19/04/2024

Adelaide United's Zach Clough and Bernardo trying to dispossess Connor Metcalfe (Image: Melbourne City)

Adelaide United defeated Melbourne City at AAMI Park and a change in midfield has given Carl Veart a selection headache going forward.

Adelaide United entered AAMI Park not having beaten Melbourne City since the 2015/2016 A-League Men Season. Carl Veart’s change in midfield approach showed the way forward if the Reds are to be successful this campaign.

Adelaide United’s midfield struggles this season have been well-documented. Veart’s preferred midfield trio, a double pivot of Juande and Isaias, along with captain Stefan Mauk in the attacking midfielder role has not resulted in the joy Reds fans would have been hoping for.

The Spanish duo of Juande and Isaias, both stars of the A League Men competition in their earlier stints with Perth and Adelaide respectively, have been struggling to co-exist in the same midfield.

Both players are very similar in the way they go about their game which creates offensive and defensive limitations when fielded together.

In the same side, captain Stefan Mauk has had a challenging time adapting to his offensive responsibilities, playing out of position in the attacking midfield role.

Along with that, Mauk has had to lead the Reds while also being the subject of a prolonged switch to Japanese football.

Veart changed his approach when the Reds took on the Champions and it contributed to the United claiming its first win against City at AAMI Park since its own Championship winning Season in 2015/2016.

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The notable absentee in United’s midfield trio in Veart’s starting lineup was former skipper Isaias, who began the game on the bench. He was replaced by young midfielder Louis D’Arrigo who partnered regulars Juande and Stefan Mauk in the midfield.

One limitation of starting both Juande and Isaias is that their games, at the latter stage of their careers, do not favor pressing.

Coming up against Melbourne City, a side that punish teams that afford it space, meant that someone with D’Arrigo’s youthful exuberance and ability to press and intercept the ball could be useful.

Despite D’Arrigo’s early excellence as a defensive midfielder at the Reds, Veart has been trying to convert the young midfielder to a more all-round, box-to-box midfielder with mixed results. D’Arrigo is only at the start of his career, still learning his craft and needs time and trust if he is to succeed.

The first half ended 1-1, with both sides being fortunate to have a goal but with Melbourne City comfortably the best side. That changed in the second half with Veart looking to his bench for answers.

Louis D’Arrigo pursuing the ball against Melbourne City’s Aiden O’Neil (Image: Melbourne City)

New signing Zach Clough was introduced by Veart at half time. As an attacking midfielder, fans would have expected to see him come on for captain Stefan Mauk in a like for like swap.

Instead, Clough was subbed on for defensive midfielder Juande, which inadvertently set up United for a second half fielding the most complete midfield in terms of profiles and player abilities that it has produced this season.

D’Arrigo started the second half in his preferred defensive midfield spot. The same position which saw him announce himself as one of the most promising young players in Australia under Gertjan Verbeek in the 2019/2020 A-League Men Season.

Mauk dropped back to the box-to-box midfield position which as a player that combines skill, aggression and a large engine, he relishes. Mauk played a similar role for the Reds when they won the 2015-2016 A- League Premiership and Championship double.

This move opened the door for Clough to play in the advanced midfield position where he built his reputation in the United Kingdom. With Mauk soon exiting the club, Clough should see a lot more minutes in this position.

The Reds were clearly improved in the second half, looking more comfortable in possession and assured in transitions. It was not the most star studded midfield United has played this season, but definitely the most balanced and it showed.

The difference was stark from a United midfield which was outplayed by Wellington Phoenix in the first half of their encounter in Kograh on Saturday.

The new-found balance paid off with the team pressing resulting in a Carl Jenkinson error which allowed substitute Mohamed Toure to slot in the winner past Tom Glover.

Three points on the road against the champions is a huge result for Veart’s side, who keep proving they are not done until the final whistle has sounded.

The Reds have scored 10 of their goals in the last 15 minutes of games, with the side closest to matching that stat being Melbourne Victory with five goals.

This proves that the Reds abandon their safe mentality that is installed with their usual starting midfield and have the ability to chase the game when required. A more positive mentality needs to be installed from the beginning of games and it all starts in the middle of the park.

The main lesson the Reds must take on board from this game is a balanced midfield can turn a game on its head. When determining a starting XI, the midfield must be selected on what a player can bring to the side in their given position, how they work with their fellow midfielders and form, not reputation or a false sense hope.

Veart must now decide what his best midfield combination is, with a hole evident in the box-to-box area of the midfield. D’Arrigo may be the man to fill it, while playing alongside one of United’s Spaniards but recalling Josh Cavallo into the midfield, where he found a lot of success last season, could be a game changer for United’s campaign.

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