A-League soldiers on in the face of coronavirus, but at what cost?
It's Monday. Time to talk about the good, bad and ugly from Round 23 in the A-League. But first ...
The health and safety of staff and officials
Much like when bushfires ravaged parts of Victoria and New South Wales earlier this season, this weekend provided a reminder as to the real-life importance of football and sport.
With the threat of COVID-19, the safety of people working in and around the A-League must take primary importance. Similarly to the Australian economy itself, however, the competition's model means a high financial exposure to the prospect of cancellation -- which is ultimately the only logical solution, however drastic it might sound. And speaking of logical solutions, the fact that there was such a small time frame between kick-off in Wellington and flights back to Australia on Sunday paints the assurances Professional Footballers Australia received from the Australian government in a different light. Of course, Sunday's midnight deadline was missed, and now both Phoenix and Victory squads will enter 14-day isolation upon their re-entry into Australia. If only the aversion to risk in this situation mirrored phases of possession in the A-League.
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As Football Federation Australia CEO James Johnson pointed out in his news conference on Monday morning, there is a human element to this situation. The possibility of postponement is impractical, for it not only further clusters the football schedule, but fails to consider the amount of players off-contract at season's end. Continuing with football behind closed doors in Australia -- both at national and local level -- creates unnecessary risk considering the amount of travel teams do, much like it did in the NBA and across football in Europe. This is not to raise unnecessary panic, but this path underestimates the high rate of transmittance and contagiousness. To everyone, stay safe ...
Depth, Part 1
On the subject of aversion to risk in phases of possession, Saturday's scoreless draw between Sydney FC and Perth Glory in Kogarah was predictably ghastly.
There was a moment in the third minute that served as a precursor to what we would see for the rest of the match. Ivan Franjic had room to dribble into the centre of the pitch, but with Luke Brattan and Paulo Retre staring at the ball, Juande opts not to move into advanced central space and provide a penetrative passing option. He stands behind the ball, to theoretically provide positional depth and defend against the possibility of losing the ball.
Franjic losing the ball was what inevitably happened, though.
That is because he was isolated, as Perth had no numerical superiority around the ball. Diego Castro and Bruno Fornaroli cannot solve that issue, nor can Milos Ninkovic on the other side for Sydney. However, as Trent Buhagiar's speed showed in injury time, there's always transition.
Depth, Part 2
Melbourne City and Western Sydney's 1-1 draw at AAMI Park was no different. Melbourne City this season are a strange one because in spite of talk about collective character and mentality, they are highly similar to Perth Glory. Although there is a palpable difference in physical capacity between the two sides, there is a comparably significant difference in effectiveness between Melbourne City in and out of possession.
Erick Mombaerts' side is one of the A-League's premier pace and power teams, but to slow them down, an opposition coach can just give them the ball. Jamie Maclaren's penalty was simply a bail-out, after the Wanderers' Tate Russell got the ball and was clattered into by Craig Noone. Not good.
Contrast, Part 1
Despite the aforementioned possibility of an earlier kick-off, Sunday's matches were a welcome divergence from Saturday's double-header of midfield inertia from a standpoint of play. When the match was in the balance, Wellington Phoenix were in control on Sunday against Melbourne Victory and fully deserved their 3-0 win.
As shown multiple times this season -- firstly against Melbourne Victory fittingly enough, when Alex Rufer succumbed to injury -- the compatibility between Matti Steinmann and Cameron Devlin provides players such as Ulises Davila and David Ball the ability to penetrate different spaces on the pitch. On the other hand, Elvis Kamsoba was largely Victory's only penetrative option around the ball in Wellington's half. With Migjen Basha and Anthony Lesiotis, it made for one of the more one-sided midfield matchups this season. That the Phoenix put the game away within 20 minutes was a mere formality.
Contrast, Part 2
Although the pitch-side broadcast bemoaned pressure on the ball, James Troisi could not do that initially because of Angus Thurgate's movement, as the ball leaked out to Nikolai Topor-Stanley. Steven Ugarkovic then broke Adelaide open, creating a penetrative line of pass for Topor-Stanley and just as importantly, forcing Riley McGree to follow him. Wes Hoolahan then comes toward Nigel Boogaard, leaving space for Millar to penetrate behind the defensive line. Not many passes in the move, but a fine team goal all the same.
#SokkahTwitter Moment of the Week
Brisbane are boring. The Roar rarely -- if not ever -- play through the middle in the opposition half and, as noted in previous weeks, theirs is an attritional quality in possession.
And that's fine.
Much like what has happened with the club Roar coach Robbie Fowler is most associated with, though, let's not misinterpret what Brisbane are actually good at. In another peculiar similarity to Liverpool, now with Scott McDonald, there is a central attacker to incorporate others and carry the burden the collective creates.
Then again, what is boring might be to one person would not be to another. Football is ultimately a game of interpretation. That Fowler and Roar CEO David Pourre took to #SokkahTwitter without a burner account to reinforce that point, ultimately, deserves respect. They're transparent in their pettiness and fragility. Bravo.