The fourth Sydney Derby went west, with Western Sydney Wanderers defeating Sydney FC 2-0. Over 40,000 fans packed into the Sydney Football Stadium, and the spectacle in the stands certainly bettered what happened on the pitch. It was the Sky Blue fans who went home disappointed after another substandard performance. Neither side offered an enthralling brand of football, and the match was broken up with niggly fouls.
Sydney FC was coming off the back of a 4-0 loss to Brisbane Roar. The score line was made worse by the fact that both Alessandro Del Piero and Pedj Bojic picked up knocks, which kept them out of the derby fixture. Tiago Calvano came in for Bojic, which meant Sebastian Ryall moved to right back. Mitchell Mallia replaced Del Piero, which resulted in Richard Garcia starting in a central attacking role.
Sydney FC made one more change, with Rhyan Grant returning to make his first start of the season in place of Matt Thompson in central midfield. Sydney FC moved to a 4-2-3-1 formation, which saw Nick Carle move into a more advanced role.
Western Sydney Wanderers made just one change from their 1-1 draw with Wellington Phoenix, but it was a familiar line up nonetheless. Iacopo La Rocca started in place of Aaron Mooy, who sustained a concussion against the Phoenix, and bar new recruit Tomi Juric, it was a very familiar 4-2-3-1 team for the Wanderers.
Last week Farina was left to lament his side’s defending from set pieces, and Leopold Method looked at how their calamitous defending from a corner resulted in a second and decisive goal for Brisbane Roar. Seeing goals conceded from set pieces is becoming a regular occurrence for Sydney FC fans. For Iacopo La Rocca’s opener, large portions of the crowd were either engrossed or dismayed by the small pyrotechnics display going on in the RBB – and perhaps some Sydney FC players were too.
Shinji Ono’s delivery was sublime, and La Rocca’s headed finish marked Sydney’s third set piece goal conceded this season, and the 24th in 29 games.
Leopold Method’s Joe Gorman wrote for The Guardian Australia about Sydney FC’s identity crisis, and perhaps this performance was another sign of Sydney’s struggle for direction.
Much of Sydney FC’s pre-season was spent talking about a new style of play, with the focus on a proactive, possession based game. Rado Vidosic was a key backroom recruit and promoted the new style of play, declaring he wanted to “change everything about Sydney FC”. Sydney FC looked to play out from the back and defend high up the park in pre-season, and whilst results were poor, Sydney FC was working towards a certain way of playing. With the new style of play, Nick Carle was deployed as the deepest midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation for much of the pre-season campaign.
Yet in both Round One and Round Two, Sydney FC defended deeper and allowed their opponents to see the majority of possession, with mixed results. There also was little sign of the pre-season persistence with playing out from the back.
After just two matches, Frank Farina said that Carle would be returned to his more familiar position as an attacking “Number 10” for the derby. This was perhaps due to the absence of Del Piero, who is the key attacking player for Sydney FC, but nevertheless, it is perhaps telling of the club’s struggles. An entire pre-season was spent attempting to play a certain way, but it is one that has rarely been seen so far after three rounds.
The move to a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Nick Carle in a more attacking role, was meant to allow Carle to have more of an impact in the final third. A combination of sloppy passes, and a compact Wanderers’ defensive unit, resulted in Carle’s influence being minimised.
Carle was often forced wide to receive possession and to link up with teammates. Only three times did he receive a pass, and only once did he attempt a pass in Zone 14 – the key creative zone and the space where traditional number 10s often have joy.
On almost every occasion in which Carle receive the ball in Zone 14, he was forced backwards or sideways due to the Wanderers’ compact midfield, and their tenacious pressure on the ball.
Shinji Ono Example
Rather ironically, the one pass Carle attempted in Zone 14 was one in which he was forced backwards after being pressured by two Wanderers players. His pass backwards to Warren resulted in a meek shot on target from long distance, and was Sydney’s only shot on target in the match.
Wanderers’ Right Side
Last season Western Sydney had a clear right-sided bias when going forward, and this has continued into the new season. Considering the fact that crossing is one of the main sources of balls into the penalty box, last season nearly two-thirds of the Wanderers’ crosses came from the right.
Here, the combination of Youssouf Hersi and Jerome Polenz, as well as Shinji Ono, was too much to handle for Marc Warren.
Warren was not fantastic. He frequently conceded possession, and was caught out by Western Sydney’s lethal counter attacks on the right. But he was not helped at times by Mallia, and Sydney’s midfield, who struggled with their defensive shape; which resulted in Warren being often isolated in 1v1 or 1v2 situations.
With Mallia struggling to deal with the marauding runs of Polenz, and Warren isolated against Hersi, Ali Abbas frequently moved across to support his left back in defence. In effect, this left Sydney short of numbers in front of the centre backs, and was a factor in Shinji Ono’s goal.
By the time the teams came out for the second half, already three substitutions had been made. Rhyan Grant, who was making his first start of the season, came off with a serious knee injury, and was replaced by Matt Thompson in the 40th minute. Western Sydney and Sydney FC also made one half time substitution each, with Youssouf Hersi and Mitchell Mallia replaced by Brendon Santalab and Yairo Yau respectively. The changes resulted in little change to the shape of both teams, each substitution was like-for-like.
The second half again lack any real quality, and Sydney FC struggled to break down the Wanderers’ compact unit. Sydney FC and Nick Carle again struggled to create any meaningful chances in central positions, and were forced to attack in wide areas where they struggled with predictable movement patterns.
As Mark Rudan mentioned during Fox Sport’s coverage of the match, Western Sydney’s fullbacks and midfield would hound the ball carrier forcing them backwards, and in effect, Sydney’s wide play was similar to Newcastle Jets’ in Round One – with the wide players forced backwards.
Perhaps in typical derby fashion, the match was broken up by fouls and sloppy play. 39 fouls in total, as well as nine yellow cards, prevented the game from breaking into a quality, free-flowing football match. But there was still a visible pattern – with Western Sydney conceding the majority of possession as they almost always do, and frustrating Sydney FC with their exceptional defensive unit.
Western Sydney’s performance was efficient, and they created a number of goal scoring opportunities on the counter attack, as we came to expect from them last season.
Whereas Sydney FC too were reminiscent of last season, with inconsistent performances and defensive issues. Any talk of a footballing revolution are on pause for the moment, and a difficult away trip to Perth ensues.
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