Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC shared the points in the ‘Big Blue’ with a 1-1 draw.
Matt Thompson and Joel Chianese returned to Sydney FC’s starting line-up, with coach Frank Farina deciding to shift Alessandro Del Piero inside as the centre forward of the 4-3-3, which meant Richard Garcia went out to the left.
Melbourne Victory’s coach Kevin Muscat brought Adama Traore, Pablo Contreras and Archie Thompson back into the starting line-up, and returned to the attacking quartet former coach Ange Postecoglou preferred at the start of the season, with James Troisi alongside Guilherme Finkler in attacking midfield. Tom Rogic was omitted from the match day squad entirely.
Both Finkler and Ali Abbas were the key players for their sides going forward and fittingly finished with an assist apiece.
Farina’s decision to move Del Piero centrally had an interesting effect on Sydney’s play. They did not completely revert back to the diamond formation that was successful in the last fixture between these two sides – a 5-0 Sydney thumping – but there were similarities as Del Piero dropped off into positions between the lines, creating a diamond through the centre of the pitch for Sydney. This meant the wide players had to provide penetration in behind. Garcia and Chianese maintained their starting positions on the flanks, being outlets for long passes when Sydney were on the break, before moving inside for diagonal runs in behind to provide the goal threat.
The Contreras yellow/marginal free kick call (and resulting handball no-call), at the very end of the first half, comes from Del Piero coming short, and Chianese running in behind. It is a very simple long ball from the back to create the chance, but a good illustration of Sydney’s attacking patterns.
On a few occasions Del Piero playing as a false nine helped Sydney win fouls in positions around the edge of the area, because Victory’s centre-backs had to rush up and challenge him from behind when he gave them the slip with his movement.
Abbas has done a terrific job in complementing Del Piero in recent weeks by darting forwards and backwards down the left flank to compensate for the Italian’s weaknesses. Even though it was now Garcia ahead of him, Abbas still performed the same role.
It is similar movement to that of Angel Di Maria in last week’s Real Madrid v Barcelona game. Madrid play a 4-3-3 system with Di Maria to the left of the midfield triangle, and he constantly got in advance of Cristiano Ronaldo (who vacated his nominal position on the left flank) to find space down Madrid’s left hand side, providing two assists with crosses from that side.
It works because opponents become unsure of who they should be marking. Abbas looked dangerous when moving forward into space, and like Di Maria, has the energy to fulfil this demanding role. Early on, he whipped in a ball that Garcia headed over the bar (evidence of how Sydney’s system needed the wingers to become forwards). Later, Abbas and Garcia combined to win a foul in a dangerous area, which resulted in Del Piero hitting the free-kick just high over the bar.
The passes between Garcia and Abbas are telling – the former repeatedly hit balls down the outside for the midfielder. Also, Abbas continued to enjoy a good partnership with Del Piero, linking up with him throughout.
Unsurprisingly, the goal came from Abbas on the counter. Abbas drives the attack forward with the ball at his feet, ending with a low shot that rebound off Lawrence Thomas, that fell to the feet of Chianese for a simple tap-in.
Victory dominate possession
It did not take long for Victory to dominate possession, becoming comfortable on the ball and working it forward into Sydney’s half to build attacking moves. Particularly at the start of the first half, Sydney defended deep, then attacked quickly and directly. Although Sydney gradually enjoyed more of the ball as the game progressed.
As is becoming the norm this season, the zone Del Piero occupies in defence was exploited by Victory, with Mark Milligan and James Jeggo benefitting with freedom in midfield.
Victory’s right side
Further up the field Victory were noticeably keen to focus their passing down their right, as if they were expecting Sydney’s left side to be “defended” by Del Piero, which has been the case for many games this season. There was still an advantage for Victory to attack down this side, with Garcia shuttling forward from out wide, back into the centre, and then covering acres of space to come all the way back to form part of the midfield defensive five.
The key was Finkler, who constantly varied his position. If you split the pitch into four quadrants, Finkler worked up and down the upper right; moving wider into the channels, dropping deep close to the midfield pivot, and darting forward to space on the edge of the penalty box. The format of Sydney’s midfield trio also helped, because the two facing forward in the triangle (Abbas and Thompson) were drawn towards Jeggo and Milligan. This left Antonis to deal with both Troisi and Finkler in front of the defence, with the latter finding space to his left (Finkler’s right).
Combined with the movement of the other attackers into this zone, it was an area where Victory looked constantly dangerous. In the 18th minute, Finkler ignited a series of ‘one-twos’ around the edge of the area, eventually releasing James Troisi for a shot struck over the bar. In the same move, Thompson drifted over from the left to get involved, leaving his side vacant – evidence of how Victory were looking to overload Sydney down that side.
Victory looked dangerous when attacking quickly through the wide forwards. In particular Kosta Barbarouses had a number of good chances from immediate passes in transitions, and also wasting one particularly good opportunity with a shot that went wide of the far post.
Sydney scored almost immediately after the break, fittingly through Abbas.
After the goal, Sydney dropped very deep, inviting Victory pressure which built through their dominance of possession. Like in the first half, Victory created chances through overloading the pocket of space in the right channel, and their equaliser came from Finkler slipping Troisi in behind from that zone.
Sydney were attacking sporadically on the counter. Their decision-making was often quite poor, and even in situations of clear numerical advantage, struggled to make the most of these chances. Sydney were keen to push the full-backs forward with Seb Ryall getting into advanced positions on the right.
After Victory’s goal, the game actually became quite stretched, with both sides hitting the other on the counter. Attacks flowed back and forth, which meant the tempo stayed quite high. On the whole Victory had more of the ball, and were more constructive with their attacking play.
The substitutions, a series of like-for-like (or injury enforced) changes, were fairly irrelevant.
A relatively intense encounter with a few points of tactical interest. Both sides had a particular area of strength in attack (interestingly down the same flank), with Finkler getting into good positions down the right channel, and Abbas likewise down his left.
To reiterate a previously discussed point, this was not really a ‘tactical’ battle, as neither coach reacted to the other. Neither Farina or Muscat really did much to change the game’s pattern, probably because neither side was particularly dominant throughout the course of the match. Even though Victory dominated possession, perhaps it was fair then that it ended as a draw.
WORDS | Tim Palmer (@timhpal)
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