Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Brisbane Roar 1-0 Central Coast Mariners: Match Analysis

Brisbane produced an exciting display of attacking football, based around rapid passing, positional interchange and incisive movement. Although the Mariners weren't exactly dominated, Brisbane saw the majority of possession and scoring chances. Matt Ryan and temporary skipper Zwaanswijk turned in stubborn performances to deny the hosts a number of seemingly definite goals.

Postecoglou deployed his players in their standard 4-1-2-3, that functions remarkably similar to Barcelona, at least in the defensive third; Paartalu in the Busquets role, dropping deep while the two central defenders Smith and Jurman spread wide. The two fullbacks, Franjic and Stefanutto advance high in support. Broich and Nichols were paired in attacking midfield; they demonstrated a highly fluid and familiar relationship. Berisha led the line well, while Issey and Meyer were stationed wide on the left and right respectively, cutting in. The Roar kept a high-defensive line, using an off-side trap.

Thomas Broich:
Broich spent the entirety of the previous campaign as a left winger. He utilised the space out wide very productively, contributing 14 assists, double his closest competitor. Towards the end of the seaon, opposition coaches were paying Mozart close attention, and this was reflected in the fact that Broich became one of the most fouled players in the league. Being re-deployed in left attacking midfield would logically cause a reduction in Broich's effectiveness; increased defensive attention added to less space to maneouvre. In fact, Broich was very effective in spells during the match. His pace was never a great feature of his skill set last season; he got past players through flair. In the closer quarters of midfield, his flair is given centre stage on which to affect the match, and his highly familiar relationship with Nichols allows them to anticipate eachother's movements and passes, giving them a few seconds advantage.

Appearance of the false nine:
Nichol's goal coincided with a brief 10-minute window when Brisbane weren't playing with a designated front-man. Berisha had been substituted off for Murdocca, with Broich nominally taking the strikers position. Broich however did not stay up high waiting for service; he dropped deep, looking to dictate play. For a glourious 10 minutes, Suncorp was privy to the first ever deployment of a False Nine in the A-League. And in fact that was how the goal was produced; Broich dropped deep into midfield to dictate play, laid off to Franjic on the right who advanced and lost Bozanic, Meyer drew in Rose, Franjic curled a cross to Nichols who finished with aplomb against the most in-form goal keeper of the league. 

Thomas Broich
Mitch Nichols:
Nichols turned in an excellent performance. Quite a few commentators were apprehensive at the Roar's ability to defend their titles without Matt McKay (Brisbane did play for an extended period without their old skipper while he was on international duty, though that coincided with a downturn in their performance). Well on the evidence of this match, there is no need to worry. Nichols movement and passing was top notch, combining superbly with Meyer, Berisha and Broich, and arriving in dangerous positions, where he got off several shots, all but one saved by Ryan.

Berisha, Issey and Jurman were all making their league debuts for Brisbane; all seem to fit extremely well into the Oranje template. Jurman's pace in the backline was showcased twice, when Baird beat the offside trap. Jurman recovered brilliantly, putting in a goal-saving block. Berisha performed brightly, as did Issey. 

Central Coast:
Arnold deployed the Mariners in their usual 4-3-1-2, with some intriguing modifications. Zwaanswijk and Porter partnered in the absence of skipper Wilkinson in central defense. Rose and Bojic were stationed wide at fullback. Griffiths, Bozanic and McGlinchey were together in midfield, Pellegrino acted as the playmaker. Simon and Baird paired up-front. Ryan was excellent in his distribution; his quick balls over to Simon/Pellegrino/Baird enabled lightning fast counter-attacks, while half the Roar players were still in the Coast box.

Formations mismatched:
No one scarcely needs reminding that the Roar and the Mariners faced off five times last season, with the Blue and Yellows emerging losers each time. However, in the Grand Final, Arnold seemed to have finally concocted the solution to constrain Brisbane's exquisite one-touch football. The problem for a side deploying a 4-4-2 diamond against a 4-3-3 is the narrowness. It's an issue that defeats Italian sides in the Champions League time and time again. The 4-4-2 diamond invariably allows the opposition fullbacks free; with their own fullbacks occupied by the opposition wingers, the 4-4-2 diamond becomes undermanned on the flanks. Arnold circumvented his side's narrowness during the Grand Final by instructing his two central strikers, Simon and Kwasnik, to spread wide to occupy the Brisbane fullbacks, Franjic and Stefanutto. This left young playmaker Mustafa Amini as the furthest player forward and Arnold's strikers in disadvantageous positions, but the strategy congested the midfield, prevented the Roar fullbacks from participating in build-up play and halted Brisbane's passing football. In this instance, the Mariners strikers Baird and Simon stayed central to facilitate the counter-attack; they retreated into midfield to defend, but they did not pin back the Roar fullbacks - hence Central Coast were repeatedly overlapped on the flanks. (The carilleros Bozanic and McGlinchey were meant to assume responsibility for the fullbacks, but they were starting from an inside-to-out position, which allowed Stefanutto and Franjic to accelerate past them, plus they were distracted by the activity of Broich and Nichols)

Causes of goal:
It was a simple case of Meyer drawing in Rose, with Franjic free to cross for Nichols, that resulted in the goal. Why did Arnold not instruct his strikers to spread wide? Well the drawback was that the two forwards were too far away from goal when Coast gained possession. Plus Postecoglou had already learned how to counter Arnold spreading the strikers; at the Grand Final he instructed Paartalu to push up into midfield, as his two central defenders were free of direct opposition.

Mariners playmaker Adriano Pellegrino
The second modification concerned pressing. And in this instance, it is instructive to draw comparisons between this match and Newcastle v Heart. Heart are probably the most similar side in the competition to Brisbane; PM have made the comparison of Brisbane to Barcelona and Heart to Arsenal, especially with the latter's lax defending. Newcastle pressed Heart relentlessly from the kick-off; they harassed Thompson, Good and Roganovic, forcing the visitors to punt the ball long, which prevented their build-up play; it even resulted in a goal. Arnold took a different route. The Mariners generally let Smith, Jurman and Paartalu have time on the ball. The three defenders took advantage of this to dictate play and play long passes from flank to flank. The four Mariner midfielders only began to pressure Brisbane when Nichols or Broich received the ball on the Coast side of the centre circle. Why did Arnold choose this 'half' press? Well the difference between Roar and Heart is probably the answer. Heart not yet as assurred on the ball or with their team mates; against Newcastle, they were deploying a rookie defender and debutant holding player. Additionally, Heart's fullbacks initially did not come short to offer a passing option, which left their central defenders isolated. Franjic and Stefanutto made themselves available to receive a pass; if Paartalu, Jurman or Smith were pressed, they had a free option nearby. Arnold reckoned that pressing the Roar defenders near their own penalty box would only spread the playing area and stretch his team, playing into Postecoglou's hands; Arnold prioritised keeping his team's defensive shape over having the ball.

Disciplined counter-attacking:
Arnold instructed the Mariners to counter-attack, but the remarkable thing was how disciplined and patient they were in constructing those counter-blows. The Roar dominated possession and territory, and the attacking players spent large amounts of time exchanging passes and making runs into the box. Baird and Simon were left relatively high up the pitch. Central Coast carefully chose the times to counter-attack, and confined these times to when the Brisbane attacking trio and advanced fullbacks were in or near the Coast box. With Baird and Simon staying high, an accurate punt to Pellegrino or Bozanic left the Mariners with 3 v 3 situations, very similiar circumstances to when the Mariners scored in the Grand Final.

A number of Mariners players, noticeable Bojic and Griffiths, were yellow carded for rash challenges early on, which meant they were more cautious about closing down their opponents; a factor no doubt that enabled Brisbane to get their passing game going.

Suddenly the similarities are getting creepy; a team using a 4-3-1-2/4-4-2 diamond that prioritises keeping their defensive shape over possession against a title-defending rival who use a high press and possession based football in a 4-1-2-3/4-3-3, that had a false nine? That sounds exactly identical to Mourinho/Inter vs Guardiola/Barcelona. The Brisbane and Central Coast rivalry is shaping into a tantalising duel between tactically minded managers, clubs and football ideologies.

Brisbane v Central Coast was an intriguing tactical battle. Brisbane continued with their possession football, based around intelligent movement, rapid passing and positional interchange, while the Mariners persevered with an altered counter-attacking style, sitting deep and pressing Roar in dangerous areas.

Probably the best thing about Broich, for Brisbane at least, isn't his dead ball expertise, his flair on the ball, work rate off the ball or creativity; it's his motivation for being in Brisbane. Compare it to Marcos Flores, a player who pipped Broich to the Johnny Warren Medal; Flores was always honest about the fact that he came to Adelaide to improve his game, specifically his physique. Thomas on the other hand, has played at the highest level in the Bundesliga; he's in Australia for the lifestyle. So the Roar can expect Mozart's magic at Suncorp for many years to come.

I've only watched 3 matches of Round 1 so far, but Victory and Sydney seem so behind the curve, its embarassing. If they continue to play as they did in the City Classico, they will get annihilated by Central Coast and Brisbane.

A word on the kits:
It seems highly fitting that Brisbane's new Puma designed kit is inspired by Tottenham's retro diagonal striped kit during their memorable Champions League adventure last season. Hopefully, this is portentous of a similiarly triumphant continental outing.

Player Rankings:
Brisbane | Central Coast:
10) Meyer | McGlinchey
9) Jurman | Porter
8) Smith | Griffiths
7) Stefanutto | Bojic
6) Issey, Danning | Pellegrino 
5) Berisha, Theoklitos |  Rose
4) Franjic | Baird, McBreen
3) Paartalu | Simon, Bozanic
2) Broich | Zwaanswijk
1) Nichols | Ryan

LATER ADDITION: Arnold's half-press can actually be categorised as an attacking move. He kept his strikers central in order to facilitate the counter-attack, rather than asking them to occupy the fullbacks, which would have hindered Brisbane's passing football, but left Central Coast's attack toothless.

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