Luke Brattan. Picture: sydneyfc.com.au

Sydney FC's defensive midfield duo has been a strong point in its season thus far whether it be Brattan, Nieuwenhof of Retre. But which two should start?

Sydney FC plays with a unique formation in both attack and defence.

On paper, Sydney FC’s line-up is a 4-2-2-2, with Calem Nieuwenhof describing the midfield in an earlier interview as including two sixes and two 10s.

When defending generally from deep, Sydney defends in a standard 4-4-2 formation, but it differs when they press.

So far this season, Sydney’s midfield has been a creative, solid unit.

Milos Ninkovic is the clear starter on the left, while Anthony Caceres offers ball retention and defensive effort, and Alex Baumjohann offers progressive passing and ball carrying forwards on the right, however less defensive quality.

But the two sixes are the most interesting part.

They have unique roles due to Sydney’s narrow midfield and have to cover high amounts of grass to stop passes between the lines and to create attacks.

There are three main midfielders challenging for two positions at the base of Sydney’s midfield.

Calem Nieuwenhof, Paulo Retre and Luke Brattan all bring different qualities to the midfield. Brattan has played the most minutes with 693, Retre second with 585 and Nieuwenhof last with 533.

As mentioned earlier, Brattan is a deep-lying playmaker. His passing is exceptional, especially long diagonals and he often finds Milos Ninkovic in an inside left pocket with a low swept diagonal pass.

He is relatively composed on the ball but playing through the press with his back a marker isn’t his strength – he prefers to face the field and often drops between or to the right of the centre-back partnership.

Brattan plays 7.66 long passes per 90 (defined as a high pass longer than 25 metres or a ground pass longer than 45 metres), compared to Retre’s 3.23 and Nieuwenhof’s 3.71. He has the highest pass average length, with 20.19 metres compared to Retre’s 16.71 and Nieuwenhof’s 17.82.

Nieuwenhof himself proves to be a statistically consistent on the ball, especially going forwards. He receives the second most passes on a per 90 ratio with 43.23, behind Paulo Retre is next with 46.62.

Nieuwenhof attempts 8.11 offensive duels per 90, more than Brattan and Retre’s added together while he attempts 1.52 dribbles per 90.

Nieuwenhof’s best qualities come in his tidiness, composure, ball control and carrying ability. He is an adept defender but prefers to be on the ball with his team either playing through the press or in comfortable possession.

Luke Brattan isn’t actually as press resistant of a midfielder – while his passing ability is excellent, he sometimes doesn’t position his body correctly and turns over the ball. If Sydney wants to go with a purely press resistant midfield then Nieuwenhof and Retre is probably the way to go, although Brattan deserves a place in the midfield based purely on his passing range and quality on and off the ball.

Retre himself has the most passes per 90 out of the three, and possesses tidy technique, good ball control and a good engine and tackle. He attempts the smartest passes per 90 with 0.81 (a smart pass is defined as a creative pass that attempts to break the oppositions line.) Retre is perhaps the most well-rounded midfielder, capable of playing in different styles or different roles.

Interestingly Retre has the lowest successful defensive actions per 90 with 7.23 compared to Nieuwenhof’s 9.46 and Brattan’s 9.74.

All three of Sydney’s possible sixes offer different quality. Brattan offers long passing, high chance creation, progressive passing and defensive quality but lacks when being pressed and in defensive ability.

Retre offers good ball control and shielding ability, defensive quality and stamina but lacks progressive passing, although he’s improved on that front in recent weeks. Meanwhile Calem Nieuwenhof brings press resistance, ball control, progressive passing and high defensive actions, but lacks experience.

Sydney’s midfield really depends on the different game they play. When Sydney requires defensive solidity, a dual pivot of Nieuwenhof and Retre would probably be best, which may have been the reason to Corica bringing on Nieuwenhof for Brattan in the dying stages of the Western United game.

However, Brattan is pretty much a guaranteed starter when fit and brings a different dimension of quality on the ball in particular in his long passing.

Sydney has been blessed with three quality midfielders, and the number of games over the next few months will see each rotate in and out. However, when their schedule resumes to normal Steve Corica may find himself with a headache deciding which two players should sit at the base of Sydney’s midfield.

All data from Wyscout, and doesn’t include statistics from Sydney FC vs Newcastle Jets.

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