28/02/2024

Caitlin Foord celebrates a goal. (Image: @TheMatildas - Twitter)

Goals to Sam Kerr, and Mary Fowler added to a brace by Caitlin Foord saw The Matildas defeat highly-ranked Sweden at AAMI Park. It was a stunning performance on the field, made possible by an excellent one in the dugout by Tony Gustavsson and his staff.

Australia’s win over Sweden was its highest winning margin over top-level opposition. It was its third win in a row, and it’s second over European opposition.

The 4-0 thrashing was Australia’s first win over a side ranked above it since defeating the USA 1-0 in 2017.

The second half, where three of the goals were scored was some of the best football The Matildas have played under Tony Gustavsson. It was also one of his best coaching performances.

Australia started off strongly. Sam Kerr hassled the Swedish defence, Steph Catley came within inches of scoring with a free kick, and the side looked comfortable against the second-ranked side in the world.

As top teams do, Sweden eventually found its rhythm. Johanna Rytting Kaneryd struck the post and they found space along both flanks.

The Matildas were on the back foot. After the 30th minute, Gustavsson and his side made some changes to the match. It was Australia at its best, and the manager in excellent form.

Combining the past and the present

The Matildas most common formation has long been the 4-3-3. A defining characteristic of Gustavsson’s era is a willingness to change this.

After half an hour against Sweden, Australia switched to 4-4-2. A setup more associated with 90s English football, but one that made the most of the players on the park.

“Our identity is always going to be the same,” Gustavsson told the media post-match.

“Formation is just a tool to able to do what we want to do, press and attack.

“I didn’t think our press had the bite that we wanted.

“So I went for a little bit of an adjustment more from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 when we brought [Hayley] Raso and [Cortnee] Vine down the field and flatten out Caitlin [Foord] and Sam [Kerr].

“Caitlin and Sam are so freaking good at cutting off passing channels and know when to press.

“When they were staggered, we had too much space in some pockets and we didn’t read the triggers well enough so they played right through us.

“We had practised how to do it but didn’t execute it well enough, so we did that tactical change and it worked well today.”

The benefits were more than just the pressing game. Kyra Cooney-Cross and Katrina Gorry were able to move the ball quicker and get forward more easily. They had support closer to them in safe wide areas in Raso and Vine.

That midfield pairing in a 4-4-2 allowed them to play their natural games. Gorry’s ability to knit through central areas helped to set up the first goal. Cooney-Cross’s trademark run through the middle set up Foord, just as she had against in the 3-1 against Denmark last month.

The switch to a flatter formation, without a designated defensive or attacking midfielder, resulted in a dynamic, damaging, and secure central area.

The throwback to the old-fashioned formation, combined with a modern pressing game nullified the threat and imposed it on our own.

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Catley to centre back

Few Matildas fans want to see Steph Catley named in the centre of defence. The Arsenal star is one of Australia’s best players and was a vital attacking weapon in the previous international window.

With Aivi Luik and Alanna Kennedy unavailable, Catley shifted into their position. Her speed and passing range meant that Sweden’s attack had few clear-cut chances on goal.

“I don’t like to move Steph to centre back,” Gustavsson said.

Catley was one of Australia’s best-attacking weapons against South Africa, with involvements in all four goals. Her shift to a less adventurous role was a risk.

“We said, ‘ok, what’s best for this game?’,” Gustavsson said.

“We know that Sweden always defends lopsided. Meaning they steer everything to the opponent’s left centre-back. We wanted to have a ‘quarterback’ there in terms of Steph.

“She was phenomenal on the ball, but also impressive defensively.”

Up against Arsenal teammate Stina Blackstenius, Catley and Clare Polkinghorne were impassable. It was a crucial move and a successful one.

Finishing off the contest

In its last home games, Australia lost in an uninspiring fashion to Canada. The second game in particular was concerning at the time. The Matildas were in a winning position, but were outplayed by the Olympic champions and lost 2-1.

Against Sweden, Gustavsson’s side aimed high and was determined to avoid the same mistakes made in that match.

“That was one of the last things we talked about in the locker room before the second half,” Gustavsson said.

“Considering what happened against Canada, they [the players] could have been scarred mentally and a little bit scared.

“We said, ‘we’re going to go for 2-0. That’s who we are. We’re going to be brave, we’re going to press, we’re going to attack, and we’re going to go for 2-0 instead of just trying to close out the game.’

“I did similar against Canada, and it didn’t work. Somebody said, ‘why don’t you park the bus and close out the game?’

“This time it did work.

“The crowd carries us through that second half as well.

“You can see how much the players enjoyed the vibe out there.”

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