Two historical heavyweights of the Hyundai A-League met over the weekend, both in need of a win to ease the pressure on their respective coaches. Muscat’s men look to be in a slightly better position than their Queensland opponents, but a lot was riding on the result of this match in what was a tense encounter.
Brisbane’s high press and Melbourne’s response
Brisbane’s high press; despite this, Victory still have the superiority.
From the outset, it was clear that the Roar intended to press aggressively during Melbourne Victory’s build-up phase. Maccarone and Skapetis, as the more advanced players would take responsibility for pressing the centre-backs, with Franjic and Ben Khalfallah orienting themselves towards the Victory fullbacks. McKay and Oxborrow went man-to-man against Melbourne’s holding midfielders, in the shape of Carl Valeri and Sanchez. The apparent intention from Aloisi was to create as much difficulty as possible for the Victory when playing out from the back, with man orientations appearing all over the middle and front thirds of the pitch during this phase. One concept to keep in mind however, is that no matter the aggressiveness of a press, the team playing out will almost always have numerical superiority. This means that there will always be at least one free player, who in many cases will be the goalkeeper. This is true for the above situation, with it being 7v6 in favour of Melbourne.
Another by-product of this press from the Roar was the space left behind their midfield line, as McKay and Oxborrow advanced further up the pitch to be close to the holding midfield pairing of Valeri and Sanchez. This creates a disjointed press and concedes too much space behind the midfield line, allowing James Troisi to appear unmarked in central areas to become an alternate free man. As a result of this exploitation, the Victory were able to create situations with advantage and play out from the back on a regular basis, overcoming significant pressure at the same time.
Melbourne Victory have pushed a midfielder between the centre-backs previously this season (v Melbourne City).
Although the aforementioned build-up strategy allowed Muscat’s side to play out with regularity, they demonstrated enough shape which averted the danger posed by Brisbane’s press by an even greater degree. In the past, Mark Milligan has moved between the two centre-backs, in turn permitting the full-backs to push higher up the pitch, subsequently creating more space in the middle of the pitch. A similar strategy was popularised by Pep Guardiola during his tenure at Bayern Munich, who reacted in this manner to ease ball circulation against the high press of an opponent.
The change allows superiority in the first two zones during build-up.
Due to the absence of Milligan, Carl Valeri took over this role and would drop between the two centre-backs, in turn triggering a response from his teammates. More importantly however, was the fact that his dropping off created a 4v2 situation in the first zone. This allowed Melbourne to frequently switch the play from closer to their goal, shifting the press of the opposition in an attempt to open passing lines to more advanced players. When the ball progressed to the next zone, Valeri stepped up to ensure a 5v4, with Troisi appearing behind McKay or Oxborrow generally unmarked. This shape is of much more benefit to the Victory, creating more opportunities for localised superiorities and easing progression of the ball into the middle third. In my opinion, this tactic is severely under-utilised by Muscat’s men, which is used to such effect when demonstrated.
Brisbane’s issues in penetration
Brisbane relied upon Connor O’Toole to provide the width on the left-hand side.
Over his tenure at the Roar, John Aloisi has consistently applied asymmetry in his playing systems when in possession of the ball, meaning that the mechanics of one side are different to the other. Briefly, Ivan Franjic fulfilled the conventional duties of a right-winger and provided the width, but Fahid Ben Khalfallah moved inwards and left the provision of width to left-back Connor O’Toole. FBK was positioned almost as a second striker, and was consistently just behind Maccarone throughout almost the entirety of the match. This created several issues for Brisbane; the limitation and restriction of width in advanced areas and the populating of central areas in proximity to Maccarone. The concepts of width and depth of football are well developed, and are key in creating space for a team to operate within, providing more time on the ball for each player and adding more difficulty to the efforts of the defending side. With FBK so narrow, O’Toole was relied upon to provide the width, and could often not do so successfully from his deeper position. The second issue was the cutting off of the supply to Maccarone, a player who is more suited to a target man role than anything else. The presence of FBK in the central area just behind the Italian meant that one of the Victory’s holding midfielders would almost always be present, adding congestion to the space and adding more difficulty to the task of getting the ball to Maccarone’s feet. A potential advantage however was the fact that O’Toole had the opportunity to receive the ball in acres of space, allowing Brisbane to switch the point of attack relatively easily.
Similar penetration method as executed by Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos.
Despite the ability to switch the point of attack via the space ahead of O’Toole, Brisbane were not able to capitalise on any created advantages. This can be best showcased by providing an example of a similar method employed by Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos, with Mat Leckie being representative of O’Toole and Robbie Kruse playing a similar role to Ben Khalfallah. In this instance, against Cameroon at the Confederations Cup, Leckie would receive the ball wide on the right, triggering the movement of Kruse in behind the back four of the opposition. To compare this to the Roar, O’Toole would often receive the ball in wide areas, but no penetrative run would be made by FBK. This often led to O’Toole having to go himself, trying to come out on top in unfavourable 2v1 situations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this had little success.
Akbari offered a higher frequency of movement when he came on in the second half.
Close to the hour mark, Aloisi sent young gun Rahmat Akbari on and moved FBK to the central attacking midfield position. This change instantly added more edge to the attacking structure of the Roar, as Akbari made runs in behind Geria on a much more frequent basis than FBK did. This could potentially be one of the reasons why the dominance seemed to swing towards the home side in the second half, and Aloisi should be commended for his foresight in making the change. However, if FBK was able to show the same tendency earlier, the Roar may have posed a much greater threat in what was a toothless first half showing. This left-sided strategy can work, but O’Toole must consistently be supported or he will always find himself in 2v1 situations in favour of the defending team. A similar system worked under Postecoglou, where this player was always supported by the closest midfielder. When this supporting run was made, the Roar looked dangerous, and this was particularly due to the introduction of Akbari in the second half.
The all-conquering, purpose-filled Roar of seasons past seem like a world away when compared to the present day. The team lack coherency, lack purpose and seemed to have strayed far from the ‘Brisbane Roar Way’ which once earned the moniker of ‘Roarcelona’. The Victory, on the other hand, seem to have gotten themselves out of their early-season rut, and Kevin Muscat will no doubt be searching for consistency in the future. Whether these teams will be able to repair the damage their early season woes have caused is yet to be seen.
Nathan Muir is an Australian tactical analyst and coach. You can contact him on Facebook @nathanmuirfootball or on Twitter @NathanKMuir.