Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Sydney 2-3 Central Coast: Match Analysis

Bling FC against the Little Club That Could; that would be the expected narrative in any derby involving the Harbour City and their more modest cousins. Except in recent times, it's the Sky Blues who have been in the doldrums and the Mariners in the ascendant. Central Coast triumphed at the SFS for the first time in four years, but it was Lavicka's confusing tactics and overly aggressive substitutions that largely decided the contest. 

Sydney's System:
Lavicka sent out the Sky Blues in a fluid and compact 4-1-4-1 formation. Reddy remained as custodian, Beauchamp and Bosschart were partnered in central defence, with Jamieson and Coyne at left and right fullback, the former advanced. McFlynn was deep in the holding role in midfield, screening the back-four, Kisel was theoretically along side his captain but with license to join the attack. Emerton, Carle and Antonis formed the attacking trio - Emerton was inverted on the left, Antonis was narrow on the right but both switched flanks throughout the match. Bridge led the line as the No 9, with close support from Carle, as the trequartista. 

Central Coast's System:
Arnold deployed the Mariners in their usual 4-3-1-2 or 4-4-2 diamond. Pasfield was deputising for Ryan between the sticks, Wilkinson and Zwaanswijk were partnered in central defence. Griffiths, McGlinchey and Hutchinson formed the defensive midfield trio, with the latter deputising for the usual left carillero, Bozanic. Rose and Bojic were advanced at left and right fullback. McBreen was fielded in the trequartista role, Simon was deployed as the seconda punta, drifting off to the right wing, and Ibini was fielded as the central striker.

Nominally, Arnold was operating with three out-and-out central strikers, resembling an old-style 4-3-3.

Pro-active versus reactive:
Ultimately this match was decided by the overall strategies preferred by both managers, or more specifically, the ability of both sides to implement those preferred styles. 

Arnold favoured his usual reactive approach; Central Coast sat deep in their own half, restricting space behind and between the lines, looking to hit Sydney on the counter-attack with direct balls. They were able to afford a conservative approach because of the hard work and defensive awareness of their midfield trio of Griffiths, Hutchinson and McGlinchey. 

Lavicka on the other hand, favoured an ill-fitting, positive approach. He instructed Sydney to press the Mariners, to force turnovers in dangerous areas, and retain the initiative. Sydney have shown a marked determination to incorporate intense pressing into their style; the Sky Blues have now utilised a high press against both the possession oriented Brisbane and the counter-attacking Central Coast. 

The problem, simply enough, is that Sydney suck at it. In both matches, the Sky Blues have been unable to sustain the high press beyond the 60-70 minute mark. They become exhausted midway through the second half, which enabled both Brisbane and Central Coast to land knock out blows late in the game. 

This inability to press high raises larger questions. First - why does Lavicka instruct his players to press high, if they are unable to sustain it? Second - why aren't Sydney fit enough to sustain a high press? This off-season was probably the longest in A-League history; there is no excuse for lacking in peak fitness one third of the way into the season. 

A Rose by any other name:
It's no secret how crucial a player Josh Rose is to the Mariners. In Arnold's narrow 4-3-1-2 system, the marauding fullback is the greatest source of width on the left flank. With the security of three conservative holders in midfield, Rose has the license to operate extremely high, almost as an auxiliary winger, slinging in crosses and making late runs to the far post. 

But against Sydney, the burden to provide width on the left was placed solely on Rose, a consequence of the absence of the regular left carillero, Bozanic. On this occasion, Hutchinson deputised in the left berth of the midfield trio. 

While Rose usually provides the majority of the left sided width, Bozanic makes darting runs from inside to out in support, so that Rose isn't left isolated. In this instance, Hutchinson was not comfortable advancing with his weaker left foot; he constantly turned inside, leaving Rose isolated and less effective on the left. 

In this way, the role of Bozanic, a nominal left winger, resembles that of Flourent Malouda, when he was fielded as the left carrillero by Ancelotti, in a midfield diamond. Similar to Bozanic, Malouda would make darting runs from inside to out in support of Ashley Cole. 

Too narrow:
Lavicka persisted in inverting Emerton to his non-preferred left side. Whether or not that is a worthwhile pursuit is a question for another day, but against Central Coast, it was the wrong move to make. 

The weakness of the 4-4-2 diamond/4-3-1-2 lies in the lack of natural width, and it's an issue that defeats Italian clubs in the Champions League time and time again. Refer to the tactical diagram above; instead of asking his wide players to come inside, Lavicka would have been better off opting for an expansive 4-3-3, by-passing the midfield battle, and doubling up on Bojic and Rose with orthodox wingers and attacking fullbacks. With 2v1 duels occurring along both flanks, the Mariners would have found themselves undermanned and pinned back. 

This was the route Postecoglou opted for in the Round 1 repeat of last season's Grand Final - Brisbane accepted a numerical inferiority in central midfield, trusting to their technical quality, and doubled up on Rose with Meyer and Franjic, and on Bojic with Issey and Stefanutto. 

The target man cometh:
I've got a personal theory about Bruno Cazarine - his peculiar Friar Tuck bald patch isn't genetic; it's the result of a career spent as an excellent target man, winning aerial duels and efficiently finishing crosses. 

So why was Mark Bridge preferred to lead the line? The versatile forward never looks entirely comfortable leading the line solo, and clearly seems more effective either out wide or as a support striker in a partnership. 

Emerton possesses a superb delivery; the few times he has slung in crosses from the right, or launched corners into the penalty area, have been among the most beautiful and dangerous movements by the Sky Blues. Poor old Bruno has only scored one goal this term, but guess where it came from; header from a cross. 

A more effective offensive strategy, that makes best use of the talents at Sydney's disposal would be this; stick Cazarine up-front to win balls in the air and hold-it up for midfield runners like Carle or Bridge, slot Emerton in on his preferred flank, either at wing, wide midfield, wingback or fullback, and tell him to sling crosses into Cazarine's glorious bald patch. This strategy best utilises Cazarine's aerial prowess, Emerton's delicious delivery and Carle and Bridge's movement and incisiveness. 

Overly aggressive substitutions:
Finding themselves a goal down after half time, Lavicka made two incredibly aggressive substitutions, that jeopardised the numerical balance of attacking and defensive players, and left Sydney too vulnerable on the counter. Frankly, these substitutions were the nails in the Sky Blues coffin. 

McFlynn, the sole holding midfielder, came off injured, to be replaced by target man Bruno Cazarine. Sydney shifted to all-out attacking 4-1-3-2 system; Cazarine and Bridge paired up-front, Carle, Emerton and Kisel the attacking trio behind, but the important point is that Antonis, the young tricky forward, was asked to fill-in as the holding midfielder. As to be expected, his inexperience and unfamiliarity showed.

This was clearly a case of Lavicka rolling the dice. Sydney came out of the blocks with more intent, their pressing effort were doubled, and they put Central Coast under a sustained 15 minute spell of pressure. Without any defensive presence in midfield, Lavicka was gambling on two things; Sydney's ability to sustain a high press for a further 45 minutes, and Central Coast's reluctant to push forward. 

As noted above, Sydney were found wanting. They became exhausted, and this fatigue was directly responsible for Coast's second goal. At 65', Cazarine was dispossessedd, with Kisel, Emerton and Carle in front of him. Central Coast started a counter, with only the Sydney back-four + Antonis in position. Amini dodged Antonis, laid off to Bojic making a run on the right, and cut-back to McGlinchey who finished, but the important point is that the Sydney players were too exhausted to continue pressing, which Lavicka trusted too in the absence of a genuine defensive presence in midfield. 

This trend carried on with the exchange of Coyne, a robust defender, for Cole, an aggressive attacking fullback. It wasn't until after the second goal that Lavicka brought on Moriyasu, the only player on his bench comfortable in central midfield. 

Goal Analysis:
40' Zwaanswijk - McBreen was fouled by Antonis on the edge of the box, the dominant centre back drove the ball across Reddy. 

65' McGlinchey - As noted above, Cazarine dispossessed, Mariners counter-attack, Amini lay off to Bojic, cut back to McGlinchey. But the important factor was that the Sky Blues were exhausted an unable to sustain the press to which they had entrusted their defensive security.  

76' Carle - Perfect illustration of PM's proposed tactic, Cazarine up front with Carle and Bridge for support. Moriyasu launched an incisive pass to Cazarine, who held-up the ball and flicked over for Bridge, running through. Bridge's shot was deflected by put away by Carle's header. 

81' Hearfield - Bojic free kick, lofted to Simon, holds off Beauchamp, cuts across goal. Hearfield gets in front of Cole, the substitute aggressive fullback, to score. 

88' Emerton - Negligible contact, superb free kick by Emmo. 

A fairly stereotypical tactical battle, between a conservative and counter-attacking 4-3-1-2 and a pressing 4-1-4-1. Lavicka was at fault, for his insistence on pressing which his players are unable to implement, and for his substitutions which left Sydney vulnerable on the break. 

Lavicka would have been better off opting for a 4-3-3, by-passing the midfield battle, and doubling up on the Coast fullbacks Rose and Bojic, with orthodox wingers and attacking fullbacks, similar to how Postecoglou dealt with the Mariners back in Round 1. 

Lavicka should re-examine the deployment of his players. Emerton does not look comfortable inverted, and his deliveries coupled with Cazarine's strength in the air could be devastating. 

Player Rankings:
Sydney | Central Coast
10) Bosschart | Griffiths
9) Beauchamp | McGlinchey
8) Bridge | Hutchinson
7) Antonis | Bojic
6) Coyne | Wilkinson
5) Jamieson | Zwaanswijk
4) Emerton | Ibini
3) McFlynn, Moriyasu | Rose, Hearfield
2) Kisel | McBreen, Amini
1) Carle, Cazarine | Simon

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