud to change – which is a problem. We desperately needed to change last night when the Emiratis kept finding space wide – Smith and Leckie were constantly out of position forcing the back three into panic stations (especially in the second half of the first half) and a decent coach adjusts his team to counter the obvious threat. Ange stubbornly hung on to his rickety three at the back and more by luck (and crap execution by UAE) than design we muddled through.
However, in my (not very) humble opinion, this was an average performance against a surprisingly bad side. Japan or the Saudis would have torn us a new one last night and both will be licking their lips at the prospect of us setting up like that against them.
I think there are two reasons for Ange’s new shape:
He wants to get as many of his star midfielders onto the pitch as he can; and he wants to press other teams further up the park with more available bodies.
That’s fine in theory but the whole thing depends on two wing backs who can motor incessantly to provide protection at the back and deliver crosses up front. Rhyan Grant was born to play that game so the fact he didn’t feature in either game was a mystery. Ange may point to Leckie’s two goals and claim that was a success but anyone can score from a corner and Leckie provided no telling assists despite getting in behind a few times.
Even more worrying, he was nowhere in defence. Leckie does not know how to play that position and if Ange persists with him there it will cost us against better teams. Brad Smith probably knows how to play the position but he was clearly struggling for lack of game time in the first half last night. On both the left and the right the UAE had a number of two on one opportunities created by us leaving the dangerous space open – we were simply lucky that they weren’t good enough to make it count. Japan and the Saudis are definitely good enough.
If the defence was a worry, the attack was just as concerning. With all those bodies up the park it should have been simple enough to hang onto possession but our touch and passing were diabolical. We very rarely tried to get in behind although, to be fair, Smith managed it a few times but the quality of crossing was poor. Leckie constantly checked back when he had a chance to take the wide players on. We need people in those wide positions who will trust their speed and get to the line. Leckie also did better second half but against a better team the game might already have been over.
The other thing Ange’s new shape requires is a seriously dominant back three. That, at least, was a big improvement over the Iraq game. Sainsbury in particular was outstanding last night and it begs the question, why didn’t he play in Tehran? We lost so many defensive headers in that game which put a heap of pressure on us when they kept winning the loose ball in our third. Sainsbury’s return put an end to that but you have to wonder whether we could have won in Tehran if Sainsbury played. Iraq were no better than UAE – we just let them play though.
So what were the positives last night? Obviously Sainsbury was brilliant, but Jackson Irvine continues to impress and Troisi was superb. Milligan was solid back in the position he prefers but Juric, in my opinion, is simply not up to international standard. He can’t hold the ball up, he constantly loses possession with low percentage flicks and doesn’t have the pace or guile to create chances for himself. I’d be trying Troisi there, or even Santalab who is becoming a truly lethal finisher.
The other thing that must be said, and I hate saying it, I think Mile Jedinak’s time is just about up – in the central midfield at least. I understand he’s been reborn at Villa as a centre back so maybe that’s his future, but at 33 he’s looking tired. I hardly remember his name being called in the game last night and on the rare times he did get on the ball his passing was just disastrous. Against Japan…
If he is not selected it would give us the opportunity to play Milligan with Luongo or Mooy or Amini which would be a lot more effective with the ball. As for Luongo, Mooy and Amini – and Rogic – Ange is going to have a real headache fitting them all in when all are available. Take out Juric and Jedinak and it frees up some space.
We’ve certainly got the players to beat Japan and Saudi, the point is, the current shape does not suit the players we have. We ought to be playing 4231, 4141 or 4132. That would keep it much tighter at the back and make better use of the players we do have and the skills they possess. Leckie could still be part of it, but his contribution to defence would not be as critical.
So, either change the shape, or change the critical players within it. I say change the shape as no-one likes the new system. It’s pretty clear that the Fox commentators don’t like the system either but they also don’t like challenging Ange so, with thinly pursed lips, they’re cutting him some slack, but everyone can see what the problem is with the new shape.
Everyone can see it except the Emperor.
Adrian’s latest book Political Football: Lawrie McKinna’s Dangerous Truth is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.