01/03/2024

Image: Joshua Davis

Round 14 of the A-League Men saw tactical adjustments that helped the Mariners continue their run of form, a defensive masterclass from Sydney FC in the Big Blue and another poor performance from a struggling Adelaide side.

Central Coast’s pressing system has been completely rejuvenated in recent weeks under Mark Jackson, in a game where Brisbane struggled to implement their new style of football.

Meanwhile, Sydney FC demonstrated exactly how to defend with a man down in their feisty encounter with the Melbourne Victory.

Adelaide United’s slump extended with compounding defensive issues and a lack of midfield structure at the root of the problem.

Let’s take a look at a selection of the best, worst and most interesting tactics that were on display.

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Melbourne City 1-0 Adelaide United

Adelaide continued their fall down the table, despite a blistering start to the season, with a 1-0 loss away to Melbourne City.

So what’s going wrong for the Reds?

Well, in this match, we again saw Adelaide’s inability to effectively break down defences that sit slightly deeper.

City set up in such a way that it afforded Adelaide’s back line plenty of possession, but stayed compact in the midfield (known as a mid-block) to prevent the Reds from progressing the ball through the central areas.

United encountered a similar problem against Macarthur in round 12, and similarly failed to create quality chances despite controlling the tempo and possession.

One of the best ways to break open a solid, structured defence is by having lots of off the ball movement from the forwards.

However, Ben Halloran, playing out of position as the second striker alongside Ibusuki, has shown in both these games that his movement is not good enough to help create attacking opportunities.

He improved against Sydney FC in Unite Round, but that was a much more open game, with both teams looking to attack.

But when faced with a team that’s happy to defend, he struggles to get himself involved in attacking phases.

It doesn’t help matters that Carl Veart has chopped and changed the tactics, formations and lineups throughout the season.

By best count, he has used four different formations already this season, and with holes in the squad only growing in size due to the number of outgoings, it’s likely that Adelaide will struggle to find a consistent approach.

This game also saw a continuation of the defensive issues that have plagued United’s season.

Diagram showing Adelaide United’s formation and lineup. Design: Jacob Stevens.

Adelaide set up with just a two-man midfield, consisting of Ryan Tunnicliffe and Jonny Yull in the double pivot, and because Yull was used as a floating playmaker, it often left Tunnicliffe as the lone 6 to defend in front of the back line.

This opened Adelaide up to numerous 3vs1 situations in the middle of the park, and these mismatches were a key factor in City’s goal: Tunnicliffe struggled to contain all three City midfielders advancing on the box, which left Terry Antonis in acres of space to take his shot.

Melbourne Victory 1-1 Sydney FC

The first 30 minutes of this game was a display of some of the best football so far this season, end-to-end excitement with chances aplenty at both ends of the pitch.

In their continued search for Bruno Fornaroli’s replacement, Victory opted to start Velupillay as the 9, with Folami and Arzani lining up either side as the wingers.

Sydney, meanwhile, kept the same lineup and formation as they used to great effect against the Jets in round 13.

Of course, Patrick Wood’s red card in the 36th minute signalled a turning point in the match – before then Sydney had arguably the better of the chances.

The Sky Blues opened the scoring from a corner, with Courtney-Perkins finding himself in the right place at the right time to slot the ball home after a poor attempt at clearing the lines from Machach.

Victory’s Frenchman soon redeemed himself, though, with an opportunistic chip over the advancing Redmayne to bring the score level.

After the sending off, Sydney dropped deep defensively into a 4-3-2 low-block, with only a very occasional press from the likes of Joe Lolley to hurry Victory in possession.

This actually worked to Sydney’s advantage, as Victory struggled to effectively and consistently break down the low block.

Diagram showing Sydney FC’s defensive structure after the red card: note the congestion in the right half space. Design: Jacob Stevens.

A key issue Victory encountered was a lack of fluidity from the forwards. With the space they were afforded around the box, Victory tried to pass their way around the Sydney defence with limited success.

There was a lot of congestion in advanced areas – Victory threw as many players forwards as possible, and often had two or three players occupying the same spaces – and this meant that the ball often struggled to break the defensive line because there was no chance to play directly.

With that being said, Victory occasionally (although obviously not regularly enough) baited Sydney’s front two into a press, which stretched the Sydney lines vertically, and allowed the Victory midfielders to orchestrate attacks between the lines.

Central Coast Mariners 2-0 Brisbane Roar

The Mariners have really turned this season around after some early struggles that left them looking a whole lot worse than last season’s championship-winning side.

Mariners head coach Mark Jackson has done some very interesting things tactically to get the team back on track.

The biggest change has come in the systems and structures they use in defence.

Last season’s team was renowned for their pressing ability, often launching a three or four player press. However, that pressing intensity wasn’t anywhere to be seen earlier this season.

Recently, Jackson and his squad have experimented with a trigger press. For those of you out of the loop, a trigger press relies on certain actions (or triggers) to signal when to start and end the press.

For Central Coast, it looks like this:

Diagram showing Central Coast Mariners’ pressing system. Design: Jacob Stevens.

They sit in a 4-4-2 mid-block defensively, and when the ball is played laterally across the opposition’s backline, that’s when the two attackers engage the press.

The wingers then join the press as the ball moves into the wide areas near the sidelines, and once the ball is played back to the goalkeeper, the wingers drop back into midfield to keep the structure.

This is a clever system, as it allows the Mariners to sustain the press for long periods of time without conceding lots of space between the lines.

On the other side of things, Brisbane again struggled to come into the game in any real sense.

There’s elements and little glimpses evident of the type of football that new head coach Ben Cahn is trying to implement, but it’s also clearly in its teething stages.

Brisbane is now looking to play possession-based football, and values passing over progressive carries – especially in central areas.

The style is heavily reminiscent of netball in that it emphasises a pass-and-move mentality, and it has clear Pep Guardiola inspiration in its design.

It’s also a type of football that’s heavily reliant on players that suit the system, and that are comfortable in it.

Only time will tell if it’s the correct approach for the Roar.

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