With the A-League almost reaches its halfway mark, teams are shaping up for their last push in order to get the best place on the league table as possible and also meet their expectations. At Ronnie Dog Media, we are also entering a busy period where analysis and opinion articles get to published across our sites. Along with that, we introduce several of our new sites that will hopefully catch the attention of sports fans. Among those sites, there is A-League Analysis, where I am going to cover A-League matches, teams and players and hopefully, in the foreseen future, there will be writers who can cover the W-League in a similar way.
In my debut article for the site, I will shift my focus towards the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane where the home team Brisbane Roar welcomed in-form Wellington Phoenix in what was considered a fascinating match-up on matchday 15. While Roar have started to regain their form and eventually secured five points out of nine in their last three matches, Phoenix have been a dark horse for this season under Ufuk Talay. They have risen up to the fourth place on the league table and were chasing a place to the continental competition next season.
This tactical analysis will provide an analysis on Brisbane Roar’s 1-0 win over Wellington Phoenix on matchday 15. Meanwhile, using statistics, we will point out the noticeable tactical points in Robbie Fowler’s tactics and Ufuk Talay’s tactics.
While there were predictions where the home side Brisbane Roar would line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the absentees who travelled to Thailand for the AFC Under-23 Championship forced Fowler to change his plans. Instead, he went for a more familiar formation in a 5-4-1 with some minor changes to the side that secured one point against Melbourne City.
Among the players who are battling out for a spot in the final for the Olyroos, there were Roar’s key names in Aiden O’Neill and Connor O’Toole. With the under-23 team have now qualified for the semi-final, they won’t be back sooner or later. Furthermore, with captain Tom Aldred got suspended and defender Jordan Courtney-Perkins still recovering from his injury, Fowler did not have many options to choose from besides his starting defenders which included new signing Corey Brown. Up front, youngster Mirza Muratovic led the line for the team as he received support by Jay O’Shea and Bradden Inman.
Meanwhile, Talay also opted to go with a familiar formation in a 4-4-2 and included several well-known names in the lineup for this match. Phoenix also had a similar situation to Roar’s since one of their key players in Reno Piscopo joined up with the Olyroos in their quest to bring the AFC U23 trophy back to the country. But with former Norwich City striker, Gary Hooper and ex-Chelsea player Ulises Dávila led the line, there was a certainty about the quality up front.
At the back, veteran goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic did spend time with EFL Championship side Bristol City before coming back to New Zealand and became the first choice for Phoenix. He received support from another player who used to play in the Premier League in Steven Taylor and young prospect Liberato Cacace, who have had an outstanding season up to now. Along with Cacace, central midfielder Cameron Devlin was also another prospect to shine this season as he joined former Hamburg midfielder Matti Steinmann to occupy the middle area of the pitch for Phoenix.
Phoenix’s style of play
Being considered as a favourite for this match, there was no surprise to see Phoenix approached this match with high confidence and it allowed them to execute what they have intended. When they held possession, they tended to put an emphasis on playing out from the back and aimed to break Roar’s defensive structure down by playing the ball in between their defensive lines.
As shown below, the away side attempted to create a passing box inside their own half with the involvement of all four defenders and two central midfielders. With Roar did not press too aggressively and only started their press when their opposition moved the ball into the final third, this gave Phoenix more time to control the ball during their build-up phase. Still, it was more frequent to see the defenders focused on circulating the ball down the left-hand side and used the opposite wing to bring the ball forward.
Their plan for doing that was to encouraged left-back Liberato Cacace to stay back during that period and offered a viable passing option from out wide. While still able to create passing triangles with both Steinmann and Devlin, Cacace’s positioning allowed them to have an option in which they could lay their passes towards when Roar attackers attempted to press from the central half of the pitch.
This was two of the reasons why it was possible for Phoenix to keep the ball on more occasions than their opponent with 58%. They also registered a higher number of passes in 608 and completed 542 of them, a high number but reasonable for a possession-oriented side. At the same time, it made sense to see Phoenix had more of the ball during the match and also created more chances towards the opposition’s goal.
With eighteen chances created throughout the game, they should have had at least a goal to their name. Still, the thing that let them down the most was the quality of their chances and it hindered them from finding that equaliser for the majority of the time. From their shots map below, it is easy to notice that most of the chances that they had were from outside of the 16-yard box. This contributed heavily to their total xG rating since those chances were rated quite low in terms of Expected Goals.
To understand why Phoenix struggled to find a way into Jamie Young’s goal, it is worth looking at how they created their attacks during this match. As mentioned earlier, the away side were a wing-oriented team and they attacked down the right-hand side more often with the involvement of right-back Tim Payne.
In the role of an attacking full-back, he tended to overlap up the pitch more often and made crosses into the box for his teammates. It does not come as a surprise to see the New Zealand international registered the highest amount of crosses compared to other players on the field, with seven crosses and completed three of them.
At the same time, he also received support from winger Jaushua Sotirio as these two usually combined with each other to make the most out of the team’s attack down that right-hand side. The Australian winger would tuck inside and occupy the right half-space while also progressing forward along with the striking duo. This gave Payne the right-wing to surge forward either with or without the ball. There, he would act as a possible option to get the ball into the box with his crosses.
Furthermore, since Brisbane Roar had the tendency of creating overloads inside the central part of the pitch, this allowed the away side to capitalise both wings and create attacks down those areas. As shown below, with most of the home side’s players already swarmed the central half of the pitch, they left both flanks unoccupied and it gave Payne an opportunity to drive forward while also receive the through pass from his teammate.
Still, while it was able for Phoenix to create attacks down both wings, they struggled in terms of getting the ball into the final third. They faced a very stubborn defensive shape from Roar as the players aimed to defend zone 14 and the 16-yard box. Although they only occupied the central half of the pitch and allowed Phoenix to control both flanks, this strategy helped them in preventing short combinations and through passes being created and made in between the defensive lines.
Another thing to note, which was both Cacace and Payne were able to drive forward with the ball, they did not have many passing options to choose from and were forced to keep it more often. In the shot below, it is obvious that the Phoenix left-back was put into a passive state with no progressive passing options were available and only one choice of a back pass. Furthermore, Cacace was not even able to make a cross into the box since Roar’s centre-backs were ready to head the ball out of the area.
Defensively, Phoenix players attempted to create a 4-4-2 defensive shape whenever they were not on the ball. There, the defenders and the midfielders formed two distinctive defensive lines where they co-operated with each other to occupy the central half of the pitch and kept things tight at their end.
Since they opted to keep their defensive structure narrow, the players had to move across and shifted the shape towards the side where the ball carrier had the ball. The wing-back and the wide midfielder on that side became focal points during this phase as they were the first players to reach the ball carrier. When they reached the ball, immediately they would close the opposition’s player down and signal for support from his teammates.
Roar’s style of play
Under the management of Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler, Roar went in an opposite way compared to how they played under Ange Postecoglou. A few years ago, they took on a free-flowing style of play and aimed to play with high tempo when the now-Yokohama F Marinos manager was in charge. This season under Fowler, it is quite frequent to see them sit back for most of the time and deployed a negative style of play where they gave the opposition more time on the ball.
As mentioned earlier in this article, the same situation happened once again in this match since Phoenix were able to build-up on several occasions during the match. Furthermore, it was possible for them to gain numerical superiority since they had at least five players who were ready to involve in the build-up phase against three advanced players of Roar’s. Still, this situation changed significantly as the season progresses and also in this game.
The players were more encouraged to push high up the pitch and deployed a man-oriented press where each player was responsible for one of Phoenix’s defenders or midfielders. This strategy pinned their build-up down into their own half and forced the away side to play a long pass in order to bypass the press.
In contrast, though, although they remained to be decent during their press, there were problems which they showed across both halves. The situation above indicated clearly one of the problems that Roar encountered. While it was able for the home side to adopt their man-marking strategy during the press, they still left a couple of players unmarked since the home side only had five players in three midfielders and two strikers and it was unavoidable.
In this scenario, both Steinmann and Devlin were closed down and they had no option of making a back pass since Roar’s strikers had eliminated the passing lanes that could be created with the two centre-backs. But with Payne, the situation was different since Devlin could lay the ball to Steinmann and the former Hamburg midfielder would make a lofted pass towards the New Zealand international.
The same can be said with winger Callum McCowatt with him already made himself available by positioning in an unoccupied gap to receive the ball and start the back. Ultimately, that was the plan that the away side went with and this led to them having a quick attack which saw the youngster drove his shot wide.
When the press was bypassed, the players formed a 5-4-1 formation which indicated the mentioned negative state. The aim of this strategy was to keep things tight at their own end while also being able to gain numerical superiority inside their half. While the defenders maintained their line in the central half and both wing-backs occupied the half-spaces, both wingers were happy to stretch the shape wide and the central midfielders stayed central to provide support.
Along with the striker, Muratovic, they aimed to press Phoenix’s midfield line to cut down passing lanes and intercept passes that being made in between their lines. At the same time, they also needed to track back along with the defenders in order to minimise the space between both lines and gained numerical superiority inside their defensive third.
In possession, the centre-backs and two central midfielders created a passing box inside their half. During this season, it was able to notice the three centre-backs linked up with each other to progress the ball forward and this match was not an exception, either. Furthermore, the intention of linking up with Jacob Pepper and Rahmat Akbari was to play the ball between Phoenix’s pressing channels and allowed them to create an attack that had higher efficiency.
In order to maintain this, both central midfielders had to position themselves behind the attackers’ line and capitalised the gaps in between the attackers to receive the ball. Statistically speaking, the centre-back trio, especially Scott Neville and Macaulay Gillesphey, registered a high number of passes with 63 and sixty passes with an accurate rate of 97% and 90% respectively. This shows how heavily they relied on playing out from the back and it was able for them to create attacks through progressive passes that started from the centre-backs.
Inside the final third, Roar also showed a similar trend to Phoenix with them being a wing-oriented team. With 14 chances created down the right-hand side of Jack Hingert, they registered the total of 0.32 xG from that side of the pitch. But, at the same time, it was viable for them to create chances down the central part. Inman’s chance during the 84th minute was one of those chances and it also came from a successful press that saw Dylan Wenzel-Halls nicked the ball from one of Phoenix’s centre-backs and sent Inman into a free state to score. Unfortunately, he made his shot with his weaker foot and it eventually went wide.
While the Brisbane Roar and Wellington Phoenix clash at the Suncorp Stadium last weekend was one of the must-watch clashes of the matchday, it did not bring the excitement that the fans had expected. Still, the thing that it brought was some headache for both Fowler and Talay as they tried to instruct the team to play in the way that they have performed in the last few matchdays and to match the opposition at the same time.
Chances came after chances as both teams attempted to find a way into each other’s goal, but, in the end, the team that proved to be prolific in converting their chances came out of the match with three points. That was the case for Roar when Wenzel-Halls’ goal during the 69th minute helped Fowler’s side to continue their U-turn in form. Meanwhile, while Talay’s side can prove that this is a minor setback in a magnificent season of theirs, they still need to figure out a way to break down low-block sides since they might, and will, encounter opponents who play with this stubborn and frustrating strategy and it will allow them to have more attacking options in the future.