15/04/2024

Craig Goodwin celebrates the equaliser against Melbourne Victory. (Photo: Adelaide United/Twitter)

Playing two hotly contested rivalry matches against each other across the week, there were bound to be tactical and systematic changes to both Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory across both.

The Original Rivalry twice in one week; every A-League fan’s dream. The first was played in Adelaide for a place in the FFA Cup Semi-Final, while the second at AAMI Park, battling for three points in the league.

The psychology behind playing the same team within such a short period is very interesting.

Some coaches would be hesitant to play the same system twice in fear of being predictable, whereas others go even further into their system, in some cases playing the same line-up if it was successful the first time.

It was a game of cat and mouse between Tony Popovic and interim Adelaide boss Ross Aloisi. Couple this with the COVID-19 situation ruling some players out of either fixture, and the second encounter became that much more of a tactical showdown. 

The Inner Sanctum takes an in-depth look at both games and see what tactical and personnel changes both managers made in response to the cup tie-in mid-week. 

Adelaide United vs Melbourne Victory: FFA Cup fixture 

Both sides had very different approaches to the FFA Cup this season. Over in Adelaide, Untied fielded strong sides throughout its campaign, whereas this was the first game where Melbourne Victory fielded an A-League Men level squad. 

Victory started Josh Brillante for the first time in the competition, as well as Roderick Miranda and Ivan Kelava. Nicholas D’Agostino was featured for the first time in the Cup as well.

This stronger line-up facilitated the similar system that they have been playing through the year, 4-2-3-1.

Adelaide’s squad was much more interesting. It has fielded strong squads throughout the campaign, the opposite approach to that of the Victory. However, in this match, the Reds decided to not play a recognised striker. 

With no Kusini Yengi, and George Blackwood left out of the starting eleven, Stefan Mauk started in the number nine role. Despite this, Adelaide’s attacking four in its 4-2-3-1 was very fluid. 

Throughout the match, the 4-2-3-1 formation transcended into a 4-3-3. This formation had one holding midfielder with a tight double-pivot ahead of it. 

Junade occupied the base of midfield, with Stefan Mauk and Louis D’Arrigo playing just ahead. Josh Cavallo occupied a more advanced role on the left, with Craig Goodwin being that outlet ball on the right-hand side. Joe Caletti played as the most advanced central forward.

This slightly unorthodox system in possession created confusion for Melbourne Victory. This ‘total football’ played by Adelaide United created an interesting dynamic that led to it dominating proceedings. 

Adelaide controlled the game and created much better chances throughout the night. Its fluid system proved difficult to deal with from a Victory perspective.

Tony Popovic’s side played a much more conventional game, starting with and playing their traditional 4-2-3-1. The key feature of this system was the more advanced positions that the very influential Jake Brimmer got himself into.

Arguably Victory’s player of the season, he got himself beyond the striker and into advanced pockets of space. 

Despite the Reds’ dominance, their naivety and unfamiliarity with the system was the cause for their downfall. They would inevitably lose 2-1 after going ahead in the first half.

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Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United: A-League Men fixture

This is where the comparison and the tactical mind-games become a lot more obvious and transparent. Playing again only three days later, changes to the sides were going to heavily influence the outcome of the match. 

Ross Aloisi must have thought that the ‘total football’ way of playing wasn’t effective, as Blackwood reappeared in the side for this match. He was that focal point up front which they profoundly lacked in the previous fixture. 

The system went back to their conventional 4-2-3-1, with Blackwood and Mauk’s interplay being the key focus of their central offence. Goodwin and Bernado were the wide outlets, both players sticky wide on the touchline, maintaining width in attack.

Isaias and Junade were the solid, stringent midfield double pivot, which proved to be a stark contrast to their midfield selection in the Cup.

For the match midweek, they went with a more offensive and aggressive midfield, whereas this double pivot was a lot more defensive-minded, aiming to limit the influence of Brimmer and D’Agostino.

This near mirrored Melbourne Victory’s set-up, as it was a near-identical line-up from the game in mid-week.

It was the same 4-2-3-1 that Adelaide played. The same wide outlets hugging the touchline and the stringent double pivot of Josh Brillante and Rai Marchan directly mirrored the United set-up. Brimmer and D’Agostino were Mauk and Blackwood but in navy blue. 

This mirror in formation and defensive-minded approach from both coaches is a clear indication about the tactical mind games that fixtures like these bring up.

Adelaide was scared about the influence that Jake Brimmer can have on games, whereas Victory was scared by the dominance that Adelaide had over their game in the FFA Cup.

This made for a boring, stagnant affair that only lit up in the final seven minutes of the game where both sides made aggressive tactical changes and substitutions. 

What was learnt

Overall, Victory perhaps shouldn’t have won either match but came and away with one point and a semi-final berth in the FFA Cup. Adelaide dominated the majority of the two matches, but didn’t get the reward it deserved. 

This goes to show that perhaps the simpler the system the better. The more that you stick to what works, the more likely you are to succeed.

Tony Popovic didn’t make major tactical changes over the two matches and came away better throughout it. Ross Aloisi meanwhile took risks in his line-ups and his tactics, and it didn’t work out.

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