Perth Glory produced an utterly dominant display against Melbourne City on Sunday evening. It was one in which they controlled proceedings in both the offensive and defensive phases of the game, and although City hit two late consolation goals to make the final score a more respectable 3-2, that did little to mask the brilliance attached to Perth’s performance.

Their front two of Diego Castro and Andy Keogh were crucial, as they have been throughout much of Perth’s resurgence, to the victory with their constant use of the channels a particular highlight against a strangely subdued City.

For City manager John van ‘t Schip there was little left to do but describe his side’s performance as “disappointing,” something which was apparent even from the outset.

City’s 4-4-2

In recent weeks Melbourne City have made use of a 4-4-2 formation. At times it has worked really well for them, especially during a recent 3-1 win over Brisbane Roar, but it wasn’t quite as effective against Perth Glory.

In terms of shape, City were much the same as in recent games. Aaron Mooy partnered Osama Malik in the middle of the park while Anthony Caceres and Nick Fitzgerald lined up on the left and right flanks respectively. Harry Novillo and Bruno Fornaroli operated up front, but despite this offensive configuration, City struggled desperately to get any sort of possession play going. “The first half especially we weren’t there. It was very average,” City centre-back Alex Wilkinson lamented. “We couldn’t keep the ball and couldn’t string passes together.”

This was partly due to Perth, who had an extra man in midfield and were therefore better equipped to hold onto the ball, but they also used that extra man to good effect defensively. Indeed it allowed Glory to ensure that both Malik and Mooy were tightly marked when City attempted to play out from the back, and as a consequence of this, the Melbourne-based side were regularly forced into more speculative long balls.

Note how Mooy, Malik and City’s back four are covered, so Sorensen goes long

There was some method to this approach from van‘t Schip and his players, as instead of simply hoofing the ball up towards Novillo and Fornaroli and hoping that something would eventuate, they did try to get the wingers into very advanced positions as well. This meant that they had a decent presence at the fall of the ball to feed off any knockdowns but it was nonetheless a pretty haphazard way of playing. There didn’t seem to be a genuine fluency or structure to City’s entry into the final third, and when combined with Perth’s ability to fight hard and secure the second ball, City were so ordinary in the first half that they failed to even muster a single shot on target.

Castro and Keogh

Perth were exceptional at regaining possession, especially when compared to their City counterparts, and this is something illustrated by the statistics. Whereas City only recorded nine tackles for the match Glory tripled that figure with 27. Whereas City only managed to win 31 duels over the 90 minutes, Perth powered their way to 59. This was in stark contrast to City’s 5-1 victory over Glory earlier in the season, something which occurred predominantly due to Perth’s extraordinarily loose central midfield unit. That night, Perth lined up with Castro, Michael Thwaite and Nebojsa Marinkovic in the middle of the pitch but since an impressive January transfer window they have become a much better side. Things were therefore different this time around and guys like Krystian Vadocz and defender Shane Lowry ensured a far more physical and organised performance.

City manager van ‘t Schip spoke to this in the post-match. “They [Perth] were on top,” he said. “They were more aggressive winning every second ball and more dangerous going forward.” In a lot of ways, Glory’s ability to win the ball back was the thing that allowed them to be so dangerous in attack, as it provided them with a platform. They would regain possession in defence and then, without much hesitation, look to get the ball into the feet of either Keogh or Castro.

The pair have been instrumental in Perth’s climb back up the ladder as they tend to turn defence into attack quite quickly. They enable Kenny Lowe’s team to be lethal in transition and what was apparent against City was how often they used the channels to good effect. Keogh was particularly keen to do this, something he showcased time and time again by running both in behind and into the vacant spaces out wide. He used the aggression of City’s fullbacks against them, charging into the spaces behind them in order to receive a quick pass from one of his teammates and this caused a lot of problems for the opposition.

This was obvious even from the outset as just five minutes into the match Keogh sprinted in behind, down the left-hand side, during one of Glory’s counter-attacks. Nebojsa Marinkovic swiftly slid the ball into his path, and after bringing it under control and assessing his options, Keogh played a cutback for Castro. The dynamic Spaniard took it well, swivelling beyond a defender and shooting at goal. His attempt would end up well wide of the target but this was just a sign of things to come for City.

In fact the combination of Keogh’s crossing and movement would have a huge say in the contest. Fifty-two minutes in he would notice Castro dropping deep into midfield, something that would attract the attentions of City left-back Ben Garuccio. Keogh would take advantage of Garuccio’s move towards Castro, spinning in behind along the right-hand side. Two passes later Keogh would have the ball in that exact location, and though Garuccio recovered to get back into his usual defensive position, Risdon’s untracked run along the flank would keep the young defender occupied. That left Keogh with the room to cross for Richard Garcia, but despite a decent piece of distribution, the ball would only skim off the head of Garcia.

Still Perth’s ability to work the ball into the channels was becoming crucial, and not just in counter-attacking situations either. More generally Glory would look to create overloads along the flanks. Keogh and Castro were again key to this process, regularly pulling wide to assist their wing-based teammates in generating an opening. Eventually this would bring about a breakthrough as Keogh would drop to the right to bring a Joshua Risdon header under control. Garuccio would then be drawn towards Keogh, something which allowed Garcia to drift in behind the City fullback.

Garcia would then receive a pass and City centre-back Patrick Kisnorbo would drift out to the flank in order to track him. At the same time Castro started to make his way over to the wing, and when Kisnorbo’s partner in central defence Wilkinson moved to mark the Spaniard, Perth had just about sucked all of City’s defenders out towards the touchline. Glory central midfielder Gyorgy Sandor would take advantage of this, charging through the centre of the pitch and into the area. Garcia would then play a pass back to Keogh, and once the Irishman clipped a ball into Sandor, the Glory No. 7 would apply the finish to make it 2-0.

This was indicative of Perth’s ability to use the flanks effectively and it would also be the catalyst for a fairly significant change to van ‘t Schip’s structure.

City’s shape shifting

After struggling to get anything going in the first half City made their first alteration. They moved away from the 4-4-2 at the start of the second period and instead lined up in a 4-3-3. In this configuration Anthony Caceres slotted into central midfield while Harry Novillo, previously a centre forward, took his place on the left-hand side. The move worked to some degree, largely due to the fact that Caceres and Mooy were now closer to one another, which allowed them to link up more effectively. Unfortunately the change didn’t exactly stop Perth’s progress out wide, and once City went 2-0 down, van ‘t Schip dug deep into his tactical notebook in order to spark something.

He didn’t just change City’s shape, which morphed from a 4-3-3 into more of a 3-4-1-2, but he also shifted Kisnorbo from one end of the pitch to the other. In this format Kisnorbo joined Fornaroli up front, presumably to give City a route-one option, while Novillo tucked into the No. 10 position. Behind the front three Fitzgerald and Franjic operated as wingbacks, Mooy and substitute Paulo Retre played in the holding roles and in a back three Malik, Wilkinson and Garuccio rounded things out.

The whole thing felt a little bizarre but Perth didn’t seem to mind. Keogh kept on running the channels, and after he was involved in the production of a one-on-one shooting opportunity for Castro in the 70th minute, he then moved to close things out in the 71st. Here Perth kicked off yet another breakaway, this time through Risdon. He ran towards City’s makeshift back three, and as Keogh started to accelerate along the right, the Socceroos fullback released him. Keogh then surged towards goal and, after spotting Castro, hit a first-time cross. The pass gently floated into the path of the ex-Getafe man, something which allowed him take the ball out of the air with a ripping volley. It soon arrowed in at the far post, and though most will remember what was arguably the finest strike of the A-League season, it’s worth pointing out that Perth’s continued use of the channels brought about the opportunity.

The goal led to yet another reshuffle from van ‘t Schip as he removed Kisnorbo, brought on Marc Marino and moved to an aggressive 4-4-2. The change in shape did assist City, as it allowed the Melbourne-based side to score a couple of late consolation goals, but they seemed to result more from individual quality than anything else. In both cases Mooy had to produce exquisite through balls to create the chances while up the other end Perth continued to generate opportunities as well.

The match was an end-to-end affair at its conclusion, at which point Perth had clearly deserved to go home with the three points.

Conclusion

While the scoreline was probably tighter than it should have been, Perth still supplied an excellent performance. They bettered City in both phases of the game and the only negative attached to their display was the fact that they probably should’ve put away a few more of their 24 shots on goal.

For City, meanwhile, there wasn’t too much to be pleased about. The defensive solidity they’ve managed to achieve in recent weeks completely deserted them and in attack as well they didn’t really get anything going until they were 3-0 down. How van ‘t Schip opts to respond to this will be interesting, as he is a coach who isn’t scared of changing his system when required. “We have to pick up the pieces,” he noted.

All in all though the evening belonged to Perth. They produced a thoroughly assured performance in front of 14,504 fans at NIB Stadium, their best home attendance in three seasons. Things are therefore looking good for Glory, and as the A-League title race continues to become more and more difficult to predict, there’s no reason to think that they can’t have a say in the finals.