Wellington Phoenix hosted Adelaide United in the A-League knowing that anything other than a win would confirm Sydney FC’s title. The visitors also still have plenty to play for as they aimed to hold onto their finals position. The match was a cagier affair than expected with both sides struggling for chances. Adelaide had the better of the first half however, The Nix grew into the game. Adelaide opened the scoring on the hour mark before the hosts drew level five minutes later. Ulises Davila missed a penalty in the 88th minute which could have sealed the match for his side.
This tactical analysis will look at the tactics used by both sides and how these contributed to the result. The analysis will look at the teams and how they looked to break each other down throughout the game.
The hosts lined up in a familiar 4-4-2 formation, however, Ufuk Talay made six changes from the midweek victory over Perth Glory. Stefan Marinovic kept his place in goal while Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi came in to partner Steven Taylor at the heart of the Nix defence. 18-year-old Liberato Cacace continued at left-back with Callan Elliot in on the right side of the defence. Former Inter youth player Reno Piscopo kept his place on the wing while Sam Sutton came in on the other side. There were also two changes in the centre of the park with Alex Rufer partnering Brandon Wilson. Former Celtic and Premier League forward Gary Hooper was partnered with Jaushua Sotirio in attack. The full-backs played high, particularly Cacace as Piscopo tucked inside.
Ulises Davila was brought on at half-time and added an attacking spark to Wellington’s play. The Mexican took four shots in the second half as well as providing three crosses. This shows that he was instrumental in both trying to create chances and having shots himself.
The visitors opted for a similar 4-4-1-1 formation with one change from their victory over Brisbane Roar. Paul Izzo played in goal, protected by a back four of, Ryan Strain, Jordan Elsey, Michael Jakobsen and Ryan Kitto. Taras Gomulka and Stefan Mauk continued in the centre of the park with Ben Halloran keeping his place out wide with Lachlan Brook brought in on the right. Riley McGree played ahead of the midfield and was given licence to roam around the field. Kristian Opseth continued to lead the line.
As mentioned above, the match was a relatively cagey affair with chances hard to come by. Neither side played a particularly high pressing game instead opting for more conservative approaches. The hosts had a PPDA of 12.7 whilst the visitors was 17.5. This shows that they both allowed each other a reasonable amount of time on the ball.
Adelaide tended to allow Wellington the ball in their own half before instigating a press as they crossed the halfway line. As shown below, they set up in a 4-4-2 formation when defending with McGree moving alongside Opseth. This allowed them to match the hosts man for man and allow little space to their opponents. Opseth and McGree picked up the Nix’s midfielders while the defenders were allowed time on the ball. This prompted Taylor and Hudson-Wihongi to pass long or between themselves, lowering their threat.
Wellington Phoenix operated a similar system of sitting off their opponents. They didn’t Initiate a press in the same manner as Adelaide, however, and allowed even more time as they progressed forward. They instead had a relatively high line and kept the spaces between the lines tight. This is shown below as Adelaide bring the ball out of defence. As Jakobsen steps out all of his obvious options are blocked off by Nix defenders. He attempted to break the lines and find Opseth, however the defenders positioning again allowed this to be intercepted.
This closing of space took place throughout the match by Wellington Phoenix and really stopped Adelaide getting a serious foothold in the match despite their pressure at times. The lack of space made it difficult for the likes of Riley McGree to have an influence on the match. Adelaide’s number eight who is usually instrumental had very little impact managing just two shots, both from range. This was the case for most of the side as shown on the shot map below, most efforts were from outside of the area with only a few inside.
Full-backs providing the width
As mentioned before, the home side had a reliance on their full-backs to push forward and offer the width. Reno Piscopo on the left, in particular, sat narrow which encouraged Cacace to push on. The narrow midfield is emphasised by 72% of Wellington’s attacks coming thought the centre. Below, is an example of the Nix attacking full-backs.
Highlighted on the edge of the area are the to wingers, Piscopo and Sutton. This, along with Adelaide’s narrow defence, allowed plenty of space for Elliot and Cacace out wide. Elliot drove forward with the ball on the right under no challenge and delivered a cross. Cacace on the left also had plenty of space and wasn’t picked up as he drifted inside. The ball eventually broke to the youngster, but he couldn’t control his shot.
We can also see the influence had by Cacace on the ball, below. Callum McCowaat, now playing on the left-wing, has tucked inside. This has drawn the defender into the box leaving Cacace one-on-one with Ben Halloran. The left-back was able to get a ball into the box thanks to McCowatt drawing away the defender and allowing him space. Despite being out of shot, Elliot had also pushed forward on the right. This shows their emphasis on this style of play.
Adelaide’s attacking shape
As mentioned before, Riley McGree struggled to get into the game and floated around the park. While in the defensive phase he sat alongside Opseth, in possession this was different. As shown below, he dropped back forming a 4-1-4-1 formation. This allowed more passing options for the Adelaide defenders as these were limited by Wellington’s defensive Shape. Gomulka sat in front of the back four acting as a pivot with McGree and Mauk playing ahead of him. This trio meant Adelaide could now outnumber the hosts in the middle of the park. This allowed them greater freedom to try and break the home side down. It also meant that a winger would often be forced to come inside and mark the extra man, which created space for Halloran and Brook out wide.
In the second half, Halloran was switched to the right flank which worked to great effect. 90% of Adelaide’s attacks came down this side and this change also led to their opening goal. Halloran picked the ball up on the halfway line using his pace to drive up the park. He played an accurate cross which found Opseth to head home. The emphasis on the right flank can also be seen by the key passes graph below.
Ryan Strain contributed two key passes from right-back, while Lachlan Brook also contributed two while playing on that side in the first half. Adelaide had identified that Cacace was being pushed high up the park due to Piscopo sitting high and narrow. This allowed the visitors to double up on the 18-year-old and find most of their opportunities down his side. This can be seen below.
Ryan Strain made a run on the outside of Cacace while Mauk Made the run into the half-space. Strain’s movement forward dragged the left-back out of position creating the space for Mauk to attack. This led to the midfielder crossing for Opseth who was unable to convert the opportunity.
This match didn’t provide the entertainment that was perhaps expected due to both sides’ defensive organisation. This led to it being a game of few chances with no side really being able to dominate. Wellington’s attacking full-backs offered a threat going forward however, at times left them exposed defensively. Adelaide’s flexibility in midfield allowed them to vary their attacks, however, didn’t have too much success in the end.
With the Nix now 11 points behind Sydney with three games remaining, Steve Carico’s side were crowned champions of the A-League for a fourth time. This result saw Adelaide keep hold of their finals position with but Western United are hot on their tail with a couple of games in hand.