Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar shared the points at Allianz Stadium, despite Brisbane playing with 10 men for 50 minutes after Besart Berisha’s dismissal.




Sydney FC made three changes to the side that beat Western Sydney Wanderers last week. Ranko Despotovic’s knee injury gave Corey Gameiro the opportunity to return to the starting line-up. That meant Richard Garcia moved into the central attacking role with Gameiro slotting in on the right wing, whilst Sebastian Ryall came in for Aaron Calver at right back. Alessandro Del Piero, whose defensive duties came into question last week was not in the squad and was replaced by Alec Urosevski.

Mike Mulvey was also forced into changes after last week’s 2-1 win over Adelaide.  Ivan Franjic and Jade North succumbed to injury which allowed Jack Hingert and Corey Brown to come into the side in the fullback roles. Shane Stefanutto moved into an unfamiliar central defensive role as a result of the changes.

Familiar Brisbane

Australian football fans have become accustomed to seeing Brisbane Roar play an attractive, possession based game. The philosophy implemented by Ange Postecoglou has brought the club three titles and, despite a dip last season, they are in a familiar position and playing the most attractive brand of football in the competition.

Brisbane have been so good, so consistently at controlling the ball and dominating games that it has become a regular sight to see their opponents adopt a more defensive approach to try to stop them. The opposition show Brisbane great respect and Sydney FC’s strategy here was no different.

Sydney, as they did in the Round 2 fixture, sat back in a 4-5-1 formation with the wingers dropping into midfield. The strategy was to frustrate Brisbane when in possession before counter attacking into the space left in behind the back line.

In order to break down a team that sits back, a familiar task for Brisbane, they looked to be patient in possession and use their player rotations and vertical passing in order to unlock defences. Brisbane have a ‘total football’ approach to playing, something Leopold Method analyst Riccardo Marchioli looked into:

“…an approach that contains established areas or positions but allows a free-flowing exchange of roles, trusting that any gaps are covered, and those moving into new areas understand the tasks required of them in that situation. Knowing how to utilize depth, width (space) and weight of numbers (volume), one has a greater chance of overwhelming an opposition, and is reminiscent of the overwhelming power of releasing amassed water into a small area. This is an attitude which better reflects and utilizes the liquidity of football, an approach some might call ‘total football’.”

Brisbane, rather than sticking rigidly to a formation or particular patterns of play look to work on the principles of quick ball and player movement to break down the opposition’s deep defensive line. As addressed after the Round 2 fixture, Brisbane look to do this by having players position themselves in pockets of space in between Sydney defenders and in between the lines.

Brisbane's patterns

An example of the types of player and ball movements used by Brisbane

By doing this, Brisbane are able to move the ball forwards and backwards and across the pitch, drawing opposition players out of a particular space whilst another Brisbane player moves into that space. By repeatedly doing this and having players moving fluidly to occupy spaces in pockets of space, Brisbane was able to trouble Sydney FC.

Sydney look to Counter

With Sydney conceding the ball and allowing Brisbane to come onto them, space opened up in behind Brisbane Roar’s backline. Sydney looked to exploit this space by focused their counter-attacks down the wings, with the speed of Gameiro and Urosevski a potential threat.

line balls

Sydney FC’s forward passing in the first half

Despite the clear tactic and the space available in behind, Sydney’s execution when counter-attacking was poor. As seen above, in the first half, Sydney only completed 51.5 per cent of their forward passes. A lot of the ‘red’ passes are longer passes straight up the line or seeking to exploit that space in behind Brisbane’s fullbacks.

Examples of Errors in Transition


In frame one Hagi Gligor intercepted a vertical pass from Luke Brattan. Brisbane’s fullback, Hingert, was so far advanced up the pitch he was out of camera shot. Urosevski had a clear space in which to transition into.

However, when he received the pass he did so with his right foot, meaning he was facing backwards. This meant he had to take an extra touch in order to face forward, giving Hingert (circled, orange) time to recover partially.

By frame three, Hingert had full recovered and was able to pressure Urosevski. Instead of taking on the fullback in a 1-v-1 situation, Urosevski decided to cut back inside which again slowed Sydney’s transition and allowed Brisbane to recover their defensive structure.


Shortly after the first example, Sydney again intercepted a vertical pass from Brattan in midfield. Again, there was clear space for the wingers to transition into. Terry Antonis, the player who intercepted the pass played a first time pass into Ali Abbas.

However (frame two) Abbas’s first touch was one that took him into the pressure which was being applied by Brattan and two other Brisbane players.

By the time he wriggled free of the pressure (frame three), Brisbane’s fullbacks had recovered. Abbas was unable to retain possession and a seemingly simple pass to the advancing Matt Jurman went straight out of play.

Second Half

In the second half, it was a battle of 10 v 11 men, however Brisbane were still the dominant side. Whilst they were unable to control the ball as much as in the first half, Brisbane were still able to see 56.7 per cent of the football in the second half.

For Sydney, when they had controlled spells of possession in deep areas there were examples of problems raised by Leopold Method during preseason. Despite having a man advantage, Sydney struggled to play the ball through the middle of midfield, instead focusing on attacking down the flanks as they had done in the first half.

Example One:


Gligor received the ball with space in midfield and could face forward. He looked forward for a central passing option but his only central passing option (Antonis) was already moving wide to execute a pre-rehearsed player rotation pattern. His other central midfielder, Abbas, was static on the left wing after restarting the play and made no effort to move centrally to show for the ball. This forced Gligor backwards to his central defender.


Antonis was able to rotate with Sebastian Ryall at right fullback and receive from Sasa Ognenovski, but as demonstrated by the red rectangle, there are no Sky Blue shirts in the middle of the park.


When Antonis received and faced forward, Gameiro was a central passing option but Antonis motioned for a forward run up the line (something instructed by assistant manager Rado Vidosic at half time). When Antonis’s forward options were static, he was forced backwards.


A final illustration of Sydney FC’s midfield trio

Example Two:


With Ognenovksi on the ball, Gligor dropped deep in between the two centre backs. Antonis was wide on the right and was moving inside, whilst Abbas was moving wide on the left to rotate with Jurman at left back. When Nikola Petkovic received the ball, there was no central passing option in midfield and he was forced to go long (Sydney FC won the second ball).

Sydney’s average player position tells the story of their inability to gain traction in midfield.

average positions


Much of the post-match discussion has focused on the red card to Besart Berisha and understandably so. Whether the decision was correct or incorrect, the red card changed the game.

Sydney looked to sit back and shut the game down when it was 11 v 11 and, whilst they opened up slightly more in the second half, they struggled to create chances from open play.

Brisbane, despite going down to 10-men, continued to play their usual game. Such is the vertical nature of their play, regardless of the fact they played with 10-men for 50 minutes, over the course of the match Brisbane completed more forward passes (235) than Sydney FC did of any kind in the entire match (224). With a nine point buffer and four games remaining, the Premiership is all but secured.


Kate Cohen is nominated for FFDU Fan Awards ‘Young Football Writer of the Year (U25)’ and ‘Football Writer of the Year (Digital)’. You can vote for Kate by clicking here


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