Thursday, 10 November 2011

Oman v Australia: Preview

Next Tuesday, At 1am this Saturday, Australia is going to face Oman, needing only a draw to guarantee progression to the next stage of AFC Qualification for Brazil 2014.

Holger Osieck called up a 23-man squad for the two upcoming matches. The last match against Oman, about a month ago, was a resounding three-nil victory for the Aussies.

The fact that qualification is all but assured, and that the starting XI is the hardest it has been to predict for some years, are all excellent signs of the progress we have made under the affable German
Holger has displayed a commendable caution and foresight, while retaining progress, regarding his team selection, especially when it comes to blooding younger players. Chris Herd has been forced to pull-out due to injury, but even had he made the trip, it would have been unlikely in the extreme to expect anything more but a short cameo from the Villain. Ditto Mitch Nichols; the most important thing for the dynamic Brisbane midfielder will be to impress the coaching staff during training. 

Brett Holman has allegedly recovered from injury; PM is assuming the Aussie playmaker is completely fit for the full 90, but there has been no confirmation of his physical condition. The much-maligned return (at least in the mainstream media) of new A-League marquee players Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton should ensure a fairly experienced line-up. 

Emerton has been a regular player under Osieck, but it has become clear for some time now, ever since his suspension in the group stages of the Asian Cup, that Matt McKay and Brett Holman have superseded Brett as tactical priorities. By that I mean, accommodating McKay and Holman has become more important to the fortunes of the Green and Gold than the stalwart No 7. His absence from the last game against Oman was not particularly missed, with Osieck simply moving Wilkshire forward into the wide midfielder berth. Nevertheless, his experience, professionalism and dedication remain valued traits, particularly when it comes to providing an example for the next generation. 
The Kewell Konundrum (yes, wrongly spelt alliteration is a cheap shot) is a far more fascinating one. It wouldn't be a Socceroos camp if the presence of our No 10 weren't stringently questioned, with some going so far as to call for his dumping on the back of the limp performances by Melbourne Victory (Hey if Argentina can do it with Leo Messi, and England can do it with Rooney, why should we be any better?). Osieck was able to coax Kewell back to form last January, where he delivered electrifying performances at the Asian Cup. However, he hasn't appeared in the national team line-up since then, due to a variety of issues. Can we expect Harry back in the XI? 

The three most relevant players/factors to this question are Cahill, Kennedy and of course, Holman. Since Cahill is out injured, we can remove the Toffees legend from the immediate equation. PM has criticised Kennedy in the past, with some justification, mostly for his poor movement. However since the match against Thailand, Osieck has trusted in the messianic target men, and to give him his due, he has performed very brightly, albeit against relatively low ranked opposition. Quite apart from his goals, it is his movement that has impressed, linking play and vacating space. Nevertheless, despite the improvement, Kennedy remains the least mobile of our prospective front-men, and that is including Boro exile Scott McDonald. 

So with Holman indispensable, which forward will Osieck choose to lead the line with the AZ attacker, Kennedy or Kewell? PM is going to back the 'shorter' horse in this contest. Osieck has already seen the partnership between Kennedy and Holman, while has yet to see what qualities Kewell could offer alongside Brett (At the Asian Cup, Kewell was partnered with Cahill, with Holman cutting-in from the right). 

Restoring Kewell to the front will result in a resumption of the lethal left flank Australia displayed at the Asian Cup, with Zullo overlapping almost as a wingback, McKay drifting central to dictate play, and Kewell dropping off to the left, searching for space to influence the match creatively. Displacing Kennedy with Kewell effectively allows Australia to field three creative players; Harry, McKay and Holman, a gargantuan improvement to the utilitarian sides of Verbeek. 
The fact that we have, effectively four 'starting' players battling for the two forward slots, will undoubtedly unleash ham-headed debates about what is Australia's best XI. Ultimately, the answer, is that the question is stupid. Being able to truly call upon a 'squad' means having access first; to depth, and second; to tactical variation. Sir Alex Ferguson recently celebrated his 25th anniversary, so perhaps it is appropriate to examine his greatest innovation. No, it isn't the Treble or even his remarkable record of youth development; rather, it is squad rotation. That is what Osieck, and Australia, gain from this 'embarrassment of riches'. The Socceroos have depth, which effectively means a high quantity of quality, and tactical variation, in that each player offers slightly different abilities, which when fielded together, can yield nearly infinite combinations of qualities.  So for example, we have Tim Cahill, an attacking midfielder who offers aerial dominance, stamina, penalty box lethality and a considerable set piece threat. We also have Harry Kewell, a creative forward, who offers a modicum of pace, left-sidedness, creativity, vision, incisiveness and passing ability.  There is Brett Holman, a withdrawn forward who offers dynamism, energy, drive, aggression, interceptions and vision. And then there is Josh Kennedy, a striker who offers aerial dominance, physicality, set piece threat, hold-up play, clinical finishing and a fixed striking presence. 

In fact this situation is repeated in nearly every department of the Socceroos squad, bar the fullbacks. In central midfield, Osieck can choose between Kilkenny, the Carrick-esque passer, Jedinak, the Fletcher-esque runner/destroyer, and Valeri, the Anderson-esque compromise between the two extremes (to persist with the Red Devils metaphor). In central defence, Osieck can opt for either Spiranovic, the graceful passer, Ognenovski, the hardened stopper, or Neill, who offers distribution, leadership and physicality.
Australia should be dominant in this match, with the obvious corollary of "if at optimum condition". Oman are fighting for their survival. We might have first place all but sewn up, but the silver medal is still up for grabs, which should make fine motivation for the hosts to produce a stubborn defensive performance. 

The absences of Scott McDonald, Richard Garcia and Nathan Burns continues to puzzle. Nichols and Herd, fine talents, play in positions in which Australia are healthily stocked, while there does seem to be a distinct lack of pacey right wingers in contention under Osieck. Macca, otherwise known as the Scoreless Wonder, seems to have consigned himself to the dustbin of history. This is unfortunate, as his movement is undoubtedly the best of the prospective forwards, even if he seems to have dropped his shooting boots down a well, with a cement block tied to the laces and iron nuggets wedged into the tips.

Just a note:
Hello to the first batch of PM Members; Faithful, Hamish, Lachlan, Michael, Adam and Dave. Thanks for joining and supporting PM. Look forward to hearing your contributions, don't forget to tell your friends about Pass and Move. 

You might have noticed the new background (It obviously depicts the Melbourne Derby at AAMI Park, but can you identify the two players in the foreground? Props to the Member with the correct answer). Have you seen any iconic or atmospheric A-League images? Submit links from Google Images or any image hosting sites in comments. 

1 comment:

Hamish Alcorn said...

The question must at least be put: Is it really "an embarrassment of riches" that perplexes Holger, or the challenge of supplementing his riches with a large pool of above average players?