A-League review: Are Perth the real deal? What to make of Adelaide, Melbourne City?
It's Monday, so here's the good, bad and ugly from Round 15 in the A-League -- including an assessment on the Olyroos' latest match.
Not just yet, Perth
Much has been made of Perth's six-game winning streak this season, the prevailing sense being it is proof they have turned the corner. After one win in the opening seven matches this season, Sunday night's 1-0 win away to Western Sydney helped the Glory keep pace with Melbourne City for the second AFC Champions League spot. It is the longest winning streak for Perth since the inception of the A-League but one must really ask, ultimately: who have they really beaten in that time, and how? Although the likes of Gregory Wuthrich, Ivan Franjic and Chris Ikonomidis were missing at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday, the nature of the performance would not have been very different if they were present.
The 3-0 win over Melbourne City to start this run was Peak Popovic, especially with a win being imperative at that stage, in context of the season. Beating the Wanderers twice, plus wins over Central Coast, Newcastle and Adelaide should be viewed with caution. In five of the six games in this streak, Perth scored within the opening 30 minutes, and watching A-League teams chase results against this Glory side is a very distinct kind of self-harm. And Bruno Fornaroli's sixth-minute winner against the Wanderers on Sunday was a gift. Perth can definitely continue on this trend, but the next month will be more illuminative.
The Pace and Power Chronicles, Part #4080 -- Adelaide
Being a global game, subtle differences in the language of football have always been fascinating. For example, the term "confined space" is not easily transferable to other languages from English. It almost becomes oxymoronic. In Adelaide United's 1-0 win over Melbourne Victory on Friday night, someone needed to just -- to borrow a Croatian expression -- stand on the ball.
In English, to stand on the ball can mean to stop a free kick from being taken quickly, but in this sense, the onus was on the Adelaide defence and midfield to vary the game's tempo. To not force the quickest route to the opposition goal, and control the game with the ball. Both in order to prise open the Victory defence, and minimise scenarios in which they had to sprint forth and back to defend in transition.
It is definitely applicable in isolation, but that tends to ignore to what defines Gertjan Verbeek's team. Adelaide run relentlessly in both attacking and defensive phases. It forms the team's DNA. In the first half -- against a Melbourne Victory team figuring things out in possession within Carlos Salvachua's rejigged implementation -- that aspect was what gave them control of the match. Ben Halloran's goal was a consequence of the team's unyielding speed and aggression, and the pressure it applied.
The aspect that gave them the lead was the same aspect that allowed the game to be so open in the second half. However, when a team is conditioned -- both physically and psychologically -- to play at warp speed, it is very difficult to be able to alter a game's tempo in such a way.
Not just in relation to Adelaide, can a switch be flicked?
The Pace and Power Chronicles, Part #4081 -- Melbourne City
Speaking of pace and power, Melbourne City smothered Newcastle's midfield in their 2-0 win on Saturday night. Considering the primary focus points of Erick Mombaerts' implementation, it makes sense he was so content with the nature of the performance and three points. More than what would normally be expected with a victory. Similarly to their win over Western United a fortnight before, City were highly effective in defensive phases up the pitch. Their best moments of the match came from their ability to win the ball and spring quickly into transition. They harassed and created panic, to the point where even Steven Ugarkovic played with uncharacteristic trepidation in the first half.
Much like Adelaide, one has to look at such focus points when considering what City's fallibilities are. Which are frankly palpable, particularly in phases of possession. There is a trade-off that exists with the likes of Jamie Maclaren, Lachlan Wales and Josh Brillante, and much of City's manipulation of defensive positions of late has been tied to Adrian Luna. But even before they both left for Olyroos duty, there was a reason Connor Metcalfe had received more scope than Denis Genreau this term. However, when weighing up what City are good at as opposed to what City are not so good at, it appears the aggression they play with is preferable for Mombaerts.
The Pace and Power Chronicles, Part #4082 -- Australia
From the starting XI, to in-game adjustments, to performance, the Olyroos' 1-0 win over Syria on Saturday in the AFC Under 23 Championship was Australian football heritage. Pace and power is the national identity and that will not change, irrespective of prior narratives sold to the media and public. In the words of Public Enemy, don't believe the hype. Al-Hassan Toure's deciding goal was a fleeting moment of incisiveness, in 120 minutes of footballing water torture. This kind of game extends across the Australian national youth team setup, among male and female ranks.
It was most notable with the Matildas at last year's FIFA Women's World Cup, and we'll be sure to see it with the Socceroos. As noted last week however, at international level, physical predisposition becomes a crutch for conservative coaches with truncated time. That Trent Buhagiar was viewed as the solution for Australia as time ticked away, to break the game open, comes as little surprise with this all in mind. The fact there seems to be only marginal synergy between Buhagiar's brain and rapidly moving feet is of minor importance.
Take those pictures, Alessandro
Western United's 3-0 defeat of Central Coast on Sunday afternoon was peculiar. Firstly, in the sense that the game was effectively over after 20 minutes. Secondly, what separated the teams was familiarity. The Mariners again switched to man-on-man defensive coverage as Western United reverted to their 3-4-3/3-6-1/...you know. Yet, how two of the goals were scored reminded that famous story of Johan Cruyff and Hristo Stoichkov, while the two were at Barcelona. The instruction from the latter to the former, look as far up the pitch as possible when receiving the ball and then focus inward if the passing option is not there.
For Besart Berisha's opening goal, Diamanti could play that trademark lofted, left-footed pass while facing away from goal, with Berisha timing his run well off Kye Rowles' blind side. Then for Rowles' own goal, one could see that itch just wanting to be scratched again in the build up. The pass to Connor Pain was not on, however, so he looked inward. It meant Connor Pain could eventually go at Lewis Miller one-on-one, setting up Josh Risdon's shot on goal. While he was on the pitch, it was a contrast to the prohibitive decision making Diamanti has made of late.
Give them time
Lastly, Brisbane Roar defeated Wellington Phoenix 1-0 on Saturday and looked positive in doing so. Although Dylan Wenzel-Halls scored an impressive winner in a heavy downpour and Mirza Muratovic allowed for a more associative quality to Brisbane's play against an in-form Wellington side, it was ultimately a good day for Rahmat Akbari truthers. These are all players who would benefit with regular minutes. In short, despite the risk playing them would entail, trust them. That's it. That's the point.