Thursday, 1 December 2011

5 points on Victory 3-2 Gold Coast

Here are 5 tactical points on the Victory's desperate 3-2 triumph against Gold Coast. The match was highly unusual for a number of reasons. Firstly, the referee was probably more of an influence on the outcome of this match than any of the players, handing out a red card and two penalties to the home team, as well as a host of yellow cards. But both managers also bungled their tactics, which made for early modifications. 

1) Maceo Rigters was shifted forward to the central striker role, with target man Macallister dropped to the bench. 
Rigters has demonstrated over the past few weeks that he is one of the première forwards in the league. But that excellent form has been achieved as a wide player cutting inside, or as the withdrawn striker, exploiting the space and the hold-up play produced by Macallister, who is one of the best strikers in the A-League with his back to goal.  
In this instance, counter-intuitively perhaps, fielding Rigters as the most advanced forward made him less effective. He was more easily marked by the Victory central defenders, and this meant he was less able to receive the ball in space to run at the defence. To find space, he dropped deep to escape marking, but that meant he received the goal in less dangerous areas, and often with his back to goal. 
Bleiburg rectified this omission, exchanging Bevan for Macallister around the half hour mark, after Gold Coast had conceded two penalties, and shifted to a 4-4-1-1 system, with Rigters linking play behind Macallister.
2) The Dutch midfield pairing of Beekmans and Jungschlager was broken up. Jungschlager deputised at right fullback, Beekmans anchored midfield, with Bevan and Salley advanced. 
It is hard to fathom the motivation or logic behind this change. Beekmans and Jungschlager were starting to develop a highly fluid and familiar relationship, bossing the Coast midfield. Bevan and Salley, though it is too early to make definitive judgements on both players, were not an improvement. 
Jungschlager in particular was very ineffective as the right fullback. He is not particularly adept defensively, with Beekmans providing the physicality when the two are paired in midfield, but neither is he accomplished offensively, as his style is passed around patient and methodical passing, not energy. So he became very much a liability as the right fullback.
These two changes, by no means the only ones, were the most significant.
3) Victory's initial line-up held a remarkable similarity to the way Dunga used to deploy Brazil in the lead-up to the World Cup 2010, with a formation that was interpreted by Europeans as an asymmetric 4-2-3-1 and by South Americans as an asymmetric 4-4-2 diamond. 
The best way to understand this similarity, is to identify the key components, and then compare their nominal 'positions' in both the 4-4-2 diamond and 4-2-3-1. For Brazil, they are Robinho and Ramires, the former as either the second striker striker or left winger and the latter as either the right carillero (side midfielder in a diamond) or right winger.
For Victory, the key players were Kewell and Rojas. Kewell, like Robinho, could have been designated as either the second striker/seconda punta in a 4-4-2 diamond or the left winger in a 4-2-3-1, while Rojas, like Ramires, could have been designated as either the right carillero in a 4-4-2 diamond or a right winger in a 4-2-3-1. 

The above diagrams come courtesy of Zonal Marking, and illustrate the differences in interpretation of Dunga's formation. The highest diagram shows the system with it's 'first choice' players, with the arrows depicting movement. The two lower diagrams depict the different designations, the left is the 4-2-3-1 and the right is the 4-4-2 diamond. 
As explained by Michael Cox, the origin of the divergence of interpretation stems from the divergence of tactical history between South America and Europe. The European 4-2-3-1 derives from 4-4-2; one of the strikers drops deeper, the wide players push forward, though with responsibility to track the opposing fullbacks. The South America 4-2-3-1 however, derives from 4-2-2-2, the magic square of four playmakers, two deep-lying registas and two advanced trequartistas. This system has evolved into 4-2-3-1 by pulling one of the strikers to the side while the opposite advanced playmakers shuttles wider. 
For Victory, Rojas is cast in the role of the modern tornante, shuttling from a central role to the right wing, while Kewell operates almost as an interiore, drifting inside from left. He and Thompson, while the most advanced players, rarely link up, so they can't be referred to as a striker partnership. And Rojas takes up such a deep and central position when defending, that he can't be designated a pure winger either. 
What are the consequences for the marking scheme of the opposition? If the opposition sets out in a 4-2-3-1, as a withdrawn left forward, Kewell should fall under the remit of one the holders. Given the other holder would be marking Hernandez, it leaves space to be exploited by Rojas on the inside channel.
For complete understanding, PM urges readers to peruse those three linked articles by Michael Cox and Jonathan Wilson. More than anything, this comparison demonstrates just how reductive the modern tendency to refer to players by their positions can be, as it discounts their individual and varied abilities. The important part is to understand the role of a player. 
4) The two early penalties and the red card against Vargas changed the complexions of both sides. The Navy Blues retreated to protect their lead, while the visitors pushed forward to get back into the game and make use of their numerical advantage. 
Funnily enough, for the second match this season, Victory were more dangerous after going a man down. Are the Navy Blues just masochistic, only able to play after they've been punished? Similar to the outcome of the draw against Brisbane, when Victory were red carded twice, Durakovic was forced to reconsider his strategy and adopt a counter-attacking style
As PM has previously elucidated, the troubles the Navy Blues have experienced this season can be directly traced to the change of playing style Durakovic has attempted to engineer, from a more reactive/counter-attacking approach to a more pro-active/possession based one. The problem is that the Victory squad is ill-suited to the new style; the best players are pacey dribblers and there isn't a single passing midfielder able to retain and distribute possession. 
So the red card, metaphorically speaking, actually liberated the Victory, forcing Durakovic to use his players in a way that suits them, rather than in a manner which exposes their short comings. 
5) Gold Coast on the other hand pushed forward. They managed to equalise on either side of the break, from a penalty and a sweeping counter-attack initiated by Halloran. They were however, experiencing a problem with their offensive strategy, despite the re-introduction of Macallister and the shifting of Rigters. 
In a word, Gold Coast lacked width to their attack, which meant that Victory only needed to defend narrow, a proposition that suits the defending side. With both wingers Halloran and Mebrahtu looking to come inside and link with Rigters and Macallister, and both fullbacks not overlapping properly, the hosts only needed to camp inside their penalty box. Coast were reduced to taking pot shots from range. 
A better strategy would have been to ask Halloran and Mebrahtu to operate as orthodox wingers, stretching the play, and looking to get around their opposing fullbacks. This would have opened space for Rigters and midfield runners to exploit, and crossing from the flanks would have also made use of Macallister's aerial prowess.

No comments: