14/04/2024

Adelaide United captain Craig Goodwin celebrates with Nestor Irankunda after the youngster claimed the three points for his side against Melbourne City. (Image: Ken Carter)

Over the past few seasons, Melbourne City’s management and resources have combined to create a juggernaut that is the envy of the A-League Men competition. Few sides can say they enjoy coming up against the sky-blue side of Melbourne, but one that certainly does is Adelaide United.

Since the 2019/20 A-League Men season, City has been a top two mainstay and has appeared in three consecutive Grand Finals, being crowned Champions in 2020/21.

In the 2021/22 campaign, the Reds came up against the eventual Premiers five times and despite the quality of Patrick Kisnorbo’s side, it could only defeat Carl Veart’s side once, and that only after extra time.

A change of managers has seen this streak continue in season 2022/23. Rado Vidošić’s Melbourne City had to come back from two goals down to rescue a point in a high-scoring draw at AAMI Park earlier in the season, before being defeated 4-2 at Coopers Stadium in Round 19.

City’s intense pressing game has suffocated many sides in the past, but Veart wants to ensure that is not the case for his side. The Reds coach was pleased with his side’s response after a slow start saw it concede in the first 10 minutes of the game.

“We were sort of falling into their trap a little bit and it was important that the players understood that we needed to break their first line of press, and once we broke their first line of press we were virtually up against their back four,” Veart said.

“We just had to make sure we stretched them so that it gave us that space there, the boys started to do that and we had a lot of success with that in the second half.”

Veart discussed how crucial it was for his side to disrupt City’s play, a plan which was aided by the introduction of dynamic young forward Luka Jovanovic as a result of Hiroshi Ibusuki’s head knock.

Having a young bench can cause inconsistencies at times, but it also meant that Jay Barnett and Ethan Alagich could come on and continue hassling City late in the game to protect their side’s advantage.

The Reds are one of the few sides in the competition to consistently score heavily against City, and after recording seven goals against Vidošić’s side in their past two meetings, it is clear they have the confidence to match up against the strongest side in the league. Veart reiterated that his plan is to continue attacking City, as a conservative approach can lead to dire consequences.

“We stick to our principals, and we attack them. I suppose a lot of teams sit quite deep against them, and they don’t want to give away too much, but once you sit deep against quality like that, they will punish you. It’s a bit of a risk to play that open, attacking game, but I back the boys and I told them to go out, enjoy it and have a go,” Veart shared.

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In the other camp, Vidošić was disappointed that his side once again dropped points against Adelaide and stressed the importance of his players being wary of their opposition’s strengths.

“They (Adelaide) are blessed with speed and they are very good in transition; that’s their bread and butter,” Vidošić shared.

“The quality that they’ve got is very good crossing, both Halloran and Goodwin are world-class when it comes to crossing. They put you under sustained pressure with balls into the penalty box, and not just us, they do it to everyone.”

Vidosic felt that one of his side’s downfalls against Adelaide was playing into the hands of its opposition’s transition-heavy brand of football by attacking them too fast. When attacks like that broke down, City’s coach felt that it left his own side exposed as Reds players were already in advanced areas.

“What happens is that if our attack only lasts for five seconds, their front three, or four, are still walking back and if we lose the ball they are ready to go and transition.

“This is what players didn’t understand, that we need to wait for them to come back and then we can control the game. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that, there was a lack of numbers in their backline and we thought we were going to go through it, unfortunately, we made too many mistakes”

This fixture has become one of the more exciting ones in the A-League Men competition, with the two sides combining for a whopping 24 goals in their last five regular-season meetings, an average of nearly five goals a game.

City may have the majority of the experience in this tie, but Adelaide’s young core has proved more than capable of disrupting its plans with some success. After falling short by the tightest of margins against its Victorian opposition in the 2021/22 Finals Series, Carl Veart’s side remains as hungry as ever to prove a point.

If the two sides meet again this season it will be in the Finals Series where the onus will be on City to undo a side that will use every ounce of its youthful exuberance to cause an upset on the major stage.

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