It's almost like the sky is falling. After a record-setting unbeaten streak, the reigning champions tasted defeat for the first time in 3,240+ minutes of football, bending the knee to none other than...Sydney FC? How in blazes did Lavicka manage that? With clever use of pressing, a dawn sacrifice to the weather gods and more than a dollop of good fortune.
1) Sydney's System:
Lavicka deployed the Sky Blules in an expansive 4-4-2 diamond shape. Reddy was between the sticks, Bosschart and Beauchamp were paired in central defence, Cole was inverted, deputising at left fullback, while Coyne was conservative on the opposite side. McFlynn was the holder in midfield, screening the backline. Emerton and Kisel operated as carilleros, shuttling to wide positions. Carle was the trequartista, with Petratos and Cazarine were paired in a classic target man/quick man strike partnership.
2) Brisbane's System:
Postecoglou set out Brisbane in their customary 4-1-2-3 shape. Theoklitos was custodian, Jurman and Smith were paired in central defence. Stefanutto and Franjic were advanced at left and right fullback. Paartalu was the holder in midfield, dropping deep to allow the fullbacks to advance. Murdicca and Nichols were paired in midfield, Issey and Henrique were inverted at right and left wing, with Berisha as the No 9.
In most aspects, this was very much a full-strength Brisbane line-up, with one notable absentee; Thomas Broich.
There were actually aspects of this match that PM has previously predicted. In the aftermath of Brisbane's seven-nil belting of Adelaide, PM commented that, if the rampant champions were to eventually lose, it would "be away from home...with Thomas Broich out of form". In this case, the match wasn't even played at either side's home stadium, and Thomas Broich wasn't even in the squad.
Furthermore, PM has previously remarked that Cazarine is a superb target-man, adept at holding the ball up and bringing his team mates into play, and it was his utilisation of his qualities that created the opening goal, when he receive a short free kick from Bosschart, held off a challenge and flicked the ball over the top for Petratos to latch onto.
4) Inka was always the hottest Planeteer
It's probably never remarked on enough, but the environment can have a huge impact on a match. In this case, the wind became an extremely influential factor, and Sydney were able to harness 'Mother Earth' to their advantage.
The gale was strong enough to curve Emerton's corner, headed for the penalty spot, straight into goal. Having won the coin toss, McFlynn elected to play with the wind, and with the breeze as strong as it was, the momentum was with Sydney in a very literal sense; Brisbane passes along the deck tended to fall short, and Sydney through balls were imbibed with extra verve.
5) Pressing to negate width
Lavicka's use of the high press was, overall, identical to the last time he faced Brisbane. His objective was to prevent Brisbane from playing out from the back. The intensity of Sydney's press was such that Brisbane were barely able to string passes together, and were completely penned inside their own defensive half.
But the crucial point is how Sydney's pressing negated Brisbane's width. Lavicka tasked Emerton and Kisel, to shuttle out-wide from the central positions, to confront the fullbacks-turned-wingbacks Franjic and Stefanutto.
The natural weakness of the 4-3-1-2 formation is the lack of natural width. In fact, the point of using that formation is to sacrifice wingers for extra midfield security. The last time Brisbane faced a genuine 4-3-1-2, in Central Coast, the three central midfielders and trequartista dropped deeper, and the fullbacks Rose and Bojic were overrun by Meyer, Franjic, Issey and Stefanutto. Lavicka overcame his side's theoretical lack of width by instructing Emerton and Kisel to move wide and occupy Stefanutto and Franjic. He sacrificed a spare man at the back, to facilitate his high press.
With the entire defensive five players occupied, Theoklitos had no one free to build play through. Smith and Jurman were marked by Petratos and Cazarine, Carle pushed up to confront Paartalu, and Stefanutto and Franjic were blocked by Kisel and Emerton.
Postecoglou's system is almost entirely dependent on the fullbacks to provide width, as the wide players are instructed to come inside and link with the central striker. In this instance, this lack of width in forward areas was exaggerated, as Henrique and Issey were inverted.
6) Lady Luck
It goes without saying that Sydney were very lucky indeed. The first goal came within 30 seconds of the start of the match, with the Sky Blues capitalising on a moment of confusion over a free kick. The second goal was a bloody fluke. Emerton's corner was curved into the goal by a powerful gust.
The main point however is that Sydney were able to cement a two-goal lead within the first 20 minutes of the match. Sydney were never going to be able to maintain a high press for the duration of the match; in their last match against Brisbane, Lavicka tried to, and his charges were completely exhausted by the middle of the second period, allowing Brisbane to pass around their opponents like traffic cones.
In many ways this resembled the Toffee's glorious two-nil defeat of Manchester Citeh. David Moyes went for an intense pressing game, Everton were able to score twice within the first 20 minutes, then switched to an all-out defensive posture to see out the match.
In the second period especially, Sydney had all 10 outfield players behind the ball, with only Cazarine over the halfway line.
It must be said however, this is the most recent instance where Brisbane have failed to unlock a massed defence. There were able to monopolise possession in the second half, but barely created any clear chances, with the ball being circulated from flank to flank.
This begs the question of how can Postecoglou overcome sides who sit with all 11-men behind the ball. One of the reasons sitting deep is such an effective defensive strategy against Brisbane is that it minimises space behind and between the lines, meaning Berisha is prevented from unleashing his fearsome acceleration latching onto through balls, and Brisbane have less space in midfield to work passing moves. There are two likely Plan B's.
The first is to recruit a target-man. Spain, the international masters of possession football, have shown they are not above sticking a big man up-front and telling him to win crosses. In their recent match against Scotland, having failed to unlock the stubborn Tartan defence, Del Bosque threw on Atheltico Bilbao's Fernando Llorente, a imposing target man, and within a few minutes, he had scored the match winner from a very un-Spanish cross. Even Barcelona considered this route a few seasons ago, when Guardiola recruited Sweedish giant Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Surely there are proficient target-men plying their trade in the state leagues, one of whom the Roar could recruit to become their Llorente Protocol.
The second is the False Nine. This season, van't Schip at Melbourne Heart has fielded Alex Terra as a False Nine, dropping deep to dictate play for inverted wingers Dugandzic and Williams. He used this to great effect in the first Melbourne Derby. Physicality isn't the only way to achieve penetration (that's what she said). As Barcelona have demonstrated, technical quality is the trump card. While van't Schip has concertedly implemented the False Nine, he actually isn't the first to in the A-League. In Brisbane's Round 1 Match against Central Coast, Thomas Broich was used as a False Nine for ten minutes, and it was his dropping deep to dictate play that created Nichol's match winning goal.
In a more immediate sense, it might have made sense for Brisbane to test the rigidity of Lavicka's marking scheme. In last season's Grand Final, with the Mariners strikers pegging back the Brisbane fullbacks, Postecoglou instructed Paartalu to push further into midfield to drag Amini out of position. We should have seen a move along those lines; push Paartalu further up to drag Carle backwards, drop Murdocca further into the backline, just as a 'for instance'.
8) Player Rankings
Sydney | Brisbane:
10) Beauchamp| Jurman
9) Bosschart | Smith
8) Coyne | Franjic
7) McFlynn | Stefanutto
6) Cole | Paartalu
5) Kisel | Henrique
4) Emerton | Issey
3) Petartos | Berisa
2) Carle | Nichols
1) Cazarine | Murdocca
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