Friday, 9 September 2011

Saudi Arabia 1-3 Australia: Final Say

Saudi Arabia 1-3 Australia
This is a summary of the Match Report and the relevant Commentary on the Commentary, and will look to compare the difference in Australia’s two systems against Thailand and Saudi Arabia.

Why did the shape against Thailand fail?
1.  Unbalanced – Holman and McKay, at LM and LB respectively drifted centrally and ignored the left flank.
2. Lack of mobility – Kennedy and Cahill were very static, staying high and waiting for service instead of dropping deep or pulling wide.

This resulted in a reliance on the right flank, and a static front line which necessitated crosses from deep.
How did Holger fix his system?
1. Balance – Cahill was dropped to the bench with Holman playing at his most natural role; roaming behind the striker, where he looked to launch attacks, overload the flanks and play off Kennedy. McKay was pushed up to LM, where he could drift central and create without exposing the left flank. Zullo was selected at LB, and he provided the width and pace McKay is not able to down the left, combined with a defensive presence.
2. Mobility – Kennedy in particular looked a transformed player, as he dropped deep to link with the midfield trio, allowing Emerton, Holman and Zullo to exploit the space he vacated. Emerton also performed completely differently, cutting in and allowing Wilkshire to overlap.

As PM have previously stated; tactics is all about space – exploiting space to attack and impeding space to defend.

Tactical errors by Osieck against Thailand caused Australia to play only in the middle and right 3rds of the pitch and attack only down the right. Australia was much more mobile after Kruse and Brosque were substituted on, as both are versatile attacking players. Both of Australia’s goals were created by McKay, after rare forays down the left, which indicated Australia stretching the play.

Against Saudi Arabia, Australia was deployed in a shape that encouraged interchanging and passing. McKay’s natural inclination to drift centrally opened the wide channel for Zullo to thunder up and down, whereas against Thailand it merely left undefended space for Thailand to attack. Kennedy’s dropping deep occupied the Saudi CB’s and DM, allowing Holman, Zullo and Emerton to exploit the space he created. Emerton and Wilkshire’s fluid partnership was strong in defence and attack.

In terms of goals, the only tactically significant one was the first, scored by Kennedy in the dying minutes of the 1st half. It was a result of a Wilkshire cross, but the most important factor was the disparity in the speed of transition. Australia was able to switch from a defensive posture to an attacking one, immediately after Wilkshire won the ball. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s midfield was caught out and behind the ball by the time Wilkshire received the ball from Emerton.

What will be the impact of these two results on qualifying?
The fact of the matter is; on paper, there are only 2 other teams in Asia capable of dominating (as opposed to winning, in which case every team has a chance) a game against Australia - South Korea and Japan. Both nations possess more fully developed and technically competitive domestic leagues and as many player exports to elite European competition.  Saudi Arabia was meant to be one of the more competitive nations in qualifying; but the Australian players were superior physically, technically, professionally and psychologically, which reflects the leagues and clubs Australian players represent. This is indicated by the manner in which Australia scored our 2nd and 3rd goals; after capitalising on simple Saudi errors.
Minor Asian sides are stereotypically portrayed as having more technical passing skill than the lumbering, physical Australians. Though they may look tidy on the ball, they simply don’t possess the speed and finesse of passing to unlock a highly experienced defensive unit.

Osieck has come closer and closer to implementing his preference of a mobile attacking game, by gradually refining and experimenting with his formula and introducing new talent to rejuvenate the squad.  Encouragingly, this new Australian side does not depend on a few star contributors, but on the functioning of the system; the whole has become more than the sum of its parts, which is illustrated by the depth Osieck has accrued in his line-up and the fact that players can be interchanged without overtly damaging Australia's play. Once upon a time, Australia would have relied on Kewell or Cahill to nick goals and take home the points; now no longer. Australia are more organised, have a recognisable plan of attack, and a trusted method for implementing it.

Australia is no longer reliant on the set piece to score; this is something which has escaped the notice of the pundits. Previously, Australia’s best hope for a goal was a Wilkshire delivery to Cahill’s head. Now, we look to McKay and Holman to systematically dismantle an opposing defence.  One of the more impressive aspects of Holger’s management style has been the elimination of Verbeek's ‘broken team’ whereby the back 4 + midfield 2 defend and the attacking 4 get lucky. Interaction and integration between disparate parts are how Australia play under Osieck, and it is also how we are going to win.

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