On 7th August, a cracking A-league clash between Western United and Western Sydney Wanderers took place. Both teams were looking for a win to close the gap between them and the sixth position that means a berth in the finals series. The Wanderers were coming off of a defeat in the last match against Perth Glory, so were desperate for a win. Since the restart of the league, the Wanderers have had a draw, a win, and a loss. Western United also had faced a loss to Newcastle Jets before this fixture at the Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
The United won with a scoreline of 5–3 and are in a much stronger position with two points difference from the sixth positioned Adelaide United and three games in hand. The Wanderers lost a must-win match and are positioned ninth in the table with only one game in hand. This tactical analysis will explain the tactics used by both the teams and give an analysis of the match.
Mark Rudan, coach of Western United, in this season, has used the 3-4-3 formation frequently similar to Dortmund of Bundesliga. Filip Kurto who is currently fourth in the most saves table of the league with 79 saves in 23 appearances, was in between the sticks. The back-three formed by Tomoki Imai, Andrew Durante, and Aaron Calver. The midfield four consisted of Josh Risdon, Steven Lustica, Tomislav Uskok, and Connor Pain. The forwards Alessandro Diamanti, Besart Berisha, and Max Burgess formed the front three.
The Wanderers’ coach Jean-Paul de Marigny also used a back-three formation of 3-4-1-2. With Tristan Prendergast as the goal-keeper. Backline three of Matthew Jurman, Dylan McGowan, and Patrick Ziegler. Midfield consisting of Daniel Georgievski, Jordan O’Doherty, Keanu Baccus, and Tate Russell. Front three formed with Simon Cox, a former player of West Bromwich Albion team in the EPL, Kwame Yeboah, and Mitchell Duke.
Western United build-up
Western United attacked down the wings frequently in this match. The full-backs Risdon and Pain played a very important role in the attacking phase for Western United. Western United didn’t try to dominate in possession, as can be observed by the possession stat of this match, they enjoyed 49% of the ball.
During the build-up, Uskok played as CDM, and Lustica played as a box-to-box midfielder. An instance of the build-up is shown below.
Three centre-backs and the CDM, Uskok would form a rhombus shape in the build-up. This would give them numerical superiority in the case when the three forwards of the Wanderers would press high. The wingers of Western United – Burgess and Diamanti – would come down the pitch opening the flanks for the full-backs. Burgess would often make runs in the half-space, underlapping the full-back, Pain, who would be the ball carrier, to provide a passing option to continue the attack.
The next instance occurred just seconds after the previous image. We can observe the winger Burgess, marked in red, has come down the pitch to receive the pass while the left full-back Pain, in green, is playing up the pitch. CDM Uskok, in blue, would move towards the left-wing providing a passing option as well as forming a triangle on the flank.
Observe that Lustica, in yellow, is coming down the pitch. In the next instance, we can see that the ball is passed back to the centre-backs and Lustica has taken up the CDM role while Uskok, in red, has moved up the pitch. The rhombus shape was again created in the back.
Burgess-Pain and Diamanti-Risdon combination on flanks
Western United attacked using the flanks for the maximum number of times, observed in the attack by flanks and danger level map shown below. There are only eight attacks from the centre while both the flanks’ attacks combined add up to 34 attacks.
An instance is shown below which signifies the attacking tactics used on the flanks by Western United. In this case, also Burgess, in red, has come down the pitch to receive the pass and quickly connects the ball to Uskok, in blue, who further passes the ball to the left full-back Pain, in green.
Burgess makes an under-lapping run in the half-space as shown in the next instance. Though this was not an attack it gives an idea of what kind of combination passes were involved for the movement through the flank. The winger would come down the pitch to receive the pass, the respective midfielder would provide a passing option while the full-back stays up the pitch.
The full-backs were given freedom in the final third of the pitch and would often cut-in to play in the centre. Even the first goal was scored by the right full-back, Risdon. The Wanderers’ full-backs would mark and press the opposition full-backs, hence often there would be a gap between the CB and FB of the Wanderers’ defensive line. The Burgess-Pain combination on the left flank was lethal in exploiting these gaps. The instance shown below is just before the first goal.
Observe that Russell, in blue, is out of position and there is a gap between the CB and FB. Burgess, in green, has occupied that space and is going to put in a cross. The pass was made by Pain, in red, who has stretched the defensive line. Notice that Risdon, in white, is the right full-back who is in the centre of the pitch and is the one who heads the ball home.
On the right flank, the Diamanti-Risdon combination was also clinical. Diamanti is an excellent playmaker which is observed in the following instance in which he sets up a pass to Risdon which eventually ends up in the back of the net.
Diamanti, in red, strings a pass between the full-back and the midfielder. Risdon, in white, puts a cross in which is tapped-in by Berisha, in yellow. Hence on both the flanks, Western United put up exceptional attacks. This was a counter-attack as can be observed that the defence of the Wanderers is in transition.
Initial attacking strategy of Wanderers
Western Sydney Wanderers had a clear aim in the attacking phase, that any path may be used, but the ball should reach the forwards. The forwards would position themselves in between the lines to receive the pass and turn to continue the attack. The Wanderers also used the flanks while attacking. One of the centre-backs in the attacking phase would step up in the flank and provide support to the full-back, providing an extra man in the front line; this is shown in the instance below.
The 5-2-3 defensive shape of Western United is highlighted. The centre-back Ziegler, in yellow, has stepped up into the full-back position and the full-back Russell, in green, is playing in the winger position. Western United’s full-back Pain is pinned because of this move while on the near side we can see Georgievski, indicated by an arrow, is being marked by Risdon. Cox, in white, gets a lot of space in between the lines due to the pinning of Pain. This enables a direct passing option in the centre of the pitch. An instance indicating this is shown below.
Cox, in white, is free in the centre of the pitch and receives the pass from Baccus, in yellow, and on the far side, we can observe Russell making a run behind the opposition full-back. Cox turns and strings a through-pass in the gap between the CB and FB for Russell which is shown below.
Cox, in red, puts a through-pass in the gap for Russell. The three forwards of the Wanderers were man-marked by the three centre-backs of Western United. The centre-backs of the Wanderers would often put a direct pass to the forwards. In the following instance, Russell, in yellow, drops deep, attracting the opposition full-back Pain, which creates the gap between the CB and FB in the defensive line. The centre-back Ziegler, in green, strings a direct pass to Yeboah, in red.
Though these tactics provided some lethal and dangerous attempts but could not acquire goals for the Wanderers and ended the first half two goals down.
The Wanderers’ tactical change in 2nd half
Marigny made a couple of substitutions in the second half. They brought in Mohamed Adam for Simon Cox, Pirmin Schwegler for O’Doherty, and Bruce Kamau for Russell. The Wanderers began attacking the gap between the CB and FB of Western United’s defensive line more. The midfielder Schwegler would also combine in the attack with the full-back Kamau and forward Adam. The fresh legs of the new players helped immensely in overloading the half-spaces. An instance is shown below.
Adam, in red, makes a pass in the half-space and makes a run in towards the box. Schwegler, in yellow, picks up the pass in the half-space and continues the attack. A 2v1 situation on the flank with Kamau, in green, providing a passing option. The following instance is of the right flank, Georgievski exploiting the gap in the half-space. Schwegler makes an overhead pass in this scenario.
Yeboah and Georgievski against Imai created a 2v1 situation where Imai is marking Yeboah, circled. Georgievski, in yellow, makes an overlapping run to receive the overhead pass in the half-space inside the box. Georgievski strings a cut-in cross which Yeboah tries to hit but misses and falls neatly to the foot of Duke, in white, who scores to level the score. Stretching the defence line and exploiting the gap between CB and FB was used frequently. An instance highlighting Adam exploiting the gap and man-marking of Western United’s centre-backs is shown below.
Adam, in white, is running towards the ball into the gap attracting the centre-back with him out of the box. We can observe the man-marking of the forwards of the Wanderers clearly in this image.
Though there was a comeback by the Wanderers, Diamanti stole the spotlight of the second half with two chips over the goalkeeper for goals. The loss has cost the Wanderers the finals series berth. Western United’s position is strong with three games in hand and two points difference to the sixth positioned Adelaide United. With the latter having only a game remaining of the regular season. Both teams playing with three at the back were exploiting the half-space gaps of the opposition. Though with less possession of the ball, Western United emerged victorious in the clash.