Melbourne Victory hosted Western United in a Melbourne derby at the Bankwest Stadium. Western United – in their debut season in the Hyundai A-League – sit in seventh spot heading into this contest, three points behind sixth-placed Adelaide United with two games in hand.
A win for Western United would put them in the box seat to play finals football. While Melbourne Victory’s finals hopes are faint, interim boss Grant Brebner would have hoped his side can move up the ladder over the closing rounds.
This tactical analysis will look at United’s dominant first-half display that earned them the win over Victory. The analysis will look at both side’s tactics and how these influenced the outcome of the match.
Melbourne Victory lined up in their familiar 4-4-2 formation. Former K-League defender James Donachie started alongside young centre-back Aaron Anderson at the back. In midfield, Migjen Basha and Leigh Broxham started in central midfield with Elvis Kamosha and Marco Rojas on the wings. Up top, former J1 League striker Andrew Nabbout started alongside youngster Birkan Kirdar.
Western United started with three at the back in a 3-4-3 system. Andrew Durante played in the middle of the back three with Tomislav Uskok and Tomoki Imai on either side, with two Socceroos internationals, Josh Risdon and Pain providing the width as wing-backs. In centre midfield, Sebastian Pasquali started alongside Steven Lustica. Former West Ham midfielder Alessandro Diamanti and Max Burgess started behind former Bundesliga striker Besart Berisha in attacking midfield.
Western United started with three at the back in possession. This is usually done to have enough players while building up from the back. Three ball-playing defenders take positions on either half-spaces and central zone to rotate the ball amongst themselves to bypass opponents’ first line of defence. United’s three central defenders made 173 passes, out of which 89 were lateral passes.
Pasquali and Lustica were deployed as deep-lying playmakers. Their job was to create passing combinations with centre-backs and wing-backs to create a numerical advantage against opponent attackers.
Former Central Coast Mariners defender Tomi Uskok plays the ball from defensive external zone to Pasquali who is in the left half-space. Pasquali passes to Lustica in the central zone. From there, the centre-midfielder has space to dribble forward. This is a popular build-up play used by Pep Guardiola teams, where each player makes the pass in a different zone to make smart and progressive moves to disorganize opponent lines.
This is referred to as the 3-2 principle, which states not more than three players in a horizontal zone and not more than two players in a vertical zone. This gives the ballplayer more options to pass by staggering players across the pitch.
The 3-2 principle is more clearly visible in the previous picture, where United have three centre-backs in the defensive horizontal with two players on the left vertical and two in left half-space. This staggering helped United to rotate the ball around the pitch, and enjoyed 52% possession in the first half with the number of possessions counting to 106 in the match.
As we see in the picture, each of the centre-backs have three options to play the ball to. All the options are also in different areas of the pitch. This helps to maintain possession and rotate the ball around to disorganize the opponent and finds pockets of space to run into.
Out of possession
While defending Western United would set-up in a 5-3-2 formation when the ball is in the central zone. Midfielders and attacking players would take up narrow positions so they don’t get outnumbered in the centre. Because they play with an extra defender, the opponent could bypass the lines by creating numerical superiority.
As when the ball moves to the external zones, the wing-back would break from the backline to put pressure on the wide players. Thus, attacking players can fall back to positions in the meantime. And at the same time, the defensive line still has four players with the far wing-back tugging in to defend.
Western United had a medium ‘line of confrontation’ with a high defensive line. Five attacking players had to cover more ground against Victory’s six players to maintain equality in wide areas. Whenever Victory’s wide players got the ball, United’s full-back would collapse on the player to buy time. At the same time, remaining defenders would shift to cover forming a back four.
Western United had the pressing intensity metric, PPDA, of 11.4 in the first half compared to 25.1 in the second. PPDA shows numbers of opponent’s passes allowed in the attacking half before a defensive action.
In the second half, Melbourne Victory came back strongly and dominated the possession of the ball with 56% compared to 48% in the first half. Victory raised the tempo of their play, which is shown by the pressing intensity metric, PPDA, of 9.6 after the break compared to 13.5 in the first half.
In possession, Melbourne Victory tried to outnumber United’s five attacking players with the back four and two centre-midfielders dropping deep. Victory’s centre-backs Anderson and Donachie played 64 lateral passes between them urging United’s players to press higher. Both full-backs stayed high and wide to receive the pass behind the United’s midfield line, which isolated their wing-back and right centre-back with a 3v2 situation.
On occasions, Victory players tried to overload either wing to venture deep into the United half, in the picture, we see they have five players on the left side. From there they would either create combinations to attack the left channel. Or, they would shift play to the right side through the two players in the central zone to the full-back, where he would run at the defence to gain territory.
In the later stages of the game, Western United dropped off with a low line of confrontation, letting a PPDA of 25.1. In the picture, we see Victory have three players behind United’s midfield line, they were hoping of exploiting this once they could bypass the first line of defence. However, United’s attacking players were quick to cover spaces to not get outnumbered. And on occasions, if their press was bypassed, defenders would break from the defensive line to mark these players between lines.
Both teams had different variations for corners. Western United would make a short pass to the nearby player, who would play through in the box. From the byline, the player can make a cross to the penalty spot. As shown in the picture, Burgess receives the ball in the box and then cutbacks the cross from byline for Uskok to score.
Melbourne Victory corner routine was an interesting one. The corner taker signals a far-post ball by raising both hands just before, and a near-post ball with a tap to his thigh. Victory players would be staggered in the box, making deep runs from the edge of the box to attack the space in front of the goalkeeper.
For their consolation goal in the 83rd minute, Rojas puts the ball in space in near-post for Rous to attack from deep and deflect the corner to the bottom-left.
In a game of two halves, the Green and Blacks maintained their perfect record against their cross-town rivals with a third straight triumph. Max Burgess continued his red-hot scoring form to keep Western United in the hunt to mark their inaugural season with a trip to the Finals Series.
This analysis shows how with extra bodies in the middle of the pitch, Western United seized control of possession from the off with Melbourne Victory content to sit deep and play on the counter.