It’s Monday, so here’s the good, bad and ugly from Round 5 in the A-League.
Victory, and Athiu as anything other than a striker
It was the 48th minute in Melbourne Victory’s 1-1 draw with Wellington Phoenix, and the Eye of Sauron that is the broadcast camera was for once not able to pick this moment up: The ball filters out to Storm Roux on Victory’s right-hand side, and Kenny Athiu is in a significant amount of space. Enough to, at the very least, put himself between the ball and Nix defender Liberato Cacace, in order to earn a foul if the latter commits or lunges. Yet, Athiu shouts, “Start again!” to Roux in a situation where a winger/auxiliary forward/not a striker should be demanding the ball.
Moments later, when the ball sluggishly recycles back to Victory’s right, Athiu comes towards it and invites pressure from Cacace. Victory inevitably lose the ball and moments later, Wellington’s David Ball has a clear opportunity to put the Phoenix 2-0 up.
More than anyone in Victory’s attack on Sunday, the South Sudan international looked completely lost and out of position — which is saying something given the nature of play under Marco Kurz so far.
However, considering how reliant the Victory has been on Ola Toivonen so far, willingly playing anyone in the Swede’s place is illogical.
Ten years of … what exactly?
Melbourne City were 3-0 up against the Central Coast Mariners, with top of the A-League secured late into Friday night’s match. Promoted as City’s 10th anniversary fixture, it was — in theory — supposed to be a celebration.
Fans behind the southern goal were chanting, “If you love City, stand up!” The rest of 5,547 in attendance who hadn’t sought shelter from the rain could not even be bothered to do so. It was all so very empty, and microcosmic. That the 3-0 score-line was flattering, given how City took the lead and their struggles in dealing with the Mariners’ approach, only amplified that sense of hollowness.
This was arguably something that only came to the fore when City Football Group took control and renamed Melbourne Heart to City. Essentially, outside of reports surrounding CFG, what does Melbourne City represent as an entity? This is not a question exactly exclusive to City in the A-League, although there examples to the contrary, but what do they stand for? What values do their fans attach to the club?
After a decade, when geography is removed from the equation, these questions are still yet to be answered.
What to make of Perth?
Not for the first time this season, Perth Glory have looked somewhat one-dimensional in possession, despite having a front third of high individual quality.
Chris Ikonomidis, Bruno Fornaroli and Diego Castro are undoubtedly players of exceptional ability, but there is a collective lack of functionality that has existed so far this campaign. It arguably did so last term as well, despite the Glory streeting the regular season. Teams just seem more inclined to sit off them now. There’s something to be said for the fact Perth had 65 percent of possession during Saturday’s 1-1 draw in Newcastle, but the Jets had more shots in total and more from inside the penalty area.
Just like Gregory Wuthrich teetering on the line for Newcastle’s penalty claims in the 72nd minute, the game’s complexion teetered on certain moments. Ikonomidis rattling the frame of the goal probably makes a more trepidatious last 15 minutes for Ernie Merrick’s side, but Nick Fitzgerald arguably should have put the game to bed, with two very good opportunities in transition.
In the end, Perth’s best opportunities came upon the breakdown of Newcastle possession and from the dead ball. Again. It’s one of the reasons why Tony Popovic’s side have three draws out of the opening five games.
Jertec’s pass, Pain’s touch
Although Kone is not exactly the smoothest of players technically, Connor Chapman moving from defence into midfield had an impact on United’s possession. Something United coach Mark Rudan also observed in the post-match press conference, the ability for his team to shift the ball from side to side in order to penetrate from the centre of the pitch was hampered.
It’s what makes the lead-up to Appiah’s goal so important — no, not Ersan Gulum trying his luck from distance, the very comical definition of a defender’s shot. With the ball on United’s right-hand side, it’s Dario Jertec who penetrates off the ball from deep and knowing the run from Connor Pain is coming, immediately switches. The weight on the pass is just about perfect for Pain to take the ball in stride. Pain accomplishes that task and rather well, with his first touch creating just enough space between him and Wanderers defender Daniel Georgievski to deliver. At this point, the Wanderers defence is scrambling, creating a scenario where a defender’s scuffed shot attempt when the ball spills out can be capitalised upon.
Adelaide run and run and run
Something that has not necessarily changed as a consequence of Gertjan Verbeek’s hire, replacing Kurz as manager this season, is that Adelaide are a primarily mobile team. If anything, even more so now.
The likes of Riley McGree, Michael Maria, James Troisi and Louis D’Arrigo — despite the latter being on international duty — have injected Adelaide’s midfield with greater energy. Although Ben Halloran is the collective’s primary reference point closer to goal, in a competition that thrives almost solely in the transitional phase, that kind of thing is important.
So it seemed kind of fitting that against a defensively sound Brisbane side, Adelaide’s eventual winner came from a late midfield run into the penalty area. McGree’s 84th minute goal was indicative not of only of the team’s iron lungs, but of the team’s persistence and resiliency initially under Verbeek. Things can be unhealthily tethered to Halloran in possession at times, especially with Troisi’s introduction, but Adelaide are solid. Some opposition teams might be better on the ball collectively, but still have to match the Reds in this area.
The Matildas, Young Matildas, Joeys, and Australian coaching
One game at a time is the adage in sport, but looking at games in isolation sometimes fails to illuminate the bigger picture.
There were differing results to the Joeys’ exit from the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, the Young Matildas’ performances at the AFC Under-19 Women’s Championships and the Matildas’ 2-1 win over Chile on Saturday, but the nature of play is linked. It speaks to something prevalent at all levels of the game in Australia. It highlights an overriding idea and approach to the game of football in this country that has been continually exploited against teams with higher technical aptitude.
What this week has arguably underlined — despite the varied levels of competition — while promoting a change in tact to the public, Australia will never rid itself of the characteristics that have defined football here over time. Pace and power is important in football but especially in this day and age, when time and space in football has seemingly disappeared, giving scope to the clarity and sense that allows collective movements to breathe is still a foreign concept. The physically slower and diminutive players in the Australian game might have different individuals as coaches but are faced with the same conceptual difficulties: They must play quicker and not smarter, and are therefore not preferred, despite having unique qualities. Two touches, guys.