Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Victory 0-0 Heart: Match Analysis

Saturday's Melbourne Derby was an open and exciting affair, as well as an entertaining spectacle thanks to the fantastic atmosphere created by the Blue and White Brigade and the travelling Yarraside. Though it ended in a draw, Heart were conclusively the more dominant side throughout, but were unable to translate that into goals. PM have made the comparison before of Heart to Arsenal, and on the weekend the Red and Whites of Melbourne displayed that most evident failing endemic to the Red and Whites of North London; hesitancy up-front. At times, Heart seemed intent on walking the ball into the net, with Covic undoubtedly the home side hero, with only his snap reflexes keeping the Navy Blues in the game. There wasn't an overt tactical 'battle' during this match as there was between Postecoglou and Arnold. Nonetheless, Durakovic's starting XI was short on invention, and his substitutions worsened Victory's situation in midfield, while van't Schip's line-up was positive, aggressive and his substitutions were daring.

The football media have definitely not given enough attention, or more likely haven't even noticed the fact that Melbourne Heart and Brisbane have been trying to implement False Nines. The False Nine is a tactic that only the greatest Champions League sides have dared to attempt; Van Persie at Arsenal, Totti at Roma, Rooney at Manchester United and of course Messi at Barcelona. To that illustrious list we can now add Alex Terra of Melbourne Heart and Thomas Broich of Brisbane. Bravo Ange Postecoglou and John van't Schip, the two greatest innovators of Australian football.

Victory System:
Durakovic sent out the Navy Blues in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with a few modifications and changes from the previous two matches. Covic remained between the sticks, and he was simply phenomenal in his box, making 8 saves from 9 Heart shots on target. Leijer was suspended, so Franjic came in to partner Vargas in central defence, with Foschini and Fabio at right and left fullback. Broxham and Brebner were partnered in a conservative double pivot, looking primarily to shield the back-four. Kewell was restored to the trequartista role as the advanced playmaker behind the striker, Rojas was inverted in a narrow left wing position, Cernak made his debut at right wing, with Thompson restored to his favoured No 9 position.

Heart System:
Van't Schip sent the Red and Whites out in a 4-3-3 shape, with several modifications. Bolton returned from injury, and it was evident that Heart benefitted from his assuredness between the sticks and his composed distribution. Colosimo returned from injury and likewise he demonstrated his quality on the ball; he was partnered with Good in central defence, who seemed to benefit from playing in close proximity with such an experienced defender while Behich and Marrone were advanced at left and right fullback (lateral). Germano operated as the holder in midfield, with Shroj and Thompson advanced. Williams and Dugandzic were inverted at left and right wing respectively, with Terra the central striker.


Heart were dominant in the first half; they had 54% of possession, 55% of time in the opposition half, 6 shots on target forcing 5 saves out of Covic and 3 corners; but statistics don't tell the whole story. Victory were never able to construct any meaningful attacks - all of their forays into Heart's defensive half came from balls over the top of Heart's high line. Heart were able to capture the ascendency, through a combination of factors, namely: using Terra as a false nine, Colosimo striding into midfield and Bolton's distirbution out of the back line, which had the cumulative effect of seizing control of midfield.  Victory however suffered because of a lack of passing ability in their starting line-up.

Terra - the False Nine:
One of the most fascinating features of this match was Terra's initial deployment deployment as a False Nine. This marked the second appearance of the mythical 4-6-0 'striker-less' formation in as many weeks, after Thomas Broich's 10 minute turn up front against Central Coast.

The theory of the False Nine is rather simple, and is explored in more detail by Michael Cox and Jonathan Wilson. As detailed by PM, a False Nine can be conceived of as a trequartista used as the most advanced player; in possession the false nine drops deep, looking to dictate play between the opposition lines and drag a centre back out of the defence. With an extra player in midfield, the side using the false nine has an increased capability to keep possession, while the vacated space can be exploited by counter attacking runners.

Terra has been used as a lone forward previously; last season he led Heart's front line admirably in Aloisi's absence. The difference between an orthodox forward and a false nine lies in positioning; during the derby Terra looked to vacate space by either dropping deep or drifting right, which left Heart with no recognisable front man, and the Victory central defenders Vargas and Franjic with no obvious player to mark. Initially, Terra's false nine was used to devastating effect. Heart's No 11 dropped deep to link up with Thompson and Shroj, playing in the inverted Williams and Dugandzic with weighted through balls.

Matt Thompson had a fantastic game, and he also played a part in exploiting the space vacated by Terra as a False Nine. His driving runs from midfield were roughly analgous to the role performed by Fabregas for Arsenal and then Barcelona for the two most famous False Nines in Europe, Van Persie and Messi.

Durakovic's failure to deal with Terra was startling. The recognised method to address a False Nine is to task one of the centre backs to advance into midfield. Both Vargas and Franjic remained deep, and it is questionable if either player possessed the ability to contain a player of Terra's intelligence.

Terra's effectiveness as a False Nine faded as his energy did. Towards the end of the first half, he began operating as an orthodox forward, occupying the Victory centre backs and participating in link up play at the apex of Heart's formation.

Playing out from the back:
Clint Bolton was outstanding; while the experienced keeper was faultless inside his own box, it was his distribution that contributed most to Heart's attack. Clint was accurate and rapid in releasing Williams and Behich on the left, which meant Heart were able to initiate counter attacks with Victory's forwards still crowding Heart's defensive half.

Colosimo was immense in the heart of defence, anticipating and preventing danger through clever positioning and organising the defence. But what was most impressive was his ability on the ball. Colosimo frequently strode into the opposition half to distribute possession, making incisive passes to Thompson, Marrone and Dugandzic on the right.

Matt Thompson was deployed in his favoured midfield role. Initially converted to central defence for his passing ability, his driving runs and attacking intent helped propel the Heart attack.

Midfield dominance:
Essentially, Heart created a numerical advantage in midfield, which allowed them to dictate play. With Kewell staying relatively high and neither Vargas or Franjic capable of advancing into midfield, the hosts only ever had Brebner and Broxham in midfield; neither are particularly inventive, and played very defensively. With Colosimo striding forward to dictate play and Terra dropping deep to vacate space, the visitors essentially had two extra players in midfield.

That Brebner and Broxham were outnumbered was worsened by the fact that Durakovic didn't field a single passer in his XI.

Victory poor distribution:
Before the start of the season, PM bemoaned the lack of a replacement for former captain Kevin Muscat. Setting aside his violent tendencies, Muscat's ability on the ball was crucial to building Victory's attacks from the back line. Without Leijer, Victory lacked even a single player capable of feeding the ball fluently and reliably into or from midfield.

While Covic excelled in his shot-stopping, his distribution was wayward and erratic; more often that not, his long punts out of defence surrendered possession and he dawdled in his short balls. Vargas is more suited to the stopper role in the penalty area, while his makeshift partner Franjic is too inexperienced to be expected to fulfill such a crucial role.

Because Durakovic didn't field a single recognisable passer, Victory struggled for a semblance of fluency, and sought to obfuscate this vulnerability by playing direct, getting the ball forward at the first opportunity.


Role of Kewell:
Harry Kewell was initially deployed in the trequartista role that worked well against Sydney, as opposed to the central striker role he performed against Adelaide, where his creative abilities were stiffled and he was left isolated.

Against Heart, Kewell was much less effective. To be fair to Harry, it wasn't completely his fault; Victory didn't see much of the ball, and the double pivot behind him was none too creative. 

Kewell's situation mirrored that of Nick Carle's for Sydney before the return of Karol Kisel, a superb passing midfielder. With Kisel able to distribute the ball out of midfield, Carle was able to play much higher up the pitch and receive the ball in more dangerous areas than when he needed to drop deep to receive. Unfortunately for Kewell, Victory lack the sort of player who can dictate play from midfield.

Durakovic substitutions:
After the break, Durakovic switched around his attacking personnel. He exchanged an uninspiring Cernak for the mobile and aggressive Solorzano, shifting Rojas to his preferred right, and Kewell to the left.

It was a gamble to start Cernak, who has yet to be seriously involved this season, in such a combustible fixture. But given that Victory were failing to compete in midfield, it is hard to see why Durakovic decided to throw on another striker, other than it being for the sake of adding another attacker. With Victory playing with a strike partnership, neither of which dropped deep to bolster midfield, Heart's retention of the ball improved. However, Victory became more dangerous on the counter-attack, with Solorzano in particular latching onto harmless balls over the top and creating attacking opportunities.

After the game, Durakovic emphasised the need to coax a better performance from Kewell, which he claimed was the objective of shifting him to the left wing. Harry burst onto the Premier League stage as a marauding left winger, but again, it is hard to see what Durakovic was trying to accomplish here.

Kewell has largely lost the acceleration which allowed him to tear asunder Premier League titans like Arsenal. Kewell's trickery might have been more effective against a traditionally slower, more defensive fullback. But against Marrone, an aggressive, energetic wide player, Kewell was forced back. Without the pace to burn his marker, and with his team lacking a midfield creator capaable of fashioning passing angles for Kewell to latch onto, he was marginalised and unable to influence the result.

Van't Schip substitutions:
By this stage of the match, Terra had visibly tired. He had abandoned his False Nine role, opting to stay high and occupy the Victory centre backs.

Van't Schip made two aggressive changes; he exchanged Terra for hard running target man Maycon and Thompson for forward Jason Hoffman. 

These changes opened up both sides. Victory and Heart were now playing with two strikers, and the rhythm of the match became more helter-skelter.

Heart's wingers attack too fast:
During the second half, it was noticeable that Heart found it difficult to play through Victory's formation, due to a lack of width. It might seem counter-intuitive, but this lack of width was caused by Heart's two inverted wingers, Williams and Dugandizc, attacking TOO fast. Considering that speed is rarely a disadvantage, that particular point might be a little hard for some PM readers to digest. But the key lies with the theoretical operation of van't Schip's 4-3-3.

Dugandzic is primarily left sided while Williams is primarily right sided. Inverting the two wingers enhances their capability to cut-in central to provide support for the lone forward or exploit the space vacated by the false nine. The width in Heart's formation doesn't come from the wingers - it is provided by the overlapping fullbacks, Behich and Marrone.

Williams and Dugandzic are remarkably fast, with both adept at burning their markers for pace. Against Melbourne Victory, the two speedsters frequently outpaced the Navy Blue fullbacks. Being inverted, both wingers looked to cut-in central; this meant that Heart's 'initial' phase of attack was narrow, and consequently, Vargas and Franjic could stay central as they were compelled to defend only a fraction of the open space available. So far so good, but now this is were the theory behind Heart's system crashed head long into the cold bitch that is reality. The Heart wingers were attacking too fast for Behich and Marrone, no slouches themselves, to catch up let alone overlap. Williams and Dugandzic had to wait for Behich and Marrone to arrive from their defensive positions to provide width. But the crucial seconds wasted allowed Brebner, Broxham, Foschini and Fabio to reset the defensive lines.

This problem only became evident because of the back-and-forth nature that the match adopted toward the end. Had Heart been more patient in constructing attacks and more secure in maintaing possession, it is doubtful that this issue would have arisen. Alternatively, Heart could have followed Brisbane's/Barcelona's template for freeing their fullbacks, by instructing the holder to drop deep to form a back-three, allowing the fullbacks free reign along the flanks.

Possible remedies for Durakovic:
Kewell, a creative forward player, might well perform successfully as a Navy Blue false nine. If Durakovic stations Solorzano as an inside forward on the left wing, and Rojas or Cernak wide on the right, Kewell could drop deep to dictate play. Just a thought.

If Hernandez can curb his desire for a starring role, he does indeed possess the passing skills to dictate play from central midfield. The problem however lies in his attitude. He will need to be more disciplined and more hard working in a position which is less glamourous than his current role as the trequartista, where he let other players do the hard running.

Comments on Victory starting XI:
Usually, when a manager opts for a conservative double pivot, he compensates by deploying aggressive and attacking fullbacks. In the Round 1 City Classico, Lavicka opted for a defensive double pivot of McFlynn and Coyne, but compensated by deploying the aggressive Jamieson and Cole at left and right fullback. This retains the numerical balance of attacking/defensive players. Durakovic though only fielded one attacking fullback, Fabio, with the young Foschini a converted central defender operating as a old-style fullback. Even then, so far Fabio's performances have been acceptable, not stellar.

The reluctance of the fullbacks to attack was a factor, besides the lack of cogency in midfield, that contributed to the poor performances of the Victory attackers. Rojas and Cernak were more or less left to contend with two players by themselves; the fullback and the winger tracking back. Conversely, Rojas and Cernak also showed a reluctance to track back, so that the fullbacks Fabio and Foschini also had to deal with two players by themselves; the inverted winger and the overlapping fullback.

None of the 6 defensive players; Fabio, Foschini, Vargas, Frajic, Brebner or Broxham are adept passing midfielders. Watching Victory attempt build-up play from the back was rather funny; at times it looked like a game of hot potato, with no player eager to assume responsibility for distribution.

PM found it surprising that Durakovic opted for Thompson over Solorzano for the No 9 role. Both bring similar attributes to the striking role; they are both hard, pacey runners, clinical finishers and instinctive. But Solorzano has performed the brighter, even only coming off the bench. Thompson is in his early 30's, and after spells on the treatment table, seems to have lost that fearsome acceleration which he so relied upon.

Comments on Heart starting XI:
Interestingly, even though Germano was the holder in midfield, he wasn't the pivot on which the midfield revolved, a la Busquets or Paartalu. It was Colosimo who dictated play, while Germano seemed to focus on a more defensive role in a spatial sense, in occupying the area between Kewell and Thompson.

The two Red and White fullbacks, Marrone and Behich were phenomenal and tireless. They were relentless in containing the trickery of Rojas and the pace of Cernak on the wings while also speeding forward to support and provide width for Williams and Dugandzic. In a way, van't Schip was operating with four nominal wingers, albeit two of them were inverted, and two were converted to fullback. Their energy was a crucial factor in 'overmanning' Victory on the flanks.

This match ended in a draw, but it was Heart who came off better. The use of Terra as a false nine, and Colosimo and Bolton's proficiency in distribution enhanced Heart's capability to retain the ball in midfield.

Kewell was ineffective in the trequartista role because Victory lacked a cogent passer in midfield, or anywhere else for that matter. When shifted to the left wing, he became marginalised, as Harry was unable to burn Marrone for pace and there was no creative presence in midfield who could create passing angles for Kewell to latch onto.

In the second half, aggressive substituions by both managers, who threw on strikers, opened up the midfield. Heart's inverted wingers caused a lack of width because they attacked too fast for the fullbacks to overlap.

Ultimately, Heart should have won this match in the first half. Covic was phenomenal in keeping the Navy Blues in the match. Heart displayed remarkable profligacy in front of goal. Heart, along with Central Coast, are now propping up the ladder. They say the table never lies, but Heart really don't deserve to be in this position. They conceded two soft goals and all three points to Newcastle, another soft goal and all three points to Perth and failed to capitalise on their dominance over Victory. Take heart Yarraside - the team is playing positive, pro-active football, and that difference should show in time.

Victory on other hand, face more searching questions that Heart. Durakovic it seems is uncertain of where to best deploy star performer Harry Kewell. PM remarked previously that Victory's off-season recruitment seemed haphazard and that the failure to replace Muscat could prove costly. The Victory squad has a forward line that looks like a fantasy footballer's wet dream, but crucially and disappointingly lack any player capable of dictating play in midfield.

Player Rankings:
Heart | Victory:
10) Germano | Franjic
9) Shroj | Foschini
8) Good | Broxham
7) Behich | Vargas
6) Thompson | Cernak, Hernandez
5) Marrone, Maycon | Brebner
4) Dugandzic | Fabio, Solorzano
3) Williams, Hoffman | Kewell, Thompson
2) Colosimo, Bolton | Rojas
1) Terra | Covic


Bela Guttman said...

Excellent analysis P&M. I think the comparison of Melbourne Heart to Arsenal is apt.

Pass and Move said...

Thanks for the comment Bela Guttman.

To be honest I'm surprised you're the first commenter, I was expecting a few MVC lads to have a go.

Heart are going to have to sharpen upfront and get stronger at the back. Just like the Gunners.

Forbze said...

Great analysis. Good read.

We need a Van Persie to come and ignite our season!

Pass and Move said...

Thanks for the compliment Forbze, can I ask how you found this site?

I can't wait to see Heart's South American quartet in action, Fred the regista, Maycon the striker, Terra narrow on the wing or as trequartista and Germano the holder. Keep the faith with JVS.