Saturday, July 12, 2008

Arnold pins his faith in Milligan and a 4-2-3-1

Pre-Olympics friendly, Olyroos 3 v New Zealand 2

Tony Tannous @ North Sydney Oval

BURNS and Djite’s omissions flogged to death, it’s time to move on, so it was refreshing to turn up for this afternoon’s pre-Beijing friendly and finally have some football to sink the teeth into.

Beyond that, it was also a great opportunity to gain some insight into Graham Arnold’s thinking ahead of the games, and some answers for his selections.

Perhaps the most intriguing question ahead of the game was just how Arnold would use the plethora of defenders at his disposal.

In the qualifiers he’d ostensibly relied on the central defensive pair of Milligan and Leijer, the Twin Pillars as I referred to them here, to get the job done. But by drafting both North and Spiranovic into his 18, Arnold gave an indication he was thinking of pushing Milligan into midfield.

That was confirmed here, Milligan, handed the armband, shaping up alongside Musialik in a 4-2-3-1 formation that is all the rage.

It was a departure from the way Australia qualified, where Arnold used one sitter, Musialik, and asked two other central midfielders to bomb-on.

Here it was the two deep midfielders, with Troisi asked to play off the lone front-man, the mobile Rukavystya, a formation in keeping with that of the senior side.

Seemingly Arnold had gone for insurance, hell-bent on ensuring Musialik will be protected and his team won’t be tossed-around in midfield in Beijing, and he touched upon this in his post-match press-conference;

“I’m a big fan of Milligan in central midfield,” he started. “He’s a good user of the ball and can break up the opposition. He’ll be in there to look after the numbers 10’s, the likes of Riqueleme.”

Later, after the press conference, I asked if it was a defensive move given he’d used one holder for qualifying. Not really, he said, if the opposition play with two holding midfielders, Musialik will be asked to push on.

Given the quality of the opposition at Beijing will be a step up from the qualifiers, it’s logical stuff, and pretty much in keeping with the world-wide trend. Later, in the second half, with Australia gaining control, Arnold introduced the more offensive Celeski for Musialik and a more familiar pattern emerged, with Celeski and Bridge breaking forward as Milligan sat (except at set pieces, where he was a menace).

Elsewhere, there was a start for one of Arnold’s favourites, the set-piece specialist Sarkies, who seems to save all of his good stuff for the Olyroos. In truth he has flattered to deceive at A-League level, but whack an Olyroo strip on him and the man becomes a mountain, even as a left-sided attacker.

After warming up with a couple of early free-kicks, he soon plonked a corner onto the head of his skipper and the memories came flooding back.

Then, something we rarely see from Sarkies; he actually hit the back of the net after latching onto a shot from the edge of the box, which proved too wicked for Jacob Spoonley. More of the same in China please.

The fact Sarkies started on the left meant there was a surprise selection in the hole behind the striker, but Troisi grabbed his chance, demonstrating he needn’t be pigeon-holed as a left-sided attacker.

There was also a bit of a surprise on the right side of attack, where Zadkovich did some neat stuff in the opening period before being replaced by Bridge, who went central, allowing Troisi to switch to the left and Sarkies to the right.

It was a fruitful period for the Olyroos, and proved they have a squad ready to adapt to most situations.

Arnold said his main focus in the build-up had been on combination-play and building up his squad’s fitness, and there’s no doubt there were good signs. While the Olyroos didn’t create a truck-load of chances, there was enough promise in the front third to suggest a fit and firing Thompson could bag a few.

“We need a killer,” Arnold said, in reference to his hope Thompson can be that man.

New Zealand certainly had a killer in Brockie, who caught the eye with his movement and classy finishing, giving the new look Olyroos back-four a bit to work on. But ultimately Stuart Jacobs’s men, minus their three over-age players, Nelsen, Killen and Elliot, were undone by the greater mobility, quality and tactical flexibility of the Australians.

So, after the dramas of the past week, some good signs for Arnold. But for now the focus in on building the fitness, currently said to be at 75%, and Arnold made no secret of the fact he’ll be ‘flogging’ the squad with double-sessions for the next few weeks, reminiscent of Hiddink’s work before major championships, and tapering off a week or so out from the Serbia game.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to read the Olyroos shaped up well and great to see you on Goal.

Well done TT - thoroughly deserved.

BC

Sun. Jul. 13, 09:05:00 am AEST  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

Good to catch up with you again yesterday Tony!

Must admit I was pleasantly surprised with the Olyroos all round, and particularly with Milligan, Bridge and McLenahan. Although we looked 100% better playing with two strikers and Troisi out wide when Bridge came on, I'm sure it'll be the same one-striker system we've become accustomed to come the Olympics...sadly.

Sun. Jul. 13, 09:11:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

..Well done TT - thoroughly deserved...

Thanks BC.

...Good to catch up with you again yesterday Tony!...

Likewise Mikey.

...Must admit I was pleasantly surprised with the Olyroos all round, and particularly with Milligan, Bridge and McLenahan. Although we looked 100% better playing with two strikers and Troisi out wide when Bridge came on, I'm sure it'll be the same one-striker system we've become accustomed to come the Olympics...sadly....

I was pretty surprised by how effective boith Zadkovich and Sarkies were out wide, and how neat Troisi was in restricted space in the middle...Bridge and Simon did make a difference late-on and it was good to see Arnold make some positive changes that helped confirm Australia's momentum.

He will definitely need to pull all the right moves for us to have a chance of sneaking out of this group.

Mon. Jul. 14, 09:46:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous peng said...

Good game in perfect conditions. Would have liked for us to get a goal from open play (2 from corners and 1 from a throw in).

Would have liked the chance to meet the other bloggers...

Tue. Jul. 15, 03:43:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

...Would have liked for us to get a goal from open play...

Good point Peng, catch up at an A-League game soon, drop me an email.

Tue. Jul. 15, 10:01:00 pm AEST  

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