Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tactical Analysis; Mariners miraculous comebacks mask defensive set-up

THERE were a lot of positive things written and said in the aftermath of yet another thrilling Sydney-Central Coast goal-fest, and rightly so. Saturday night's game was gripping and dramatic, full of quality, character and all the things we love about the beautiful game.

Not for the first time it featured a remarkable comeback from three goals down from the visiting Mariners.

We only had to cast our minds back a month to the round 7 clash away to Adelaide, where the Mariners again gave away a third shortly after the break, only to mount a Herculean fight-back, demonstrating everything that is so wonderful about their spirit and never-say-die mentality.

Truth is it needn't have been so dramatic and heroic from the Mariners, in either game.

Both times they were the dominant team, controlling the tempo of the game, creating more than their share of chances, only to be on the end of a three goal deficit with half an hour remaining.

The strange thing about both games is that you not only knew the Mariners shouldn't have been three-down, you just sensed they'd come back.

Take Saturday night for example. When Terry McFlynn rounded off a brilliant six-pass counter-attack with what is becoming his trademark scorcher, to make it 3-0, you still sensed Sydney were hanging by a thread, strange as that sounds.

When Stuart Musialik hit the post a short time later, you sensed he might still be punished.

Only some brilliant work from Ivan Necevski, who produced a string of outstanding stops, including two with his right leg, had kept Sydney in front.

Truth is their inexperienced defence had been exposed by the aerial dominance of the visitors, who performed their attacking strategy with aplomb, with Dylan Macallister looking particularly threatening. The only thing missing from Lawrie McKinna's men were the goals, and a spot of luck.

It was the same story four weeks earlier.

So when one came, it was almost inevitable others followed.

Not for the first time, they defied everything we've been brought up to believe about the game; that at 3-0, it's game over!

But the question that Mariners fans and McKinna will be asking is why they were three goals down in the first place, in games they had dominated?

The problem for the Mariners appears to be their stretched shape. Quite simply, they drop-off and defend too deep in transition, and despite dominating the opposition, and creating most of the chances, that invariably gives the opposition too much space on the counter.

When they are attacking and dominating, pressing for goals, it should be a full team press, including the defence pressing up to the half-way line.

That way, as soon as they lose the ball in attack, the whole team can press quickly to win it back. Witness the way that Liverpool do it in the EPL.

Instead, as soon as an attack breaks down, or a corner is cleared, the Mariners tend to drop off, retreating to their 18 yard box. This creates acres between the attack and defence, space players of the quality of Cristiano, Dodd, Diego, Cassio, Corica, Bridge and Brosque will exploit in transition.

Both Sydney and Adelaide had few chances against the Mariners, but seemed to score most of them, emphasising not only the space afforded them, but their own efficiency in front of goals, hallmarks of their respective seasons.

So why do the Mariners drop off, instead of keeping a “high-line”? I sense they have some concerns about their pace at the back. Skipper Alex Wilkinson isn’t the quickest defender around, and with Paul O’Grady (more noted for his aerial prowess and tight-marking than his coverage on the ground) alongside him against Sydney, you sense the Mariners didn’t want to get caught in-behind.

But by leaving too much space in front, Mile Jedinak and John Hutchinson, committed to recovering the deficit, had far too much to do to stop the opposition from countering.

It is something the Mariners will need to address, especially if they go behind. The more they attack in search of an equaliser, the more likely they are to concede chances on the counter if they continue to drop-off when they lose the ball.

This stretched style makes for some gripping, end-to-end football, and we can’t really complain about that, but a more compressed structure might add a few years to McKinna’s life, and a few more points to their league tally.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh it hurts,but it is nice to see the truth.The Mariners seem to have this ability to make time stand still when another team is on the attack. SFC did it to us at the start of the season,Melbourne at Gosford,Adelaide at Hinmarsh, and now SFC do it again. We haven't replaced the dominate Vidmar. It isn't Boogardt fault. But either he or Wilkinson needs to become a dominant communicator or we will keep conceding goals that we shouldn't have.

Thu. Nov. 06, 08:12:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous wayne said...

Both Boogardt and O'Grady turn like a bus, Bojic is too small to be a CB, and Porter is not a natural defender. Wilkinson has great timing in last ditch tackles in the box, but tends to ball watch at times, as do a lot of them. Clarke is a better, faster defender than all of them, but his passing and distribution out from the back is poor most of the time, whereas Bojic and Porter make for much better wingbacks and have a better passing game (most of the time). It would be nice to start scoring in the first ten minutes of the game, like we did in the first third of last season (and be nine points in front from memory), instead of the last twenty, but as you attest Tony, its never a dull watch. I have really enjoyed the variety of attacking play and goals from the Mariners this year - belting free kicks, short passing moves through the middle, thumping headers and inch perfect finishes from Simon, Caceres running at defenders from the edge of the box - what heartens me about our attack is the depth and diversity. The injection of an unknown Merenda aside, I am resigned to having both my head in my hands, and my hands in the air for the rest of the season.
Cheers for another thoughtful analysis Tony!

(sorry i don't write much any more)

Sat. Nov. 08, 02:33:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Cheers for another thoughtful analysis Tony!..sorry i don't write much any more..

Dont apologise Wayne, and thanks for the contribution here, always good to hear from ya. Drop me an email with your mb and we'll try and hook up at a game up at BT soon.

Spot on analysis of the strengths/weaknesses of the defence, although there's a part of me that wouldnt mind seeing if Porter can cut it in central d.

Re the attack, I agree, it's been very vibrant. I have to admit i was expecting them to get it wide to caceres and elrich and get em to hit ther strikers, but there's been some neat stuff with Caceres through the middle, sasho dropping off, Simon peeling wide and Macallister mobile. Enjoying that aspect, as I hinted in this piece.

Now they need to fix things at the back, and my minor prem tip mightnt be so far-fetched.

Mon. Nov. 10, 09:07:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger pippinu said...

Hi Tony

Good analysis of CCM last few weeks - I doubt any team has successfully come from 3 goals down on two separate occasions in the space of three weeks - they've certainly spiced things up for the neutral observer!

I was just responding to one of your comments on my blog when I started musing about Ernie going with three strikers whenever he can, and I was about to write that no other manager would do that in the A-League - and then I remembered his compatriot!

This is a very unsophisticated point to make, but playing with 3 strikers (and I'm not talking about wingers here, but 3 strikers playing well forward) will also leave the space that you mention.

At MV, Arch, Danny and Ney all share a bit of the running and harassing (think back to the Jets game in particular), whereas CCM appear to rely a bit to much on Simon for that (and he's very good at it), and it may not necessarily be Sasho's strong suit.

In other words, are CCM rolling the dice a bit too much? Are 3-3 scorelines a natural outcome of their starting formation? Is Laurie wanting to follow Ernie's lead and risk the odd loss for a run of wins that in a tight comp wil catapult you into a top 2 position?

Mon. Nov. 10, 10:29:00 pm AEDT  

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