Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Melbourne Derby Preview

Bring on the blood and the thunder, for the Derby is at hand. This Friday, what has quickly become one of the most anticipated fixtures of Australian sport will play out at AAMI Park, when the Red and Whites host the Navy Blues.
(Press Play for Mood Music)

We already know to expect wonder goals, crunching challenges, frenzied masses, and perhaps a yellow card or two, but what does this iteration of the Melbourne Derby promise in a tactical sense?

After some experimentation regarding formation, and specifically just what to do with marquee man Harry Kewell, Durakovic has finally settled on a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree shape, featuring a triple pivot in midfield, twin playmakers and a lone striker. This shape largely absolves the forward trio from defensive duties, but it also means they are relatively isolated in an offensive sense. Victory often attack with only three players and defend with seven, though when that trident consists of, respectively, the A-League's record goal scorer, a Johnny Warren medallist playmaker, and the greatest ever Australian football talent, it certainly gives opponents pause for thought.   

Durakovic has also stabilised his selection policy. Even though he has largely relegated Danny Allsopp, Solorzano, Rojas and Cernak to the roles of expensive bench warmers, Victory's line-up looks more robust in midfield. Durakovic has effectively switched from a single holder and five forwards to three holders and three forwards . 
Victory XI, with Heart arrayed in a possible back-four
The real tactical interest from this match however, will be provided almost entirely by John van't Schip, who has already displayed his credentials as the finest tactician in the A-League. Van't Schip has successfully utilised a wide variety of shapes and formations; even though he has largely stuck to a standard back-four, he employed a 3-3-1-3 against Adelaide, and a 3-4-3 against Central Coast, to great effect. These three-man backlines were effective because they were used against strike partnerships, allowing Heart to retain a spare man. 

Theoretically then, a three-man backline plus holder would work best against Durakovic's 4-3-2-1. The back three of Madaschi, Hamill and Good would mark Kewell and Thompson, with Hernandez closely watched by the holder, likely Shroj replacing the injured Germano. This would allow Heart to retain a spare man in defence.

This narrow three-man backline would be particularly effective against Victory, because the Navy Blues lack sources of width. When a side uses such a narrow shape, there is an expectation that the fullbacks will provide the majority of the width, but neither Fabio or Foschini are particularly effective in an offensive sense. Van't Schip then would be able to defend with four, and attack with six, particularly as none of the Victory's triple pivot, with the exception of Rojas who isn't a certainty to start, offer much offensively. 
Victory XI, with Heart arrayed in possible 3-3-1-3
But using a 3-3-1-3 with wingbacks, has the potential to leave trequartista Fred isolated in midfield, up against the physically imposing trio of Ferreira, Broxham and Brebner. In Behich and Marrone, Heart can lay claim to the best pair of fullbacks in the league, but both can be largely characterised by their energy, less than their passing ability. 
Victory XI with Heart arrayed in a possible 3-4-3
The 3-4-3 then would seem to be the best compromise. Heart would have a spare man in defence, match the Victory man-for-man in midfield, and have their forward trio against Victory's back-four. The only problem is that switching from wingbacks to carilleros (side midfielders in a diamond) is that the defensive responsibilities for the Navy Blue fullbacks would fall entirely on the Heart wingers; if Fabio or Foschini manage to beat Terra and Dugandzic, or if the Heart wingers are bypassed on the counter-attack, the Victory fullbacks would be allowed to advanced largely unencumbered. 

Conversely, though using Behich and Marrone as wingbacks would result in a lesser amount of midfielder passers, their energy and endeavour would allow them to effectively shuttle from central midfield, supporting Fred and the holder, to out-wide, doubling up on the Navy Blue fullbacks in the event the Heart wingers are bypassed on the counter. 

There's also the question of whether leaving Fabio and Foschini free is even dangerous. Even if both are allowed to advance, neither are particularly good crossers of the ball. And though Thompson and Kewell are far from being bad in the air, neither are target men who can offer a consistent aerial threat. So perhaps checking the advances of the Victory fullbacks shouldn't be an urgent consideration. 

The question of Heart's potential formation is just scratching the surface. A large factor of Van't Schip using 3-3-1-3 and 3-4-3 was the absence of crucial performers. Against Adelaide, Heart was without trequartista/regista Fred, and against Central Coast, Heart was without fullback/wingback Behich. In this match, van't Schip has a full deck of his big guns to choose from, meaning whichever formation he chooses, one of his stars will be forced out. 

So apart from the three or four man backline, and the wingbacks or narrow diamond issues, there are many others for Van't Schip to address. 

With Germano out injured, who will fulfill the holder role? Thompson is likely, even though bizarrely, he hasn't appeared in defensive midfield with any regularity, having been shifted between attacking midfield and central defence. Shroj was used in this role at the start of the season, but hasn't appeared in the starting XI for the past few weeks.

Will we continue to see Eli Babalj as a true striker, or will Alex Terra, who was amazing as a False Nine in the first Derby of this season, come into the XI? What effect will this choice have on Victory's defensive line? Recently, Victory have struggled trying to implement a more positive approach, which includes playing a higher defensive line. Terra as a False Nine with inverted wingers was very effective against Victory's high line in the last Derby, yet Babalj, by nature of him being a target-man, has provided a singular focal point to Heart's attack. Which approach will van't Schip favour? With Victory likely to start out with a high defensive line, theoretically Maycon the quick striker, or Terra as a quick striker rather than a False Nine would be the best approach, but again, neither have appeared in the XI for some weeks. 

Will we see inverted wingers, or true wide men? Perhaps a mixture of both? And which wingers? Williams or Worm? Terra or Maycon shifted out wide? Hoffman?

In recent matches, JVS has developed a very settled midfield destroyer/passer/creator trio of Germano/Thompson/Fred. Will this continue? (with Shroj replacing the injured Germano). Switching to a three-man backline will almost certainly result in the trio being broken up, and though it would theoretically work better defensively, would it be worth breaking up what has become a very successful part of Heart's line-up?

There are a myriad of possibilities confronting the Heart manager. All things considered, Heart are almost guaranteed to dominate possession in this fixture. But that was also true of the last derby, where Ante Covic performed marvellously, producing save-after-desperate-save, to keep the Heart attackers at bay. Will Durakovic temper his idealism, and revert to a deep defensive line, as Andre Villas Boas has for Chelsea?
Who will win? Only time will tell. But one thing's for sure; this match will be one for the ages. 


Anonymous said...

Fantastic as always to see some deep thought surrounding our beloved league!

Just a tiny nit-picking issue: Wayne Srhoj is spelt s-r-h-o-j as in sir hoj.

Keep up the fantastic work and looking forward to reading your dissection of the result.

kinnibari said...

I was looking forward to the post match analysis but it's a pleasant bonus to get pre-match speculation!