Despite what the scoreline might suggest, the top of the table clash between Brisbane and Western Sydney, was a tight entertaining encounter that FFA would have hoped to see on Friday night free-to-air television.
Brisbane were boosted by the returns of Matthew McKay and Ivan Franjic from Socceroos duty, and Bersart Berisha returned from injury. Unsurprisingly all three were brought straight into the starting line up as Brisbane continued with their 4-3-3 formation.
Wanderers made only one change from last week’s 1-0 win over Melbourne Victory with Mateo Poljak prefered to Iacopo La Rocca in midfield.
Brisbane dominate early
Perhaps the most surprising tactical move for both sides was Wanderers defending in a medium block. As pointed out in last week’s review of pressing in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Wanderers look to press high up the pitch to force the opposition defence in turnovers.
In this game, Wanderers appeared to set up in a medium block, allowing Brisbane to switch the ball from side-to-side in their defensive third as they looked to move the ball up the field. This was exemplified with Brisbane’s two central defenders completing 20 of their 35 passes to each other in the opening 27 minutes.
The reasoning behind this change is unclear. Ultimately it backfired, as Brisbane’s ball movement and interchanging of positions combined to break down Wanderer’s defence and create the opening goal.
A large reason for Brisbane’s dominance, as seen in their opening goal, was the movement of Thomas Broich and Bersart Berisha. Broich would constantly move inward from the left wing to take on the role of a #10 (and a fourth central midfield player), helping Brisbane move the ball past Shinji Ono and Brandon Santalab, and into the middle third. This would often see Wanderers’ midfield pushing further up the pitch to try and stop him from turning on the ball. As a result, Berisha was able to move into the space behind Poljak and Mooy to receive the ball into the final third.
Berisha’s Defensive Positioning
Tim Palmer’s analysis of the Wanderers 1-0 win over Melbourne made note of Wanderers maintaining a new attacking philosophy of controlling a match through possession, maintaining long spells in deep positions.
It seems as though Brisbane took this into account with their preparation, as Besart Berisha, well known for his ability to chase defenders relentlessly whilst pressing, was clearly given a different role to shut down this feature of Wanderers’ game.
Berisha would consistently place himself between the two central defenders and rather than putting pressure on the player with the ball. He would force the player in possession to try and play the ball forward into the minefield of Brisbane’s well organised defence.
As a result Wanderers’ two central defenders (Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Matthew Spiranovic) had significantly less passes to each other compared to what has been seen in previous weeks.
Wanderers switch to a high block
After conceding a second goal there was a clear change in Wanderers’ defensive structure. This could have been the players chasing the game after being two goals down or an instruction from the coaching staff. Wanderers returned to a high block and their immediate pressure on Brisbane’s defence resulted in a goal for Santalab.
The game changed from this point with Wanderers maintaining large spells of possession, and Brisbane struggling to play the ball out of the back. However, Wanderers were very wasteful in front of goal, managing only 3 shots on target from 15 attempts.
As the game progressed many of the same themes seen in the first half repeated, and perhaps disappointingly, Wanderers did not make any major structural changes to try and get back into the game. They continued to create scoring opportunities but clearly missed the attacking quality of Tom Juric, Youssouf Hersi, and the forced injury substitution of Ono. In the end, a brilliant individual goal from Brisbane’s substitute, Kwame Yeboah, sealed the victory for Brisbane.
Brisbane’s movement off the ball is by far the best in the A-League. Many teams have players interchange position or have wide players move inwards to allow space for fullbacks to overlap. Brisbane’s players have built such a strong understanding overtime that there is continuous movement from all attacking players across the pitch. This impressive movement and fluidity has reached a level that conceivably has not been seen before in the A-League, and justifiably sees Brisbane move back to top of the league.
It is unclear if Wanderers’ medium block was a tactical decision or perhaps a result of a ‘slow start’ from the players. It gave Brisbane the space and time to build their attacks, and eventually create the goal scoring opportunities needed to win the game.
Kevin Muscat was criticized as being tactically naïve for not making any structural changes in Melbourne’s loss to Sydney FC. It should be noted that the same criticism has not been applied to Popovic, after he too stuck with his philosophy, and walked away with no points. It raises the question whether a coach should change their structure if they are losing, despite still creating chances? It will be interesting to see how both coaches develop if similar situations arise in the future.
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