Adelaide United has been marred by the worst discipline record in the A-League Men competition, but it may have opened a door that would have otherwise remained closed.
Getting booked by the referee may be a routine part of a game of football, but it is one that Adelaide United has become too familiar with in the 2022/23 instillation of the A-League Men competition.
Entering its Round 13 clash with Macarthur, Carl Veart’s side had amassed a league-leading 38 bookings, six more than second-placed Central Coast while recording an equal league-high four red cards.
Such poor discipline is sure to cause headaches at the selection table, and after recovering from pneumonia, Carl Veart’s suffering was extended due to the task of covering the absence of defender Alex Popović (yellow card accumulation), along with preferred midfield duo Juande (yellow card accumulation) and Isaias (red card ban).
The return to fitness of experienced duo Ben Warland and Nick Ansell alleviated Popović’s absence, but Veart’s lack of consistent faith in a midfield duo other than Juande and Isaias spelled trouble with both veterans unavailable. What was even more troubling was the fact that the Reds were sliced open in the middle of the park by the Bulls in their Round 13 visit to Campbelltown earlier in the season.
Being left with little move to maneuver, the usually conservative Veart had no other choice but to throw caution to the wind by fielding Louis D’Arrigo and Ethan Alagich, a young midfield combination that has never started a game together.
Some Reds fans may have entered the match cautiously optimistic due to their side’s strong home form, and they would have felt even better after Zach Clough opened the scoring seven minutes in.
The positive start was soon forgotten when returning centre-back Ben Warland became the next name on the red card list, receiving his marching orders only 17 minutes into the match after a defensive mixup led to a sloppy tackle by the last defender.
This sending-off left Carl Veart’s side, not just with an inexperienced midfield but with a brand new, makeshift centre-back consisting of Nick Ansell and fullback Javi López, while winger Ben Halloran plugged a hole at right-back.
At that stage, even the most bullish Adelaide fan would have expressed doubts about their side’s ability to hold onto this result.
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In what could prove to be a turning point for the Reds’ season though, they did not succumb as they have with regularity since the league restarted after the World Cup break, and a big reason was the forced change in midfield.
Ethan Alagich showed his adaptability to focus on the defensive side of the game when the Reds required him to do so, but the star of the defensive midfield effort was Louis D’Arrigo.
Returning to his natural role as a defensive midfield, the one he excelled in his debut season, D’Arrigo was instrumental in Adelaide’s winning effort, breaking up Macarthur’s play with four tackles and five timely interceptions.
Adelaide’s defensive effort contained Macarthur’s first-half threat exclusively to set pieces where Joe Gauci’s excellence between the sticks ensured Adelaide maintained its advantage.
It was not until Macarthur went down to 10 men itself, and before introducing livewire Daniel Arzani, that Dwight Yorke’s side began looking likely to seriously hurt Adelaide from open play.
The Reds survived to claim the three points, with the youthful defensive exuberance displayed by their midfield a key in consolidating its early advantage.
It is hard to imagine the game playing out in a similar way if veterans Juande and Isaias, both in their mid-30s, anchored the midfield from the start or if D’Arrigo’s effort was dedicated to the unfamiliar box-to-box role he has been tasked with learning the past few seasons.
The Spanish double pivot and the misuse of D’Arrigo have proved to be detrimental at times for Adelaide’s play, both defensively and offensively. Two of Adelaide’s young midfielders taking advantage of their teammates’ suspensions to help their side claim three points in their first time as a pair should not be ignored.
Juande and Isaias will continue getting serious minutes as the Reds have committed to the duo financially and in terms of leadership, but Carl Veart’s young charges have proved to their coach they are more than capable of doing a job.
As Veart’s selection headache turns positive, Reds fans will now be expecting their coach to experiment and find his side’s best midfield pairing. A poor discipline record is nothing to be proud of, but if the Reds can begin better utilising their midfield in the long term because of it, it may have been worth the pain.
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