The majority of this match was largley disjointed. Neither side was able to establish a rhythm, and the first half played out like an aerial bombardment. Ferguson kept faith with the side that beat Adelaide, while Heart were compelled to replace Jason Hoffman. Heart ultimately fell victim to a degree of defensive naiveity and are justified in feeling unlucky to have yet to post points on the table.
Ferguson deployed the Glory in a standard 'British' 4-4-2. Van den Brink and Coyne were partnered in central defence. Howarth and Neville were stationed at left and right fullback. Miller and Burns were the creator/destroyer partnership in central midfield. Dodd and Andrezinho were stationed wide on the right and left flank. Smeltz and Mehmet were paired in attack.
Perth used a fairly conventional strategy; Miller slipped the ball through to the wide areas for either the wingers or the fullbacks to cross. Miller is a superb passing midfielder, and his quality on the ball was on display today, especially with his assist for Perth's break through goal.
Because Ferguson only used two players in central midfield, Heart were able to dominate possession. By the end of the match, the Glory had seen 37% of the ball to Heart's 63%.
van't Schip deployed the Heart in an extremely fluid 4-3-3, using pacey and aggressive players. Roganovic continued deputising for Bolton between the sticks. Good and Thompson continued their makeshift partnership in the centre of defence. Behich and Marrone were stationed at left and right fullback. Maycon led the attack, with Williams inverted on the left and Terra on the right.
It is actually remarkable just how 'attacking' van't Schip's starting line-up was; out of ten outfield players, only two were nominal defenders - Marrone and Good, and even Michael began his career in central midfield before being shifted to fullback.
The nominal positions in central midfield are a little more complicated, due to Fred's injury at the 34th minute. But Fred's positioning and role, during this match and the match against Newcastle bear some examination.
Fred - a Number 4 regista not a Number 10 trequartista:
Fred, during his stints with Melbourne Victory, DC United and Philadelphia Union, has always been deployed as a trequartista - the advanced playmaker, positioned behind the striker and serving as the main conduit of the attack. It was as the trequartista that Fred created all 5 of Archie Thompson's goals during the Grand Final win against Adelaide.
It was assumed by PM, the media and the fans, that Fred would continue in the trequartista role for his new club, Melbourne Heart. Considering the fact that van't Schip has such a penchant for utilising the abilities of his players in unconventional positions, that assumption was probably presumptious. In his time as manager of Heart, Van't Schip has converted Behich from left wing to left fullback, inverted Williams from right wing to left, inverted Dugandzic from left wing to right, converted Sibon from striker to playmaker, and converted Matt Thompson from central midfielder to central defender, and all in the name of facilitating his preferred style of possession football.
But Van't Schip's master stroke has to be the re-deployment of Fred, not as a trequartista, but as the regista; the deep-lying methodical playmaker, a la midfield architects Xabi Alonso at Madrid, Xavi Hernandez at Barcelona, Michael Carrick at Manchester United or Charlie Adam at Liverpool. The more you think about Fred as a regista, the more sense it makes. Fred seems to be in as good a physical condition as he was when he departed our shores, but there is no denying that as time passes, pace tends to recede. Fred wouldn't be the first player to have spent the prime of his career in an advanced attacking position, only to find himself re-deployed in a deeper role during the twilight of his playing days. This allows van't Schip to take advantage of Fred's passing skills and experience and to mask the lack of speed. As the regista, there is less need for Fred to exhibit pace, while conversely there is more emphasis on his exquisite passing range and creative vision. Essentially, Fred does the thinking while Dugandzic/Hoffman does the running.
It should be said that it took quite a while for PM to notice the differences in Fred's deployment. Ultimately it was the deployments of Hoffman and Dugandzic, nominal forwards in midfield, that revealed van't Schip's intent towards Fred.
Midfield 4-1-2-3 to 4-2-3-1:
This brings PM to the rest of the Heart midfield. Initially, Shroj was deployed as a single holder, Fred central and to the right as the regista, with Dugandic central and to left as an attacking midfielder, lending support to Maycon and the wide fowards. PM felt this line-up was unbalanced in favour of the attackers. With the five advanced midfielders looking to make runs, and Heart unable to hold onto possession for a prolonged period of time, the Red and White midfield looked distinctly porous.
Lack of build-up play:
Perth pressed Heart, especially in the defensive third, looking to force the hosts to punt the ball long. PM isn't sure why there was such an emphasis by the home side to play so directly; Maycon didn't seem to hold a significant aerial advantage over either Van den Brink or Coyne.
It is illustrative to draw a contrast between Brisbane and Heart. When Brisbane are in possession, the fullbacks advance high in support, the centre backs spread wide to the flanks and Paartalu drops deep to form a 3-4-3 shape. When Heart are in possession, we are able to observe aggressive zeal from the fullbacks in getting forward, the two centre backs spread wide, but there is no similiar dropping deep by the holding midfield player, either Germano or Shroj. This was a huge flaw in Heart's build up play. With the holder not dropping deep, it was often a case of the two Heart centre backs against the two Perth strikers. The way to defeat a high press isn't to play direct - it's to pass around the harassers; make them tire themselves out chasing your passes.
In general, it seemed as if the Heart players were lacking in patience. At times, they displayed questionable judgement. The attackers were too eager to get forward, and more often than not unsuccesfully attempted to dribble past multiple markers when the shorter option and passing angles would have been the more advantageous course of action.
Smeltz's goal 33':
Miller exchanged passes with Dodd near the touchline, found a yard of space, spotted Smeltz making a run between Thompson and Good, and unleashed a beautiful inch perfect cross which Smeltz latched onto and finished. Ragonivc was probably culpable in not coming off his line, Thompson was probably culpable for being out-muscled. Smeltz is an arch poacher; the A-League's own Michael Owen. He isn't particularly strong, fast or tall, but get the ball to him in the box, and he will find a way to rattle the net.
Williams' goal 45':
Perth were penalised for holding Maycon's shirt during an aerial challenge. Sweet finish by the Queenslander.
Smeltz's goal 66':
Another prime example of Heart naiveity in defence. Clearance from McGarry was retrieved by Thompson. Mehmet went to close down. Thompson erred in trying to clear, and it fell to Smeltz. Smeltz was 1v1 against Good, beat the younger man and finished smartly.
In the end, Perth came away with all 3 points on an away trip; a rare enough occurance last season. Miller looks to have settled in well, Andrezinho has put in dangerous performances on the left. Perth have prospered so far partly through their ability to disrupt the flow of the game, and impose themselves physically.
Heart need to tighten up at the back and fast; they are sitting dead last on the ladder, and due to the smaller amount of games this season, collecting early points are all the more vital. A proven way of improving their defense would be to instruct the holder to play more conservatively and ask the fullbacks to present an open option. Colosimo will be vital in restoring confidence among the defence.
For large parts of the second half, Heart's play became untouchable. The Red and Whites still have the attacking weapons to mount a title challenge; they just need Bolton and Colosimo back sooner rather than later.
The Melbourne Derby is fast approaching, and neither the Navy Blues or the Red and Whites are yet to post a win. This affair already had plenty of emotion at stake, but now it's turning into the proverbial 6-pointer. A win for either club would condemn their cross-town rivals to 3 consecutive matches without a triumph, and would severely jeopardise their bid to push for the top two.
Heart | Perth
10) Good | Coyne
9) Behich | Burns
8) Thompson | Van den Brink
7) Shroj | Neville
6) Maycon | Howarth
5) Marrone | Dodd
4) Terra | Smeltz
3) Dugandzic | Mehmet
2) Kalmar |Andrezinho
1) Williams, Fred | Miller
A-League 2011-12 Match Report Socceroos General Preview Brisbane Heart Internal Season Preview Cream of the Crop Victory Adelaide Sydney Blog Rule Gold Coast Central Coast Commentary Wellington 4-3-1-2 Newcastle fullbacks pressing Perth possession 4-1-2-3 Olyroos substitutions 3-4-3 4-3-3/3-4-3 Player Focus Tips counter-attacking 3-4-3 diamond 4-2-1-3 4-2-3-1 4-4-1-1 Club Focus central winger high line referees