Because of the sheer disparity in quality, it's hard for PM to analyse this match from a tactical prism - Brisbane won because of their superior style of play. Yet there are points of interest concerning Coolen's tactics and Postecoglou's line-up, most pertinently the decision to break up the McKain/Susak central defensive axis and shift Susak to right fullback, as well as the decision to field Caravella out of position on the left with the return of Levchenko to the double pivot.
Coolen sent out the Reds in a 4-3-3/4-4-2 hybrid. Galekovic had a torrid night in goal, McKain remained to marshal central defence, with his erstwhile partner Susak shifted to right fullback. Mullen, another defender with experience at fullback partnered McKain, with Cassio advanced at left fullback. Levchenko returned to pair Dilevski in a double pivot. Van Dijk led the line, Vidosic was in attacking midfield, Slory was advanced at right wing with Carvaella slightly deeper and drifting central at left midfield.
Postecoglou deployed the Roar in a more clearly defined 3-4-3. Paartalu dropped in between Smith and Jurman as the sweeper in a three-man back-line. Stefanutto and Franjic were advanced at the half-way line at left and right wingback, with Murdocca and Nichols in central midfield. Broich and Henrique were nominally at left and right wing, but both ceded the wide areas to the wingbacks, coming central. Berisha led the line.
Caught between two strategies:
Adelaide weren't fully pressing, but neither were they sitting deep to restrict space. In effect, they were prey to the weaknesses of both strategies and reaped none of the benefits. The Reds half-hearted pressing consumed energy but did nothing to unsettle Brisbane's on the ball. Adelaide's relatively high line necessitated by the press left space in behind the back line which was exploited by Brisbane's overmanning runners.
Wheareas Central Coast maintained a half press to retain their counter-attacking threat and their defensive shape, Sydney utilised a full press and tired early, and Gold Coast alternated between a broken and full press, Adelaide got the worst of all worlds.
The Reds were far too static. That's probably harsh to the visitors, it was just that the hosts were as fluid as quicksilver. The only interchange in Coolen's line-up was Cassio's overlap of Caravella drifting inside. By contrast, Postecoglous had five players who switched in and out of their nominal berths.
Caravella at left midfield:
After last week's restoration to central midfield, Caravella found himself shunted out at left midfield once again. Perhaps Rini Coolen been influenced by Matt McKay's displays drifting central from left for the Socceroos? The problem lies in the difference between the two players' styles; whereas McKay's game is based around rapid short passing, intelligent movement and positional interchange, Caravella is a much more conventional passing midfielder, preferring to distribute possession. He doesn't seem as dynamic on or off the ball.
Further more, deploying Mullen, a defensive player familiar with fullback, would increased the central pairing's ability to track runners from deep, with fullbacks more used to advancing high to pre-emptively defend. This second switch was reminiscent of Wenger's decision to use Bacary Sagna, an aggresive but defensively adept right fullback in central defence to marshal Messi's dropping deep to vacate space.
Why did the Susak/Mullen switch fail?
The key was Broich's positioning. Last year, Broich was more obviously operating as a wide player, hugging the touch line and penetrating towards the corner flag. This season has seen a pronounced change, not just in his positioning, but in the Brisbane team as a whole, from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3. The advancement of Stefanutto to wingback has meant that Thomas has most definitely come more central, interacting more with the central midfielders than the forward players during build-up play.
Had Broich tried to charge up the touchline, there's no doubt Susak would have proven an effective barrier. Postecoglou's solution was elegant and inspired by Sir Alex Ferguson's touch of genius against Ancelotti's Chelsea diamond. Simply put, Postecoglou instructed Broich to ignore Susak. Clever isn't it? Coolen places a defensive barrier in Brisbane's left flank, and Postecoglou tells his players to pay Susak no attention.
In 2009, Chelsea hosted Manchester United during a time when Ancelotti was trying to implement the midfield diamond. An injury to Bosingwa, an aggressive fullback meant that Ivanovic was shifted to right fullback. Sir Alex's strategy was exactly the same as Postecoglou's; he told Ryan Giggs at left wing to ignore him, and stay inside. Ivanovic, clearly a central defensive stopper, offered no attacking threat at all. Similarly, as Brisbane ignored Susak, he offered no defensive qualities, and as a central stopper, offered no attacking threat to pin back Broich.
Had Slory and Susak operated in tandem, perhaps Adelaide could have been more secure on their right. As it was, Slory's tracking back actually improved in this game over his defensive performance against Sydney. Stefanutto however, rampaged up and down the left flank all evening and overwhelmed Slory's ability to cope.
Further more, as practically all of Susak's playing experience is at centre back, his natural and involuntary inclination was to drift towards goal, which obfuscated Coolen's original intention; to wall off the left corner. Susak coming central allowed Stefanutto to exploit the space as an auxilliary winger. It also left Broich free as he dropped deep, with Susak unwilling to advance to close down space. Similar to Heart, Brisbane created a numerical superiority in midfield, which increased their already formidable capacity to dictate play.
Given Susak was a former Brisbane player, indeed he was a crucial contributor to Postecoglou's Double last season, it was strange for Coolen to base his defensive strategy around him. Postecoglou KNOWS his players, intimately. He and his staff are supremely aware of the abilities of his team, which is how he knew Broich could be converted to a central role, Paartalu could be used as a sweeper, and McKay could go from A-League regular to Socceroos star. Why did Coolen use Susak, a player his opponent was intimately familiar with, as THE cornerstone of his defensive strategy?
At the break Coolen heavily modified his team. Slory was withdrawn for Ramsey, Usucar was exchanged for Levchenko. The Reds shifted to a 4-4-2 defensive shape, looking to have two banks of four restricting space between the lines. The problem was the defensive plan was improperly carried out. Instead of sitting deep, the midfield four left space between the lines, as a discernible middle band of the formation. Strangely enough, Coolen's last change at 67' was Malik for Susak; correcting the largest omission in the starting line-up when the game was already decided - perhaps with the loss already evident, it was pride that prevented Coolen from making the substitution.
Why was Brisbane's 3-4-3 more pronounced?
Granted, the difference between Postecoglou's 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 is subtle and organic, but Postecoglou knows when to switch between the two. The 3-4-3 is used against sides that use a conventional striker partnership, or an attacking midfielder so advanced as to be a second striker in a 4-4-2. In this way, Brisbane retain a numerical advantage at the back (3v2), match the opposition in midfield (4v4) and have 3v4 in the front line.
How were Brisbane so lethal down the left?
3/5 of Brisbane's goals from open play, and Berisha's first half hat-trick were all delivered down the left flank, all with different players providing the direct assist. This would indicate a strategy that sought to exploit weaknesses on Adelaide's right. Slory is not a defensively aware player. Though he tracked back more often, he was unable to contain Stefanutto's surges. Coolen attempted to use Susak to stop Broich, but Broich ignored Susak. Susak's central drifting vacated space for Stefanutto to exploit.
As noted above, there wasn't an overt tactical reason for Brisbane's superiority - their style of football was simply better, in every facet. One of the merits of Brisbane's style is fluidity, but against Adelaide, the Oranje were fluid to the point of ridiculousness. PM has provided a tactical diagram, but its almost an exercise in futility, with Nichols, Murdocca, Broich, Henrique, Stefanutto and Franjic ceaselessly interchanging positions. Indeed, there were three players providing the direct assists for Berisha's goals from the left, Stefanutto, Nichols and Broich.
When a side score seven goals, you know you have seen a special team. When a player scores four of those seven, you know you have seen a special player. Besart Berisha recorded the fastest ever A-League hat-trick, with 3 goals in 6 minutes.
Besart's marauding performance last night immediately brought to mind Fernando Torres (in his Merseyside pomp of course). It wasn't hard to perceive the similarities in both players' style of play. Both hard running and clinical finishers, fatally under-rated physically, fearsome acceleration; strikers who convert through balls and and low crosses as opposed to being lumbering target men.
What was most remarkable about Berisha's double brace was how similar the goals themselves were. The first half hat-trick all originated from the left. The second was practically an action replay of the first; with the ball being weighted into the the box, Berisha accelerated from behind the closest centre back and got across his marker to finish on his first touch.
Another interesting feature of the game was how little Berisha featured in build-up play. Simple poachers are often dismissed as offering little more than a close range goal threat. In a side as focussed on retention of possession as Brisbane, Berisha only attempted 7 passes all night, and was only successful with 5 of them, 4 of which would have been his goals. This indicates how little Berisha offered in a creative sense. Contrast this to Alex Terra of Melbourne Heart, who operated as false nine and was heavily involved in constructing attacks.
That's not to say Besart is anything like a 'simple poacher' - that dubious title belongs to none other than Shane Smeltz, the A-League's own Michael Owen. Again using the Torres metaphor, Berisha's pace and aggression was used to push back the Adelaide centre backs to expand the space between the Reds midfield and defence.
Vidosic 5' – This was actually a well worked goal by Adelaide, and it was produced by a clearly defined Coolen strategy; Van Dijk drifting left. Caravella held off Nichols, laid off to Cassio behind who lofted a ball toward Van Dijk near the left touch line. With Smith coming to close down, Van Dijk pulled off a stylish first touch flick, into the path of Vidosic. On second viewing, he was probably offside. Vidosic shrugged Jurman's challenge, jinked, wrong footed Theoklitos and finished sweetly.
Henrique penalty 20' – A moment of madness by McKain. Nichols allowed dummied a Franjic through ball into the box, turning to latch on. McKain mistimed his challenge, completely missing the ball. Henrique sent the penalty right, Galekovic guessed wrong.
Berisha 22' – Broich had come central, played a 1-2 with Henrique, then another 1-2 on the edge of the area with Nichols, which drew McKain out the backline. Stefanutto charged up the left with Slory in pursuit but falling behind. With McKain advanced, Susak shuffled across central. Stefanutto made for the goal line, laid on a curling low cross to the near post. Berisha displayed remarkable pace and strength in getting across Mullen to finish.
Berisha 25' – Jurman to Stefanutto, then to Nichols making a run wide on the left. Nichols wrong footed Susak on the corner of the box, laid a through ball to the inside left channel. Berisha accelerated from a metre handicap, and again, got across Mullen to score.
Berisha 28' – Jurman to Stefanutto, but this time to Murdocca making a run wide on the left. Ball slipped to Broich left inside channel, Berisha checked his run allowing McKain and Mullen to go ahead of him. Berisha swept up Broich's centre. Murdocca overloaded the left, with Susak not able to mark Broich.
Henrique penalty 36' – Nichols through ball to Henrique on the right, Cassio lunges from behind. Henrique sends ball right.
Berisha 69' – Broich inside left, Paartalu bursts forward from defence into midfield, lays off to Issey, first time flick to Berisha making a run between McKain and Mullen, outmuscles McKain, who was probably reluctant to challenge as he was on a yellow. Berisha finishes across Galekovic.
Issey 80' – Broich central, to Smith out wide, Franjic, through ball outside channel, Danning latches on, cuts back to Nichols on the left in the box, across the box, Issey finishes.
7) Paartalu, Danning | Cassio
6) Henrique | Caravella, Slory
5) Franjic, Issey | Vidosic
4) Murdocca |
3) Nichols, Broich
2) Stefanutto | Van Dijk
1) Berisha |