Saturday, 26 November 2011

Central Coast 3-1 Heart: Match Analysis

A genuinely exhilarating tactical encounter was decided, undeservedly perhaps, by a foul on a keeper resulting in a stunning overhead kick and a mis-judged handball. Melbourne and the Central Coast have shaped up this season as genuine title contenders; the Red and Whites and the Mariners will be tussling for the silver and bronze medals come the business end of the season. John van't Schip and Graham Arnold renewed their reputations as among the finest tacticians in Australia.

Central Coast System:
Arnold deployed the Mariners in their customary 4-3-1-2, with modifications to the backline. Pasfield continued to deputise for the absent Ryan in goal, Zwaanswijk and Wilkinson were partnered in central defence, Bojic and Rose were advanced at right and left fullback. Griffiths, McGlinchey and Hutchinson formed a conservative trio in midfield. Ibini led the line as the No 9, Simon dropped off to the right flank as the seconda punta and Amini received his first start of the season as the trequartista.

Heart System:
Van't Schip reverted to his 3-4-3 diamond shape, but with significant differences in personnel and function from his Bielsa-esque 3-3-1-3. The 3-4-3 in general works best against 4-4-2; the side using the 3-4-3 retains a spare man at the back, matches the opposition in midfield, and has 3v4 in the forward line. 
Bolton remained between the sticks, while Good, Madaschi and Hamill formed a very cultured three-man pivoting backline. Shroj was the deepest man in the diamond, looking to mark Amini. Thompson and Germano were the left and right carilleros (shuttling or side midfielders in diamond midfields) while Fred was the trequartista. Maycon operated as a genuine striker, Worm stretched the play at left wing, while Marrone was shifted up to right wing from fullback, and was utilised as a defensive forward, looking to restrict the surges of Rose. 
Heart Modifications:
To an extent, van't Schip was restricted due to injury and national duty. Probably the most important considerations were the unavailability of Behich and the presences of Thompson and Fred, who weren't available for the match against Adelaide, when van't Schip revealed his 3-3-1-3. 
Van't Schip then was forced to tinker with his line-up. The shape of his 3-3-1-3 and 3-4-3 are identical, but the application is very different, due to the differences in personnel. Essentially, van't Schip altered three aspects; A) he switched from a False Nine, which had been present for the past four matches, to a true striker, B) he changed from inverted wingers to one genuine winger in Worm, and one defensive forward in Marrone, and C) which was the most drastic change, he switched from the wingbacks Behich and Marrone to the central midfielders Thompson and Germano in the carilleros slots (side midfielders) in the diamond. 
The cumulative effect of these three changes was two-fold; firstly, Heart were much less fluid. Operating with a static striker and trequartista combination, there was less inter-change between players, meaning they were easier to mark. This was compounded by the fact that Marrone and Worm were instructed to, and naturally preferred to, stay wide, leaving Maycon and Fred relatively isolated. 
Secondly, Heart played with much less width. But the method in which the width was absent differs from the 3-3-1-3. In the 3-3-1-3, the wingbacks and inverted wingers generally started from wide positions and cut-inside; even if they all looked to come central, they started from wide areas which initially stretched the play. In the 3-4-3, the carilleros Thompson and Germano are central midfielders; they stayed central and relatively static. Additionally, Worm at left wing did not look to come inside. He operated as an orthodox winger, tasked with stretching the play, but this prevented fluidity. Marrone was stationed as a defensive forward on the opposite flank. His main job was to restrict the surges of Josh Rose, the only source of width on the Mariners' left flank.
On a related note, it's fascinating to see van't Schip and Heart operate the only true squad rotation system in the league. Even Brisbane, for all their strength in depth, don't have access to the variation that van't Schip has carefully cultivated. For instance, van't Schip can now vary from a set 3-4-3 to 4-3-3, opt between Colosimo, Madaschi, Good, Hamill and Thompson across the backline, Williams, Terra, Dugandizc, Maycon, Babalj, Hoffman and Worm across the front line and Fred, Shroj, Germano, Thompson, Sarkies and Kalmar in midfield, combinations of which can yield vastly different results. Van't Schip deliberately switches between formations depending on whether the opposition are deployed in 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 variants.
Mariners Modifications:
Conversely, the real feature of interest for the hosts, was how Arnold addressed his side's lack of width on the left. In their 3-2 derby win over Sydney, with the absence of left-sided midfielder Bozanic, Rose became too isolated. Bozanic usually makes darting runs from inside to out in support of Rose's surges up the flank. With Hutchinson as the left-most central midfielder, Rose was deprived of support, as Hutchinson was constantly cutting inside on his stronger right foot. 
But there was a second consideration pertaining to Rose. Van't Schip pushed Marrone, an energetic and technical fullback, up to right wing. Van't Schip sought to obfuscate Rose as an attacking threat by deploying a defensive forward to pin him back and force the fullback further away from Heart's backline. Marrone's utilisation as a defensive forward has parallels to the deployment of Dirk Kuyt at Liverpool and Park Ji-Sung at Manchester United, as they are usually tasked with restricting the forays of attacking fullbacks such as Ashely Cole or Maicon. 
Arnold's solution was to reshuffle his backline. As noted in the tactical diagram above, he pushed Rose further up the flank, asked Griffiths to shuttle into the leftback berth and tasked Hutchinson to drop into the deepest holding role. With Rose absolved of defensive duties, he had more license to attack and push Marrone back. 
Hutchinson was able to drop deeper because Germano, as a nominal defensive midfielder, was not a consistent attacking threat. Had Arnold tasked McGlinchey with this role, it would have allowed Thompson free reign to attack with his driving runs from midfield. 
Unfortunately Arnold's gambit to release Rose did not work consistently. The largest factor against it was the players' lack of familiarity with this particular tactic; they were unable to synchronise their movements. It could be argued that Arnold should have asked Griffiths to drop between the central defensive pair and form a make-shift back three, but this would have left Central Coast undermanned in midfield. 
After the match settled down, the first half became a very cagey affair. Both sides were closing down in midfield energetically. The two trequartistas, Fred and Amini, were denied time on the ball, and had to drop even deeper into midfield to receive possession, which lessened their threat to goal. 
Sucker punch:
Central Coast's goal, just before half time, was the turning point of this match. On the resumption of play for the second period, the attitudes of both teams changed markedly. Central Coast reverted to type, sitting very deep in their own half, leaving only pacey striker Ibini over the half way line. 
On the other hand, Heart started the half intent on attacking. They pushed men forward looking for an equaliser. Essentially both teams were gambling on their respective strengths; Heart were relying on their ability to retain possession and gain it back in Coast's defensive half through pressing, as well as the athleticism of their three central defenders in the event the Mariners' counter-attacked, while the Mariner's were trusting to their ability to retain their defensive shape through discipline and effort, with only the pace of Ibini providing a goal threat.
Aggressive substitutions by Heart:
In an attempt to get back into the game, van't Schip made a trio of very aggressive substitutions, that opened up both midfields. 
First, on 56', he exchanged David Williams for Wayne Shroj. Germano dropped back into the holding role, Marrone dropped back into the right carillero slot as a wingback, and Williams slotted in at right wing. 
Second, on 63', he exchanged Worm, who had faded, for target man Babalj. Maycon shifted to left wing. 
Third, on 77', he exchanged Thompson for Behich in a straight swap, but Behich obviously operated more as a wingback than a midfielder in that carillero berth.
The forward line Heart started with, consisted of a winger, striker and fullback. After van't Schip's substitutions, Heart had two strikers and a forward in their attacking trio. Now while this obviously made Heart more potent and direct from the flanks, the consequence was that the Mariners' fullbacks Rose and Bojic were less restricted, with Williams and Maycon not as adept at pinning them back compared to Worm and Marrone; Coast became more dangerous on the counter down the flanks. The change in the carilleros positions, from central midfielders Thompson and Germano to aggressive wingbacks Behich and Marrone further opened up the midfield. 
Refereeing decisive:
Ultimately, it is extremely unfortunate that this exciting contest was decided by refereeing decisions, set pieces and gamesmanship rather than tactics or scintillating play. 
"You can stop running Maycon, I already got the ball"
Goal Analysis:
45' Simon - Coast corner, lofted high. Simon cleverly obstructed Bolton from retrieving, and then unleashed a stunning overhead kick.
77' Babalj - Hutchinson fouled Hamill. Behich curved the free kick high, Babalj displayed his physicality by finishing with a powerful header. 
81' McBreen - Coast corner, deflection hits Germano on his shoulder. Referee decided it counts as a handball, harsh call. McBreen stepped up, exorcises his Grand Final demons. 
86' Zwaanswijk - Imposing Dutchmen puts away corner. 
All in all, a very flattering score line for the hosts after a relatively even encounter, where both sides had spells of dominance. Credit to van't Schip for aggressive substitutions in the second half, and to Arnold for his gambit to liberate Rose. 
Ultimately, Heart and the Mariners have again proven their quality relative to the rest of the league. As noted above, expect both to duke it out for the silver and bronze medals come the end of the season. 
Congratulations to Alex Wilkinson, the first A-League player to reach 150 appearances, all for Central Coast - does that make him the only Australian one-club man?
Player Rankings:
Central Coast | Heart
10) Hutchinson | Good
9) Griffiths | Hamill
8) McGlinchey | Madaschi
7) Wilkinson | Germano
6) Ibini | Maycon
5) Bojic | Marrone
4) Zwaansijk, McBreen | Worm
3) Rose | Thompson, Williams
2) Amini, Hearfield | Shroj, Babalj
1) Simon | Fred, Behich


Bela Guttman said...

Another insightful analysis. Would you also like to look at some specific tactical challenges, for instance defending from corners or set pieces? Some teams (like Heart) seem particularly poor at this aspect of the game

Pass and Move said...

Thanks Bela, as always, your contribution is appreciated.

Yeah that perceived set piece vulnerability is another curious Arsenal parallel for Heart.

I think the only thing I can add about the set pieces is both teams let obvious threats free and didn't mark them properly. Take Babalj - he's an obvious target man and very imposing physically, so why wasn't he marked tighter? And Zwaanswijk, he's scored half a dozen goals from set pieces for the Mariners - why wasn't a closer eye kept on him? I suppose the damning thing for Heart is that they had three nominal central defenders on the field, all tall and robust lads, so they were better equipped to defend from set pieces yet were still breached.

It did bring to mind an article by Defensive Minded about how Barca use zonal marking to defend set pieces and corners, which overcomes an obvious physical disadvantage, whereas pretty much every other team uses man marking at set pieces.

Most of their players are 5'7 or in our language approx 170cm, so there's an obvious disparity in height when they come up against other teams.

What Barca do is put their best headers Pique and Puyol to defend the penalty spot, and another player parallel with the near post to clear low and flat corners. Most attacking teams put a man on the goal keeper, so the team defending respond by guarding the keeper with another defender. Barca ignore that man, defend the penalty spot, clear the first ball, advance to create an offside trap and then press.

Barca ignore what the opposition do, which I suppose is suitable given tika taka is about passing around opponents. The thing that riles most people is that Barca don't put any body on the posts, which is considered risky, but if Barca did put bodies at the posts, it would prevent them from immediately creating an offside trap.