13/04/2024
Perth Glory coach Alen Stajcic. Picture: Perth Glory

Perth Glory coach Alen Stajcic. Picture: Perth Glory

The Distance Derby may have ended in a goalless draw, but it had a fascinating tactical battle bubbling away under the surface.

Giancarlo Italiano continued the display of tactical nous that he has put on show extensively this season with some clever mid-game adjustments to his Phoenix side.

The Glory, meanwhile, structured themselves in a way that entirely neutralised Wellington’s attacking threats.

The stalemate hardly came as a surprise for many, with both Stajcic and Italiano predicting a close encounter, and both acutely aware of the other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Wellington’s first half tactics

Italiano’s men, on paper, lined up in a 3-4-3. In essence, it was a back 3 with attacking wing backs on the flanks.

In possession, they maintained roughly that same shape, but made some interesting rotations and had a fluidity in attacking phases that kept Perth on their toes.

For instance, Finn Surman, playing as the right sided centre back, would often step up into the second level alongside the defensive midfielders of Rufer and Al-Taay.

This had the effect of providing an additional option for the defenders to pass to when playing out from the back, but also allowed either of Rufer or Al-Taay the freedom to get further forwards and more effectively link the midfield and attack.

Surman’s rotation also gave Tim Payne the chance to get forward earlier from the right wingback spot, thereby forcing the left side of Perth’s defence into either conceding space in the midfield to follow Payne’s run, or potentially overcommitting and allowing Payne to make a run in behind.

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It wasn’t all perfect from the Phoenix, though, with David Ball struggling to break into the game in any significant manner.

Ball has been used incredibly effectively by Italiano this season, with the former’s pace a formidable asset for a team that has shown it likes to hit on the counter attack.

However, against Perth, Ball dropped into a deeper role in the midfield and operated almost like a typical box-to-box midfielder.

The instructions from Italiano were clearly to try and feed the ball to Ball on the turn, and allow him to then use his pace between the lines.

But Perth were wise to this, and were quick to close him down in those central areas, either committing a quick foul to slow Wellington’s momentum, or pressing him to the point where the only option was to play a pass back to the defence.

Diagram showing Wellington’s shape and structure in possession. Design: Jacob Stevens.

Defensively, Wellington used a 4-3-3 structure, which has become commonplace in modern football tactics.

The main benefit to a defensive 4-3-3 is that a team is able to have a three-man forward press without sacrificing numbers in the midfield.

But, showing his ingenuity, Italiano changed things up a little bit with regards to the press.

Rather than a three-man press, he instructed Ben Old to float just in front of the other forwards and act as the first level of the press.

But, if the press wasn’t viable, he was instructed to drop back and restore the front three.

This meant that Old had the freedom to chase down loose balls and errant passes, but also ensured that the Phoenix remained structured and didn’t concede too much space to Perth through excessive pressing.

Diagram showing Wellington’s defensive shape and pressing system. Design: Jacob Stevens.

Perth’s first half tactics

Alen Stajcic would have known he had a difficult prospect on his hands with the high-flying Phoenix in town, and used every ounce of his tactical knowledge to set his team up to deny Wellington any clear-cut chances.

Perth, similarly to Wellington, sat in a defensive 4-3-3: with a particular focus on negating the pace possessed by a few of the Phoenix’s attacking threats.

The Glory sat back when Wellington’s back line had possession, and then launched into a two-man press as the ball made its way into the central third.

This had two impacts: firstly, it denied Wellington the chance to make runs into space as Perth stayed quite compact, and secondly, it nullified Ball’s role in the midfield and contributed to Wellington turning the ball over.

Diagram showing Perth’s defensive structure and pressing system. Design: Jacob Stevens.

In the 28th minute, Perth used this system to perfection. The midfield trio stretched themselves deliberately wide to encourage Wellington to try a pass up the middle.

Wootton obliged and attempted a direct ball through the centre, only for Muir to step across and intercept the ball, before fashioning a chance for the Glory.

However, while Stajcic and Perth managed to cut out Wellington’s attacking plan, they had similar difficulties as the Phoenix in creating their own chances.

Perth simply don’t have the quality in the midfield to play through teams, and Wellington knew that by sitting slightly deeper defensively, Perth would struggle to create chances in possession.

One weakness Perth tried to target was the space in wide areas caused by Payne and Kelly-Heald as the wingbacks getting forward very early for Wellington.

Diagram showing Perth’s shape in possession. Design: Jacob Stevens.

There were numerous occasions when Perth looked to play direct balls to wide areas, aiming for the likes of Kamau. In fact, Perth had 27 long pass attempts in the first half alone.

As can be seen by the scoreline it wasn’t massively effective, but it showed Stajcic was willing to take risks on low-percentage passes to try and break open a resolute Phoenix defence.

Second half adjustments

Perth were the first to blink in the second half, switching things up by bringing on David Williams for Stefan Colakovski.

This forced the team into a 4-4-2 structure, with Williams partnering Taggart up front.

Stajcic also instructed his team to sit much deeper defensively, and continued with the long ball counter attacking approach they experimented with in the first half.

For the Phoenix, this low block represented a big hurdle, especially with the lack of great chances they had in the first half against a slightly more open Glory.

To try and counter the Perth move, Italiano introduced two big bodies in Kraev and Zawada to the match.

With the double aerial threat the substitutes presented, Wellington then began to work the ball into wide areas before crossing the ball into the box.

While “cross and inshallah” an attacking approach that is often criticised, it was nearly the point of difference in the stalemate.

If not for a fantastic save by Sail, Zawada may have found himself a late winner after a well-directed header was palmed away by the former Wellington goalkeeper.

Ultimately, despite Wellington creating arguably the better chances, a draw was a fair result in a game where both sides effectively nullified each other.

Perth defended and structured themselves well and didn’t allow themselves to be broken down, and once again showed the gritty, determined football that leaves them an outside shout for finals come May.

The result leaves Wellington three points clear at the top, while the Glory continue their run of five consecutive matches unbeaten in 9th, some seven points outside the top six.

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