Vidmar deployed the Olyroos in an aggressive and fluid 4-3-3. Ryan was between the sticks, Jurman and Ryall were paired in central defence, with Mullen and Foschini conservative at left and right fullback. Bozanic was deepest in the midfield trio, distributing possession out of the backline. Nichols was a creative passer, generally drifting to the right. Brown made runs in support of Hoffman from attacking midfield. Petratos stayed wide at left wing, Dugandzic was inverted at right wing, while Hoffman led the line as the No 9.
Abramov sent out the Uzbeks in quite an anachronistic 'British' 4-4-2. Kuvvatov was between the sticks, Ismatullaev and Tuttahojhev were paired in central defence with Mustafaev and Khodjiak fairly advanced at left and right fullback. Kilichev and Hasanov were in a classic creator/destroyer pair in midfield, the former sitting deep allowing the latter to support the attack creatively. Musaev and Zoteev were at left and right wing, with Guryanov and Turaev paired in a traditional strike partnership.
So please don't take my Behich away:
With the absence of Aziz Behich, an aggressive left winger-turned-fullback, Vidmar sent out a conservative back-four. Mullen and Foschini are nominal defenders, and so were naturally more conservative in the fullback roles, advancing but not overlapping.
This is the second match in a row where the absence of Aziz Behich was more of an influence than his actual presence, following van't Schip's tactics in the 3-1 loss to Central Coast.
Behich's absence and the consequent flat back-four allowed Vidmar to field Bozanic as the deepest of his midfield trio. In the previous Olyroos fixture against the UAE, Nichols and Bozanic were paired in attacking midfield and Behich was very aggressive at left fullback, so to compensate, Vidmar deployed Diogo Ferraira, a tough tackling and energetic defender, as the holding midfielder. This worked quite effectively; Ferreira was barely involved in build-up play and he was only passed to virtually as a last result, but he was active in defusing and disrupting opposition attacks, which gave the trio of Behich, Bozanic and Nichols license to attack.
In this instance, Vidmar didn't need a tough tackling holder, as his two fullbacks weren't inclined to attack. He could afford to deploy Bozanic as an extra passer, increasing the fluidity of his midfield, without compromising the security of his backline, as Mullen and Foschini could be relied upon to defend.
This resulted in a change in Bozanic's role. Against the UAE, Bozanic's role was remarkably similar to his role atCentral Coast; as the left central midfielder, he is tasked with providing support on the left for Rose and attacking central areas. As the deepest in the midfield trio against Uzbekistan, his role was very different, and revolved around patiently distributing possession. Bozanic was very effective in this role, and although I don't have access to statistics, I'm guessing his first half pass completion rate would be somewhere in the 90's.
The case against Mitch Nichols:
Hold your horses there Brisbane fans, yes that was a deliberately provocative subtitle. Mitch Nichols is a fine player, who has excellent technical quality, passing ability and creative vision; his call-up to the Socceroos squad was well deserved, if a little unexpected.
Although he was wearing the No 10, if, or more likely when, he moves overseas, he probably won't succeed as an advanced playmaker or trequartista, the position associated with that number. The mark against him is his lack of pace. By no means a slow player, he lacks the devastating acceleration of speedsters like James Brown or Mate Dugandzic.
As outlined by Michael Cox, pace has become arguably the most important attribute for young players, because of the increasing tendency for counter-attacking football. Because teams are much more organised and compact defensively in contemporary football, playing on the counter-attack has become the predominant strategy. Because of this prevalence, pace has become the most valuable quality.
Players such as Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott embody this principle; all three are blessed with incredible speed and acceleration, and yet despite lacking in technical quality in their earlier years, were able to progress their careers due to their remarkable physical capabilities. Think back to Gareth Bale's phenomenal San Siro hat-trick, which came courtesy of rapid counter-attacking through a sluggish high defensive line, and wouldn't have been possible without Bale's incredible speed.
There is also the consideration that modern day creative players, because of the tendency for teams to use holding midfielders to patrol the space between the lines, have been shifted out onto the flanks. This is why the fantasistas of the modern day, like Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, started their careers as wide players cutting-inside as opposed to advanced players, drifting 'in the hole'. Even Vidmar tacitly acknowledged Nichols' lack of the ability to cover ground; he was nominally deployed as the middle midfielder, with James Brown, and his searing pace, providing close support for the lone striker Hoffman as the most advanced attacking midfielder.
Another relevant comparison can be applied to the man who currently occupies the No 10 for the Socceroos, Harry Kewell. If you go back to his days as a marauding left winger for Leeds, you'll notice just how dependent Kewell used to be on his speed. That stunning left footed 40-yard volley against Arsenal was made possible by his pace, taking him away from his immediate marker and springing the Gunners' high line.
So what is left for Nichols, who as noted above, possesses exceptional technical quality, creative vision and passing ability? Look no further than another member of the Golden Generation, who possessed the exact same qualities as Nichols, but was similarly hampered by a lack of speed. I'm talking of course about Jason Culina. He was similarly deployed as an advanced playmaker in the NSL, but under Guus Hiddink at PSV, was converted to a No 4, a deep lying regista or passing midfielder.
A word on the selection:
Although Vidmar's squad was restricted to A-League players, there was plenty of experience present. Of the starting XI, Ryan, Jurman, Bozanic, Nichols and Dugandzic can be considered crucial contributors to their respective club sides, and 'first choice' players. They were naturally the more effective presences in the team. Of the ten A-League clubs, Wellington, Perth and Newcastle did not have representatives in the XI.
There was a decent level of consistency between the Olyroos XI against Uzbekistan, and the fixture previously covered by PM, against the UAE. Jurman and Ryall were still in central defence, Foschini remained as a defensive rightback, Nichols and Bozanic were still in central midfield trios though with slightly different roles, Hoffman still led the line and Brown started both matches, but as a right winger in the former and as an attacking midfielder in the latter.
Revenge of the Sith...I mean Abramov:
Vadim Abramov is back. With a vengeance. The man with a moustache who puts Movember and hipsters to shame, and who helmed Uzbekistan to a remarkable semi-final appearance at January's Asian Cup, only to preside over the unmitigated disaster that was a catastrophic six-nil defeat to a rampant Australia, also doubles up as the Olympic coach.
As Michael Cox noted, that 6-0 match was remarkable for the discrepancy between the possession stats and goals; in the first half, Uzbekistan had 67% of possession, yet barely threatened. With a naïve backline, Australia were able to launch ruthless and simple counter-attacks to overwhelm the Uzbek defence. One of the interesting tactical features of that game was Abramov's use of Odil Akhmedov, the main playmaker, as a centre back. Played out of position, Akhmedov acted as an old-style libero, charging out of the defence to initiate the attack.
Formation clash and role reversal:
With Australia set out in a fluid 4-3-3, and Uzbekistan deployed in an old-style 4-4-2, the match settled into a predictable pattern. Australia would patiently work the ball in midfield, using their extra man to create passing triangles, as the two Uzbek strikers both stayed high occupying Jurman and Ryalll. Attacks would eventually break down in the Uzbekistan defensive third, allowing them to initiate quick and direct counter-attacks. The Uzbeks looked to work the ball wide to the wingers, and then use their two strikers to present a goal threat.
It must be said that Australia were quite proficient at keeping possession; as noted above Bozanic was impressive in his distribution.
Ironically enough, the roles of Australia and Uzbekistan were reversed from that 6-0 thrashing, with Australia the team trying to keep possession and Uzbekistan sitting deep and counter-attacking through the wide players.
Ultimately, both teams were unable to establish rhythms in the first half, with the match regularly interrupted by corners and free kicks.
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