Marcelo Carrusca laid on two assists in a straightforward win for Adelaide United over Sydney FC.

The starting line-ups

The starting line-ups

Teams

Although Osama Malik was ruled out with a training injury, this was close to Adelaide’s strongest side. Michael Zullo was back in his usual left-back role, with Sergio Cirio ahead of him on that same flank and Carrusca at the top of midfield.

Frank Farina restored Alessandro Del Piero to his left-sided role in Sydney’s 4-3-3 after injury kept him out of last week’s draw with Brisbane Roar, meaning Alec Urosevski switched over to the right. Sebastian Ryall continued at right-back and Sydney kept with their recent trend of playing four centre-backs together in defence.

Sydney were never really in a contest as Adelaide dominated through their effective, attacking possession.

Opening moments

At the start, Sydney had a few half-chances when winning the ball high up the pitch and attacking quickly, largely because Adelaide were uncharacteristically sloppy with their passing. Gradually the home side began to dominate possession, working the ball forward into good attacking positions.

Isaias, who was playing central, never really had anyone pressuring him on the ball. He always looked to keep his passing positive and finished the game as the highest passer. 

There were two obvious areas of strength for the home side. Firstly, Cirio was repeatedly skipping past Ryall’s challenges down the left. His first cross saw Fabio Ferreira nearly tap in at the far post (it’s worth noting, too, in Adelaide’s system, when one winger has the ball down the side, the other always comes into the penalty to become an extra goal threat).

Secondly, Ferreira was looking dangerous when receiving both balls to feet and into space. Due to Del Piero’s negligible defensive effort, Adelaide’s right-sided players – Tarek Elrich, right-back, and Jon McKain, the right-sided centre-back – to hit easy forward balls to Ferreira. Early in the match, Ferreira easily beat Matthew Jurman for pace in a 1v1 and had acres of space to attack, eventually winning a corner. Then, he had a shot from wide in the penalty area that Vedran Janjetovic calmly caught at the near post. Later, Elrich got forward unmarked and hit a powerful shot high over the bar.

Opening goal

The first goal came from a quick counter-attack, and was directly related to Sydney’s odd player rotation in midfield.

As you can see in the video, Hagi Gligor, the deepest of the midfield trio, drops close to the centre-backs but is easily picked up by Carrusca, while Ali Abbas has moved wide to the left to allow Del Piero inside. Terry Antonis, the right-sided central midfielder, is not even in the shot.

This leaves Nikola Petkovic with no short passing option, so he attempts a long straight ball to Richard Garcia, who drops off from striker, but is dispossessed. Adelaide quickly attacks, as Ferreira is played in behind with a simple assist from Carrusca, and he cooly finishes past Janjetovic.

Adelaide continue to attack

After the goal the two patterns discussed previously (Cirio and Ferreira creating attacks in wide positions) were still prominent. Cirio had a number of opportunities to cross low into the area, with Ryall jockeying him into deep, penalty-box positions.

The key player was Carrusca, who darted into pockets of space either side of his nominal marker (Gligor), constantly getting on the ball and bringing the wide players into attack.

It is worth comparing Carrusca’s movement here with Shinji Ono’s in the last Sydney Derby; where the latter was guilty of being too static and thus was easily picked up by Gligor. Here Carrusca was constantly losing Gligor with slippery, lateral movement towards the sides.

Carrusca passes received and passes completed v Sydney

When Carrusca moved towards the flanks, his position in midfield was taken up by Bruce Djite dropping in between the lines to maintain a numerical advantage through the centre. Without this, it might have been difficult for Cameron Watson and Isaias to work the ball forward.

It is interesting how, despite the obvious differences in physique, style, and indeed, stereotypes, that Djite and Harry Kewell (in last week’s 2-2 draw with Wellington) are effectively playing the same ‘false 9’ role for their sides. They both drop short in front of the centre-backs, helping to draw defenders players out of position and open up space out wide.

Djite’s shown he is much more than a basic target-man this season, and has adapted intelligently to Josep Gombau’s possession-based system with clever movement at centre-forward, and excellent use of his body to shield and help retain the ball.

Sydney attacks

Sydney struggled to build coherent moves. Del Piero was barely involved, and had one decent shot from the edge of the area. Urosevski is clearly more comfortable attacking space rather than opponents but rarely got balls played on the run. Sydney’s most common pattern was to hit long, cross-field balls towards Garcia (with Ryall overlapping beyond him to collect second balls), but these always felt unambitious and produced little result.

Sydney’s problems were excaberated by the aforementioned curious rotation of the midfield trio into positions that made it difficult for the side to work the ball forward. Abbas’ role down the left to facilitate and complement Del Piero is obvious. But it was not clear why Antonis kept dropping to wide, right-sided positions next to Sasa Ognenovski, especially when Gligor was being marked closely by Carrusca. Whenever Sydney’s centre-backs had possession, they had very few passing options, and Ognenovski was often forced into sideways or long passes – the lack of penetration was frustratingly obvious.

Progression

Adelaide’s second goal was another counter-attack. Sydney are dispossessed inside Adelaide’s half, and Carrusca simply carries the ball forward to lead a 4v3 break, and gets fortunate with his pass to Cirio, who finishes across the keeper.

Farina reacted to that goal with a double change, swapping Garcia and Urosevski for Joel Chianese and Corey Gameiro, in what was effectively a pair of like-for-like swaps. Gameiro went central, and Chianese replicated Urosevski’s role in making outside-to-in runs from the right.

Having been forced into replacing the injured McKain with Michael Marrone just before the half-time break, Gombau was fairly conservative with his substitutions. Jeronimo replaced Cirio on the left around the hour mark, while Jordan Elsey was a late change for Zullo.

Sydney got a goal back through Matt Thompson (who replaced Del Piero, with Abbas moving wide left) bursting onto Gameiro’s chested flick-on, but with two fortunate deflections, that was luck more than anything. Later, Adelaide added a third when Djite got the better of Ognenovski on the turn.

End notes

Adelaide scored twice from counter-attacks, but this victory was indebted to their possession. They controlled the game for long periods, particularly in the first half, and because of Sydney’s lack of intensity in the defensive phase, were able to create a number of chances through the wide players.

Carrusca was the key player, exploiting Gligor with clever movement in between the lines. In defence he was also important in picking up Gligor without the ball, he prevented Sydney’s forward passing options, which directly lead to the opening goal.

Farina said post-match the first two goals were “direct mistakes from us…. from poor turnovers, either bad control of the ball or bad passing.” It is true, but it is also an admission he is not doing his job well. After all, it is the system, with the player rotation out of midfield, that is putting players in those awkward position. That, combined with a lack of incisiveness and imagination going forward, does not put Farina in a good light.

 

WORDS | Tim Palmer (@timhpal)

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