Saturday, 12 November 2011

Oman 1-0 Australia: Match Analysis

Well this was unexpected. The Socceroos, unbeaten since that heart breaking extra time loss to Japan in January, have bent the knee to a defiant Oman. So besides falling back on tired old clich├ęs like the hosts 'raging against the dying of the light', how can we explain this result? Oman definitely improved, with their defensive organisation becoming faster, which is a credit to Le Guen. Unfortunately however, it was Holger Osieck's team selection to which the majority of blame can be apportioned. 

Now mistakes, in and of themselves, are rarely something to worry over, as trial and error is often the best way to learn. Disappointingly however, the omissions Holger committed against Oman were of a strikingly similar nature, to the mistakes he made in his team selection against Thailand. Specifically, deploying Holman and McKay out of position at left wing and fullback, in a bid to squeeze in all of the 'on form' players into the same team. 
Against Thailand:
Let's re-examine the match against Thailand. Australia produced an impotent performance and this was caused by three factors, all of which were again on display against Oman. 

The first error was an unbalanced system. To accommodate Kennedy and Cahill up-front and the fluid partnership of Emerton/Wilkshire, Holman was shunted to the left. With left midfield occupied, McKay was withdrawn to left fullback. Because of the characteristics of both players' styles, problems arose. 

Holman is a right-sided attacker; deployed on the left, he ignored his nominal flank entirely, drifting to his usual central role. McKay is a left-sided central midfielder; he could not stifle his desire to drift central to create. The combination of these factors meant that our left flank was completely abandoned. Australia were only playing on two thirds of the pitch and attacking only down the right. Thailand took advantage of this; they stoutly defended a smaller portion of the pitch, and counter-attacked down the vacant left. 

The second error was a lack of mobility. Against Thailand, Kennedy and Cahill were guilty of being too static. Instead of dropping deep or pulling wide to drag markers out of position or to vacate space, they both remained by their markers. This contributed to the third error.

The third error was a reliance on crosses from deep. Because of Kennedy and Cahill's lack of mobility, attacks degenerated into fruitless crosses. Our forays fell into simple pattern of repeated lay-offs and runs into the box, until Wilkshire was literally left with no other option, but to punt it for the forwards to knock down. 
Against Oman:
These failings were all evident against Oman. 

Osieck erred in deploying Holman and McKay at left wing and fullback. It cannot be overstated how disappointing a tactical gaff this was, given how spectacularly and obviously it has failed in the past. Osieck's objective was undoubtedly to squeeze Holman, Kewell, Kennedy and the Williams/Wilkshire partnership into the same team. 

Kennedy's movement was exceedingly poor. In the preview, PM underlined that despite his goals, Kennedy is by far the least mobile of our prospective forwards. Against Oman, the target man contributed very little to the team's build up play, and in fact he was largely to blame for the concession of the goal. Kennedy's poor movement prevented the potential interchange between himself, Holman and Kewell. 

The reliance on crosses from deep was less obvious, but arose for the same reasons; lack of other obvious options. There can't have been too many that actually connected with one of the forwards. It is actually strange how unreliable a route crossing has become for Australia, given that it was or primary, and arguably only, route of attack, less than a year ago.

Pundits are fond of saying 'strikers are judged on their goals'. Well that's bullshit. In the modern game, poachers have been superseded by multi-dimensional forwards, able to contribute to the overall play of the team. Football as a sport has become so systematised, that overall collective play has become more valuable than individual brilliance. As Jonathan Wilson wrote, "you don't win games by scoring goals, you score goals by winning games". Kennedy is by no means a bad player, and he remains a viable alternative option; Australia's Llorente protocol shall we say. PM doesn't even doubt that he'll remain a first team option for Osieck, given how well he has performed recently. But he should never have been prioritised above Brett Holman, whom Osieck once dubbed 'the complete player'. 

Holman and McKay:
Over the past 12 months, it has become apparent that the two most influential players in Australia's line-up are now Matt McKay and Brett Holman. It is no coincidence that the two worst performances by the Green and Gold have coincided with both players being deployed ineffectively. 

Their creativity is important but not in the traditional sense of the 'playmaker', 'trequartista' or 'regista'. Their greatest assets are their energy, stamina, movement and vision. In effect, McKay and Holman 'initiate' the play; Matt with his short passing and prompting of positional interchange and Brett with his runs, pressing and interceptions. PM will refer you back to the preview for a starting XI that makes best use of both players
Goal Analysis:
Al Hosni 17' - Oman counter-attack. Hadid crosses the half-way line. Kennedy closest, does not close down. Valeri is hesitant because of Kenendy's proximity. He finally advances to hassle, but Hadid is able to measure a beautiful through ball to Al Hosni, making a run between Williams and Spiranovic. Superb finish. This goal gave Oman confidence, and their play improved markedly from then until the end of the match. 

Australia were impotent because McKay and Holman were restricted. It is astounding how prominent and how invaluable both players have become, given that more than a year ago, Holman was popularly regarded as a joke, while McKay's best chance of donning a national team shirt was a trip to the Rebel Sport changing rooms. 

Kennedy, while deserving a place in the squad, and probably retaining a firm position in Osieck's future plans, bears some thinking. Is his level of performance high enough to be a threat to fellow Top 30 national teams? Scott McDonald deserves another look in, as his movement is the best of any of our prospective forwards. The goal he created for Robbie Kruse against Wales was a beauty, and isn't something Kennedy would be able to do.

The midfield pairing of Jedinak and Valeri has come in for some criticism, but that is overlooking Osieck's intentions when deploying the two of them; to break up play and shield the back four. In fact that pair also worked perfectly fine in an attacking sense, when McKay was deployed wide left. Matt drifted centrally, dictating play in close proximity to Mile and Carl. 

Although Wilkshire/Emerton/Williams are all broadly similar players, Wilkshire seemed uncomfortable as the most advanced player on the right flank. That bears some consideration, particularly as PM pointed out previously the lack of right wingers under contention. Rukavytsya, Burns and Garcia still seem to be out in the cold for unfathomable reasons. 

Osieck made a fatal mistake in this match, but Australia still retain an advantageous position in our qualifying group. Hopefully this will be the final time we see McKay started at left fullback. In every game since the Asian Cup, McKay and Holman have rightly been the first names on the team sheet. Osieck must realise McKay cannot influence the match from fullback, just as Holman cannot influence the match inverted. 

Michael Zullo, who can now be regarded as our first choice left fullback, should have been deployed. His partnership with McKay on the left flank has become very fluid and integral to the team. Zullo is able to provide the pace, acceleration and penetration down the left that McKay cannot, while presenting an energetic defensive presence. McKay on the other hand, is positionally disciplined, meaning he knows when to cover for Zullo’s forward surges. Zullo's threat to the opposition right fullback creates space for McKay to pass and move into.

Due to troublesome circumstances, there will probably be no Round 6 A-League Analysis until Wednesday. 

Player Rankings:
10) Kennedy
9) Wilkshire
8) Kewell
7) Valeri, Schwarzer
6) Holman
5) McKay, Emerton
4) Jedinak, Kruse
3) Neill
2) Williams
1) Spiranovic


apholden said...

How did Kruse look when he came on? Did he operate in the left flank or centrally off Kennedy?

Pass and Move said...

Kruse came on for Kewell, exchanged positions with Holman

Bela Guttman said...

It's a concern that Holger doesn't seem to learn from the same tactical mistakes. I don't know what he has in mind but the team doesn't seem to be able to deliver the results he expects from this formation.

Pass and Move said...

Well I would agree in that man management and nurturing talent are his best points, but he's certainly not naive tactically. I just think the two times he has experimented, its been an attempt to squeeze in all of the 'best' players. You don't want him to abandon experimentation, after all without it, McKay, Kruse, Brosque, Williams, Spiranovic, Ognenovski, Jedinak or Valeri wouldn't be in the squad. Just hope he puts this McKay at LB nonsense to bed

Hamish Alcorn said...

Agree about McKay. I don't feel as confident talking about Holman but I'm guessing you're right in general.

My entire experience of the game was looking at Twitter about half way through. The goal had been scored, and someone mentioned how fired up Matty had gotten since the goal.

I went to bed confident that Australia would win 2:1 (say).

I was a bit shocked at the score when I found out the next morning but then I also found out that Matty was not in the midfield, as I'd assumed. It made me kind of angry.

I know what Matt does when the team goes a goal down. I've seen it many times. It's an absurd thing to say of course but I honestly thought, without even seeing the game, that we would have won with Mat in the middle.

He's not a young player. He may have matured later as a player but he's 28 and in the form of his life. Give him a *position* in the first 11 (not merely a *start*) and give him a bit of leadership. He will reward us, I reckon.

Anonymous said...

I saw the first 30 minutes - and I just saw a team that wasn't playing well - lacked sharpness. A much better performance than when Oman visited Australia recently. Looking back at the first game between Aus and Oman (in Oz) I thought all three goals involved a lack of concentration or positioning by the Omani's. So were the warning signs already there?

Fantastic read. Thank you.


Pass and Move said...

Thanks for the comment Clayton, can I ask how you found out about this site?

I don't think sharpness was a particular problem, except in Kennedy's case. The two worst Aussie performances this year, Thailand at home and Oman away, are completely explainable by McKay at left back and Holman at left wing, with Kennedy not mobile enough up front.


Anonymous said...

Hi again,

I saw some big wraps for your site at Hamish's blog. So I thought I would mozy over and have a look. Very glad I did, there was so little discussion of how the game played out, or why things happened the way they did on other news sources / blogs etc.


Pass and Move said...

Cheers Hamish

I think in this case McKay has been a victim of his versatility. Holger has gambled on his ability to both cover the fullback slot AND influence the match creatively.