Tactical Analysis: Sydney Derby

The second instalment of the Sydney Derby saw honours go west, as Western Sydney Wanderers defeated Sydney FC 2-0. Shinji Ono was a stand out for the Wanderers as they created chance after chance, whilst Sydney FC struggled to impose themselves on the game.

4-2-3-1 vs. 4-2-3-1

Both teams, on paper, lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation, although in application they were completely different. Western Sydney Wanderers had Shinji Ono as their ‘Number 10’, tasked with dropping into space, picking up the ball and creating; whereas Sydney FC’s ‘Number 10’ was Rhyan Grant. Grant was there to provide energy and to support Blake Powell.

When you look at both players passing chalkboards, it is clear to see the differing roles.

Grant’s Passing Distribution

Ono’s Passing Distribution

How did Ono find so much Space?

Sydney FC has struggled to defend against a true ‘Number 10’ this season, facing similar problems when defending against Tom Rogic of the Central Coast Mariners.

The team has two problems:

  • The ‘6’ and ‘8’ pressing forward
  • The defensive line being too deep.

The midfield duo of Terry Antonis and Jason Culina would move forward to cut down the time on the ball that La Rocca and Poljak would have. This left Ono free, and with the defensive line too deep, he continued to find space in dangerous areas. With Ono finding space, Sydney FC now began defending reactively, meaning the midfielders had to turn and recover their positions. Central defenders had to make the decision to either: a) step out from the back line to close the space, leaving holes in the defensive line; or, b) retreat and maintain the defensive line but allow Ono to turn and face forward.

The build-up to Youssef Hersi’s goal was a perfect example of this.

Nikolai Topor-Stanley had the ball and looked forward, passing to La Rocca. As the ball was travelling to La Rocca, Terry Antonis charged forward to press the ball. This left a huge space in behind the midfield for Joey Gibbs and Shinji Ono to work in. La Rocca played an ‘around the corner’ pass which fell to Gibbs. Gibbs then played a first time pass to Ono. The Wanderers player movement was an example of perfect training ground work.

Pascal Bosschaart stepped forward to close Ono and Hersi, as they raced in behind into the space left in Sydney’s back line. Polenz then ran into the space on the right-wing, as Ono moved the ball wide. From there, the second ball from Polenz’s cross fell to Hersi, who turned to shoot, to make it 1-0.

Another illustration of such space was in the second half, with Ono finding space in between four Sydney FC players, causing defensive confusion.

Grant and Antonis, were matching up against Western Sydney’s midfielders Poljak and Mooy, leaving Ono free. In a space approximately 20 metres by 20 metres, Ono stood motioning for the ball. As he did so, Adam Griffiths stepped out from defence. As soon as he did that, Gibbs sprinted in behind Griffiths. Griffiths received a shout and retreated to cover the run of Gibbs; Ono then received the ball, turned in space and ran at the Sydney defence.

Wanderers Defensive Shape, Forcing Sydney FC long

Once up 1-0, Western Sydney was comfortable with Sydney FC having possession. Instead, they dropped back into their structured shape and frustrated their opponents. Shannon Cole and Hersi would drop back and tuck in, creating two banks of four. Shinji Ono and Gibbs defending as a pair up front.

Ono and Gibbs sat in front of Culina and Antonis, closing down Bosschaart and Griffith’s passing options into midfield. This forced the Sydney FC defenders to play long passes, which played into the hands of the Wanderers. Blake Powell was never going to win aerial duels against Michael Beauchamp and Topor-Stanley.

Griffiths’ Inaccurate Passes

Bosschaart’s Inaccurate Passes


Sydney FC struggled to create any goal-scoring opportunities and the substitutions – Abbas on for Yau, Del Piero on for Culina (Grant therefore moving deeper) and Reid on for Grant – didn’t increase Sydney’s potency in attack. By contrast, the Wanderers substitutions created problems for the Sydney defence, with Mooy’s range of passing helping change the point of attack. Minniecon added lightening pace for the counter-attacks, and Kresinger was an aerial threat.

Second Goal, Game Over

This goal came from the second phase of a corner, with Michael Beauchamp ghosting in at the back post to finish and make it 2-0. Sebastian Ryall, who was tasked with marking Beauchamp, was guilty of ball watching in the first phase of the corner. This allowed Beauchamp to wrap around to the back post. The initial ball was cleared and Sydney FC stepped out. When the second ball came in Terry Antonis (who was initially on the back post) was then guilty of ball watching, allowing Beauchamp to run free.

With the score 2-0, the game was effectively over, as the Wanderers’ sat back and remained disciplined. Such was the mentality of coach Tony Popovic, you could hear him late in the game barking orders at Shannon Cole to drop into his defensive shape when they didn’t have possession.


It was a much deserved win by Western Sydney Wanderers. They exploited Sydney’s weaknesses when defending against a ‘Number 10’, with Ono finding space in front of the back four and dictating the game. Western Sydney also remained disciplined throughout, and didn’t give Sydney FC any opportunity to get back in. The defensive shape of a 4-4-2 (with Ono and Gibbs forming the ‘2’) prevented Sydney from playing through midfield, thus restricting the chances they could create.

The second goal was scored, and the result was put beyond doubt. Western Sydney Wanderers played the game out and defeated their local rivals.

With Sydney FC winning the first instalment, and Western Sydney winning here, we have to wait until March to see who will win bragging rights in the Sydney Derby.

Kate Cohen

Kate is a freelance football writer for Leopold Method. She has also written for the Guardian Australia, the official Liverpool FC website and FourFourTwo Australia. In 2014 Kate was awarded as the FFDU Digital Writer of the Year.


  • Reply December 19, 2012


    Hi Kate,

    Really good tactical analysis however a few other facets i feel you missed were:

    a) Emerton rarely tried to beat D’ apuzzo resulting in next to no penetration behind on the right flank.
    b) Culina when in possession (on the occasions the defense got the ball to his feet) looked for a quick transition instead of attempting to retain possession and invariably attempted his long diagonal balls into the channels (where as you mention Wanders CB pairing had the height advantage).

    I felt Farina could have maximized his substitutions better by positioning Abbas in the centre in place of Culina where he could have had a better chance to influence the game.

    Also tactically i would have thought that Farina could have inverted his midfield triangle with Grant sitting deepest to track and prevent Ono from dominating this space and have Culina and Antonis sitting slightly higher to add more attacking influence and prevent La Rocca & Poljak from playing out of midfield.

    In addition i think Del Piero looked completely unfit and should not have played. when a player cannot do more than jog they probably shouldn’t be allowed on the pitch, ADP’s inability to track and pressure in the front third also prevented Sydney from catching a goal on the counter in the last few minutes (although arguably the game was already over).

    Was anyone else reading the game in the same way? any other thoughts on how Sydney could have made a better impression on the game?

    • Kate Cohen
      Reply December 20, 2012


      Hi, thanks for reading :-)

      Firstly, re Emerton, I completely agree. I have touched on Emerton in an analysis from the first game of the season (http://katecohensoccer.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/sydney-fc-statistical-analysis/) and have seen little improvement. Emerton has shown a huge tendency to come inside, both with the ball and without. This often leads to him dribbling/receiving the ball in traffic or his teammates having limited options due to lack of width. To add to that, his play has been predictable. Emerton will frequently receive the ball and then pass backwards or inside, at the expense of taking his opposite player on. It was clear that often attacks would break down when Emerton received the ball as Sydney lacked penetration on that side.

      Re Culina, 10/56 of his successful passes were >20m, 5 of which being >30m. At times his distribution w as direct, but mainly he kept the ball moving. On the formation of the midfield, with Grant playing as the 10 (although he was more of a second striker), I feel that added to Sydney’s struggles in attack. Grant saw 25secs of possession in the match, which was the worst of any starting player, goalkeepers included. In comparison, Shinji Ono saw 102secs of possession, with 59% of that in the final third. Whilst they are different players with different roles, Ono impacted the game, Grant did not. The way Western Sydney defended (with Ono and Gibbs blocking passes into midfield), I would have liked to see a bit of midfield rotation from Sydney to see if they could affect WSW’s defensive shape.

      Of course, writing such an analysis, it is difficult because in some cases (Sydney FC being one) you could write a short story on visible issues with their performances. I tried to just focus on the main aspects of the game which, in a sense, led to the result; for me, that was Ono’s dominance, so I looked into how and why he found so much space, and Sydney’s direct game, again looking into how and why that occurred.

      Great observations :-)

      • Reply December 20, 2012


        Thanks for the reply Kate.

        Sorry if it seemed otherwise but i thought your article was fantastic. I have been looking for a regular source of a-league based tactical breakdowns like this for some time!

        I’m looking forward to how these teams shape up for their next meeting in march after Farina has had some more time to shape the style of play. It should be intriguing!

        Look forward to reading more of your articles in the future :)

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