Thursday, 8 September 2011

Commentary on the Commentary

I'm sorry's time for another Commentary on the Commentary!

Craig Foster and Les Murrary posted a Shootout on TWG, analysing Australia 3-1 Saudi Arabia, which can be found here.

Now Pass and Move hate to be the annoying sticklers....but that's actually the whole point of this site, so here we go.

Foster examined Australia's performance against Thailand, and both he and Murray seemed to be in agreement; that Australia performed poorly because of the "stupid long ball". Foz in particular talked at lenght, but he completely skipped over the central issue - that is Australia lacked width because of the team selection (as PM have covered) and lacked mobility because Kennedy and Cahill remained too static against Thailand's defence. Instead, Foz talked a lot about No. 10s, and lack of penetration. Foz and Les in particular seem to have a fixation on some sort of 'ideological' battle in football tactics - long ball vs pass and move. The thing is, Holger didn't send his team out against Thailand and told them to 'hoof it long'; but Australia came to rely on crosses from deep because of the static front men, and attacked only along the right flank because McKay at LB and Holman at LM ignored the left. With Zullo restored to LB, Australia regained 'width, pace and verve' (quoting PM there) that McKay lacks. PM readers will know that Holger made errors in his team selection because he was experimenting with his line up; trying to fit McKay, Holman, Emerton and Wilkshire's partnership and Cahill's goal threat into the same side. Unfortunately, this unbalanced the team and prohibited Australia from playing. PM now believes that similiar to Emerton and Wilkshire being perceived as playing better as a fluid partnership than as individuals, McKay and Zullo or Carney should now be afforded the same status. McKay contributes creative passing and an extra man in mid-field, while Zullo or Carney provide the width and the pace that McKay lacks, along the left flank.  

Foster claimed Australia played better against Saudi Arabia because of dropping Holman into the hole, between Saudi's lines of defence and attack, which he believed we lacked against Thailand. This isn't true. Although Holman was nominally playing at LM against Thailand, in practice he completely ignored that left flank, and continued his roaming role. The reason it didn't work; NO MOBILITY. Tactics is all about exploiting space; utilising space to attack, impeding space to defend. Cahill and Kennedy did not create space; therefore Holman sucked.

Foster is right in suggesting 4-4-2 made an appearance at the World Cup. But Michael Cox and Jonathan Wilson in Zonal Marking and the Guardian noted that it was quite rare. Of 4 semi-finalists, all used 4-2-3-1 and variants there of, which long ago usurped 4-4-2 as the universal default.

Les and Foster noted Holger's preferred formation as 4-4-1-1. However, being the annoying sticklers PM are, while it was 4-4-1-1 when defending, Australia transformed into a 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid. To see this transition in effect, check out the GIF in the Preview/Prediciton for Australia v Saudi.

The rest of the Shootout was a mess, and in large parts completely contradictory to points they had made just minutes before. For instance, Foster stated that Barcelona would be able to continue playing their style of tiki taka with Messi behind two strikers, stating outright that formation doesn't matter style does. Barca being able to play tiki taka with two centre forwards is extremely doubtful. Guardiola's philosophy has been to fit as many midfield passers into his system as possible, and transferring out all players who couldn't or wouldn't pass and move (Ibrahimovic). (For a thorough examination, see In this game, 7/10 outfield players, were nominally midfielders.)

Foster praised Holman's and McKay's efforts against Saudi, but wasn't able to identify the difference between the performances. PM are getting a little tired of pointing this out; they key was Holman's free role (behind the striker as opposed to nominally on the left) did not unbalance the team, and McKay wasn't defensively exposed at LM as opposed to LB. He and Zullo linked well and cooperated in defending and atttacking. Readers might ask, with the current vogue of inverting wingers on their 'wrong' sides, why was Holman, a right-sided/central attacker, not able to effectively cut in from the left flank? With a winger cutting in, a full back is required to provide the pace, and exploit the space. At Everton, Baines provides the width at LB with whoever is stationed at LM cutting in. Against Thailand, McKay at LB drifted centrally as well.

Now minutes after Foster claimed it didn't matter what formation a team selected as their style would determine how they played, Foster and Murray claimed that a flat 4-4-2 for Australia always and definitively equals long ball. This seems to be some sort of ideological fixation for both of them.
As PM have noted time and time again, Australia and Wilkshire in particular, were left with no other outlet than crosses from deep BECAUSE of the lack of mobility from the static front men and the unbalanced team selection which restricted Australia to attacking from only one axis(the right). Our goals arrived when we spread the play to the left flank. Wilkshire didn't cross from deep because some journalists jotted down 4-4-2 on their notepad anymore than because Josh Kennedy is really tall (which is what Foster suggested) - it was because his team mates offered no other options. It was literally a measure of last resort.

Later on, Foster claims it is necessary for Australia to play a diamond in midfield. Where is he getting these contrary and irrelevant notions? First he states formation doesn't matter style does; then he completely reverses his opinion, saying formation determines style. 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1; hell even 3-5-2 - formations are just a way of communicating a rough idea of how a team works, the most important thing is MOBILITY MOBILITY MOBILITY. That is how you get a MOBILE attack as opposed to a static one. In any case, Foster doesn't identify what Holger changed; McKay and Holman were unbalancing the team at LM and LB against Thailand; they were shifted againts Saudi Arabia, and Australia were able to attack down multiple fronts, as Kennedy played more mobile.

Then Foster claims Australia can't play with a double pivot and two forwards. What were we playing a couple days ago Foz?!? Two forwards (Kennedy and Holman) and two central midfielders (Valeri and Jedinak). They key was McKay drifting in, and Holman and Kennedy's movement.

Just about the only thing Foster got correct was in response to the muted furour over; what is Australia's starting XI? Only a few years ago, any Australian fan could have pencilled in a team sheet and been proven largely correct. Foster is correct in asserting a 1st XI doesn't particularly matter. The notion of a 1st XI died in club football due to the need for squad rotation. Australia have a long and hard qualifying campaign ahead of us, with most of our effective players in their early 30s or late 20s. What is important is that Holger has variation to choose from in nearly every position, in terms of personnel and playing style, which he has cultivated by blooding younger and newer players. PM will be examining Australia's squad depth in the next few days.

To conclude, Foster says the best thing about Australia's performance against Saudi Arabia was Australia 'taking the initiative'. It was tactical changes that allowed this, and Foster never correctly identifies them.

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