Friday, 9 September 2011

How would an opposing team dismantle Australia?

As Pass and Move have documented previously, Holger’s preferred system for Australia has been an asymmetric  4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid, with McKay drifting centrally and acting as a central midfielder, with the right midfielder linking up with the two forwards. Width on the left is provided by the left full-back.  A double pivot in midfield provides a platform for attack and a bulwark in front of the defence. The withdrawn forward drops deep.

Jonathan Wilson has examined England’s asymmetric formation, and his conclusion is that being asymmetric, in and of itself, can be a strength by presenting opponents with unusual challenges. Wilson alleges that the custom of referring to players by their position discounts the attributes and abilities they possess – tactics should be more than “drilling 10 round holes into a team sheet and hammering pegs into them whatever their shape”. The most important consideration is to produce a fluent system, which Holger has managed to concoct, as a result of accident and design.
In general, an asymmetric formation can be distinguished from a symmetric formation, in that the method of attacking and defending and the division of these responsibilities differs from the left flank to the right flank.

Discounting scoring from set-pieces (penalties, corners or free kicks) or from individual flair (Messi), how can another national side dismantle Australia's system?

A weaker international side would in all likelihood play conservatively, holding a deep defensive line and looking to score on the counter-attack. Eg. Thailand.
A stronger international team would probably look to dominate possession, creating passing angles and dragging our defence out of shape to fashion scoring opportunities. Eg. Japan or South Korea.

The double pivot in midfield provides a formidable barrier to opposition forays from the centre. The combination of Jedinak and Valeri is particularly adept at disrupting play and breaking up attacks. Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski are also superb penalty box defenders, but neither are particularly pacy. The combination of these factors suggests the best way to obfuscate Australia’s defensive players is to go around them, by exploiting the flanks. Australia’s ‘first choice’ combination on the right side are Brett Emerton and Luke Wilkshire; both players are adept at playing at right-back and right-midfield. They are both extremely versatile, and confident defenders; their biggest advantage is that they defend and attack in tandem, and have developed a highly fluid relationship, regularly compensating for each other’s movement.  It would seem therefore that the left flank is Australia’s most vulnerable. Neither Carney nor Zullo are ‘natural’ defenders as both have been converted from left wing, while McKay operates as an extra central midfielder, drifting from the left.

This is an area of weakness in Australia's line up that can be exploited, as depicted below. (blue arrows depict player movement, black/white circles/arrows depict ball location and direction of passes)

In the above diagram, the red No. 8 has intercepted the ball in midfield during an Australian attack. Zullo/Carney is caught upfield in an attacking run, while McKay has drifted centrally, leaving the left side of defence unattended.
No. 8 plays a direct pass to the red attacking player on the right, who has already started his run. From there, the red No. 11 has a number of options; he can continue advancing and cross near the box (option 1); he can check his run and draw in Ognenovski, allowing the red No. 2 fullback to overlap and cross (option 2); or No. 11 can lay off to the red No. 10 who can slip the ball through for the red No. 9 (option 3).
The most important factors are the speed of transition of both sides; the opposition must attack faster than the speed at which Australia can recover and reset the defensive lines. It is crucial to either outpace or bypass Australia's midfield pivot, and for the red central attackers, No. 9 and No. 10 to lose their markers and present targets for the cross or the cut-back from No. 11 or No. 2. Therefore, the red team's attacking players, particularly on their right flank, must be fast and possess exceptional awareness. Notice that in the above diagram, stationing the red No. 11 to take advantage of Australia being undermanned on our left leaves the reds undermanned in midfield, with Jedinak vs No. 10, Valeri vs No. 4, Holman picking up No. 8, and McKay becoming the spare man in midfield, which leaves Australia with a permanent outlet.

1 comment:

Bela Guttman said...

P&M, thanks for revisiting this article after the Thailand game. This highlights the tension between 'the system', where players have specific roles within the team and must stick to this, and player's natural tendency to play where they are comfortable. Zullo and McKay are examples of this. The weakness of our current system is that it doesn't allow provide cover for Zullo coming forward and McKay drifting centrally without exposing gaps elsewhere and we are slow in transition so that these spaces need to be covered very quickly.
The other issue is our double pivot, it functions more like an anchor than a pivot: it provides good defensive depth but drags the team backwards when we are supposed to be playing forward through Jedinak and Valeri's natural defensive bent. This exploits another vulnerability in midfield where it presents opponents with an opportunity to press our forwards and midfielders and limit our ability to retain possession when going forward. This results in frequent turnovers in midfield, a feature of most of our games. I hestitate to use the comparison but the Socceroos are struggling in the same way as Melbourne Victory this season who have similar limitations with Broxham and Brebner