Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The A-League List

PIM picks his squad for the Qatar matchday 3 qualifier tomorrow (11am Eastern), and based on his previous work and the fact there is an international break in the calendar, it is likely to be a big one.

That's the Verbeek way, allowing him to not only expose many players to his methodology, but allowing for meaningful training-ground scrimmage.

As such, expect to see a few A-Leaguers. The boys on 'The Club', Fox Sports FC, said as such this evening. Verbeek has been spotted at just about every A-League game in the past fortnight, casting an eye over all that is hot and cold. With that in mind, here's a quick glance at the local boys catching the eye, starting at the top of the table;

Melbourne Victory

Vargas; continues to be consistent and solid.
Muscat; wonderful passer and great composure, but boy do our referees let him get away with some.
Berger; Merrick was singing his praises when we chatted in the pre-season, and this boy has hitherto lived up to the hype. Needs a little more polish in the front third, but boy does he have engines.
Kemp; some wonderful run early on.
Allsopp; confidence player, is on a high at the moment.
Celeski; great to see him playing in his rightful place in central midfield, has carried on his wonderful form at the Olympics and is the epitome of a wonderful footballer; silky on the ball, with breathtaking mobility.
Thompson; after a disappointing Olympics, back to his tricky best, causing headaches.

Sydney FC

Bolton; poor game against the 'Nix, but has been exemplary otherwise.
Fyfe; very solid.
Cole; arguably the find of the off-season, it is wonderful to see an Australia player so good at delivering the ball, from either flank, with either foot. Name me a better crosser in Australian football!
Musialik; a lack of discipline up the F3, but has been quietly making Sydney tick from deep since.
Corica; is he too old for the green and gold? Outstanding form, and would be good to have in the squad even if only to impart a bit of wisdom to a player like Brett Holman.
Brosque; looking very sharp and very comfortable on the ball, and has improved his composure in the 18 yard box. Really enjoying playing in a quality front quartet, where the focus isn't always on him.

Adelaide United

Galekovic; stand-out A-League keeper, he has been very decisive.
Jamieson; a bit to work on defensively, but neat coming forward, one to watch, especially given his position.
Costanzo and Ognenovski; no nonsense partnership, physical and intimidating.
Reid; great business bringing him back, he plays the half-attacking, half-defensive midfield role beautifully and has a great attitude.
Dodd; direct and powerful, looks like he's enjoying things at the moment.

Central Coast Mariners

Jedinak; one of the A-League muscle-men, has been crucial to the Mariners resurgence since coming back in. Added some wonderful set piece work.
Hutchinson; another powerful presence.
Caceres; found a niche at the head of the diamond, where his creative work has been a feature of the past couple of weeks, both games against his former clubs.
Simon; long time readers of this blog will have heard me refer to Simon as a battering ram over the past couple of seasons, but the rough diamond is finally adding some subtlety to his game, with some lovely finishing of late.
Petrovski; did he score on his last Socceroos outing? Mr. Calm and Consistent this season, he has been at his best dropping off the front line and providing a link between midfield and attack.

Queensland Roar

Moore; excellent against Melbourne, he is still among our top few central defenders.
McKay; Miller is grabbing most of the attention, but McKay continues to run opposition midfields ragged.
Murdocca; ditto.

Newcastle Jets

North; has looked more solid in the past couple of games, just in time for the watching Verbeek.
Holland; not an attacking threat of late, but still looks neat on the ball.

None from the Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory

Thursday, September 11, 2008

‘Never in Panic’ - Silky start from the smart Socceroos

Final phase World Cup Qualifier, md2, Uzbekistan 0 v Socceroos 1

TALK about a controlled, composed Socceroos performance.

This was just about as good a start to the final phase of qualifiers as any Socceroos follower could have hoped for.

Away from home, in fresh, yet ancient territory, against a team that hadn’t lost a qualifier at home for 18 months, already chasing the likes of Japan and Qatar, missing a midfield enforcer, hammered by a stomach bug that robbed the midfield of its main tick-man, this was no time for excuses.

Pim Verbeek, in his typical matter-of-fact way, made that obvious in his pre-match chat to Simon Hill – “That’s life, let’s get on with the job.”

And so his Socceroos did. Right from the off they looked fresh, up-for-it, and in control. There was none of the tried, excuse-laden stuff that typified the end of the first phase.

Admittedly, the hosts, confidence battered by a series of recent losses, played their part, dropping off and allowing the Socceroos to dictate the tempo.

Spooked by the Socceroos? You bet. And as Paul Trimboli and John Kosmina pointed out in the Fox studio, they haven’t been the only ones in Asia beaten before a ball is kicked. Thankfully not every team treats us like Iraq.

The Roos are builded up a nice little aura. As much could be told by the fact the Uzbeks, at the draw for the final phase, said they wanted to get through automatically, alongside the Socceroos.

Now they’re really struggling, hammered by the rampant Qataris on the weekend, and comprehensively controlled here.

Verbeek had a couple of tough calls the make and got them spot on. Culina’s late withdrawal must have privately irked the manager, but he didn’t show it. In stepped Jacob Burns for his second qualifier on the spin after a shocker against China on the final matchday of the previous phase. It looked a brave call.

After a couple of errant early passes, he soon settled, and with the composed Valeri beside him, he soon started buzzing around and making a nuisance of himself in the face of Sever Djeparov.

Valeri, like Wilkshire, is fast becoming a key member of the Roos first 11, highlighting Verbeek’s clever and patient rejuvenation of the starting side, which is seeing others like Holman, Carney, Kennedy and Coyne come good with time, as others like Viduka and Cahill frequent the medical rooms.

As I noted in my wrap of the first phase on the84thminute, Valeri was one of the real success stories, and has continued that form with two accomplished displays in the past week.

He presses high, closing the man on the ball, before retreating, picking up the second balls, and getting the Roos moving with a simple ball, backwards, sidewards or forward. Maturity indeed.

Here Valeri and Burns provided a wonderful shield in front of an outstanding back four, allowing the fullbacks Wilkshire and Chipperfield to press-on, and picking up all the second ball clearances from wonderful central duo Neill and Coyne.

As Verbeek said of the Neill-Coyne partnership; “That’s three games together now. High balls, a lot of pressure, that’s what they like. They were never in panic.”

Indeed, the Socceroos were ‘never in panic’, to borrow the famous Verbeekism, even after the 25 minute period of sustained pressure at the start of the second period. All the defending was relaxed, and the attacking looked in-synch and organised.

Verbeek had sprung a massive surprise by leaving Kennedy on the bench, no doubt reasoning that he wanted the mobility on the front quartet of Bresciano, Holman, Kewell and Emerton, in part to stretch the Uzbek rearguard, in part to stay in touch with his own back six.

It worked well. While the football wasn’t always of a flowing variety, there were some neat combinations.

At one point in the first half, a few minutes after the two fullbacks combined for a wonderfully executed goal, born from a high-press, the Socceroos strung an amazing 37 passes. Wow.

Ok, it didn’t get them anywhere in that particular attack, but when you saw the Uzbeks spent after 70 minutes, you just knew Verbeek’s men had done the job.

Ok, Verbeek didn’t get his second goal - “We were waiting for the two-zero,” he said later - but the Roos never really looked like conceding. There was time for one last piece of Verbeek-speak; “I think the whole team made a great performance.”

Indeed they did Pim, indeed they did. It’s early days, and happy days, but fingers crossed the Socceroos don’t think too far ahead. Neill was quoted after the match saying they needed just four more wins to get to South Africa, but, while it’s tempting, for now the focus should be only on Qatar and Brisbane.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The good, the bad and the odd fix - Part 1

A-League season IV so far

ONE-SEVENTH of the way into what is shaping as a much-improved season and, while it's too early to draw any major conclusions, here's a quick snapshot of the good and bad from every A-League team, and an area or two that could do with some tinkering given there's a break in the calendar next week.

Wellington Phoenix, 1 pt
The good; not much, to be completely honest. The skipper called them 'garbage' against Melbourne, and they were. Smeltz is the obvious positive and was missed on Friday, while Lochhead has looked good in patches. Gao has done a couple of neat things.
The bad; As I hinted in my preview, central midfield continues to be a massive concern, with Wellington unable to control games. An inability to keep the ball has heaped pressure on the defence, and surprisingly the centre of that defence is really struggling. So far Herbert has used three right-backs.
The fix; work on the defensive structure, particularly the screeners in front of the defence. Get that right and the attack has a chance.

Perth Glory, 1 pt
The good; The front third, especially in the past fortnight. Trinidad was electric against Newcastle, while Dadi has looked a massive presence in the past two weeks. The real winner though has been Amaral, who has provided a surprising threat driving out of midfield. Pellegrino is doing ok as well, while Bulloch's dribbling has been a pleasant surprise.
The bad; have been terribly unlucky. The referees have done them no favours, and Pellegrino won the ball and was still adjudged to have fouled Corica yesterday. The real issue though has been in defence, where too many errors from the likes of Djulbic and Topor-Stanley have been punished. Out wide they look a little light-weight.
The fix; Working on the defensive structure is an obvious one. Wayne Shroj, if he is anywhere near the player he was in the NSL, could provide a nice buffer in front of the defence, while Mitchell would do well to go to three up front, with Rukavytsya left and Trindad right is support of Dadi, with a central midfield trio of Shroj, Amaral and Pellegrino behind.
Newcastle Jets, 2 pts
The good; Kantarovski has impressed in his two starts, while Song, with his wonderful technical work, is arguably the best player in the A-League. Holland has been very neat in central midfielder, but these days looks more a holding midfielder.
The bad; skipper North looks like his mind is elsewhere, while the jury is very much still out on the marquee man Zura and the Dane. There is still a big question mark on whether Wheelhouse is the right option in Musialik's holding role. He has certainly tried and is physical, but just doesn't see things like his predecessor (in truth, few do). The left looks all over the place, with neither D'Apuzzo nor Thompson flourishing.
The fix; perhaps it's a too early, but maybe van Egmond might think of switching Kantarovski (he sure looks a footballer) into the holding role alongside Holland, with Griffiths driving from behind Zura. Back to basics for the Jets.
Queensland Roar, 2 pts
The good; goal-a-game-Miller has been excellent and looks fit enough. McKay and Murdocca continue to buzz around and help the Roar dominate and control games, while Seo has looked ok at times.
The bad; Farina looks a little confused about how to use his multitude of options up front. Smits has been a miss, while van Djik has looked good but is yet to strike. Reinaldo took Jamieson to town in round two, but was comfortably beaten by Bojic in round three, while Zullo struggled yesterday. McCloughan's injury yesterday exposed a lack of defensive depth, and Tiatto continues to go down the dirty route whenever his feathers are ruffled.
The fix; not convinced Reinaldo is a permanent fix out wide, so maybe Farina needs to look at playing two up front, with a diamond midfield, but with who as the holding midfielder?
Central Coast Mariners, 4 pts
The good; Gotta say, it wasn't looking too positive until yesterday, when Jedinak made a major difference to the team's shape. Petrovski was good in the opening two games, especially against Sydney, and Simon has done what Simon does best; batter the opposition. Macallister proved McKinna has depth up front.
The bad; the inability of the defence to play out from the back has meant far too many long balls looking to hit to likes of Simon and Petrovski. Clark was the biggest culprit against Sydney, dishing up some of the worst distribution you'll ever see. McKinna got it wrong in the opening two rounds, playing Porter in the holding role instead of Hutchinson, while his decision to play Boogaard at left back against Sydney was a mistake that cost them points. Their direct, physical style hasn't suited the wide men Caceres and Elrich, both now injured.
The fix; Jedinak is back, while Bojic has looked comfortable coming forward from left back. Porter looked more comfortable attacking than holding, and playing Osman instead of Clark would at least improve the distribution out of the back.
Adelaide United, 7 pts
The good; the excellent work Vidmar did in defence ahead of the ACL has carried through to the season proper, and Adelaide look very hard to beat through the middle, with Costanzo and Ognenovski very solid. Vidmar has also made some sound tactical adjustments, managing to stem the flow of the round two game in Brisbane through his introduction of Salley and Barbiero. Cristiano sure looks a player up front, while Adelaide still look a threat on the counter through Dodd and Pantelis. Reid has had two good games.
The bad; Against the Roar the midfield was over-run, but at least Vidmar adjusted and got a point. Jamieson was caught out a few times by Reinaldo in the second half of that match, while Younis needs to feel his way in.
The fix; Salley's start on Saturday allowed Reid to push-on and influence in the front third, while Cristiano does prefer Agostino alongside him. Pantelis looks more comfortable out wide, unless Vidmar uses him as part of a three man central midfield.
Sydney FC, 7 pts
The good; Cole, with his two feet, ability to keep the ball, and wonderful ability over the dead ball, has been one of the stories of the season so far. Sydney's front third has looked brilliant, very fluid indeed, with Corica combining beautifully with Brosque, Bridge and Cole. Fyfe has done well at right back, McFlynn continues to be one of the most under-rated A-League players, while Bolton is in brilliant form.
The bad; have been caught out a few times in the heart of the defence, and Timpano is taking time to settle back in. Musialik looked in great from against the Mariners, but dropped his bundle.
The fix; will be interesting to see how Popovic goes alongside Colosimo.
Melbourne Victory, 7 pts
The good; where do I start? Central midfield has been excellent, with Lopez, simple, combining beautifully with Celeski and Hernandez. Great to see Celeski (pictured above, courtesy of http://www.melbournevictory.com.au/) in his rightful place in the centre of midfield, something I've been championing here for some time. Thwaite has stiffened things up at the back, Kemp has been bombing on, Berger did very well as a left back against Newcastle (this looks like his position), while Fabiano is a beautiful link between midfield and attack. Often maligned for his negative changes, Merrick made a brilliant positive sub by introducing Thompson for Thwaite. Allsopp is enjoying himself, and Brebner scores with his first touch. Happy days indeed.
The bad and the fix; not much the worry about at this stage, they have completely dominated their three games and, if it wasn't for Bolton, they'd have maximum points.