Having had a look at all the teams in the opening round, here I explore some of the big questions ahead of what is shaping up as another intriguing round.
Can Ian Crook put out a more cohesive XI?
Judging by their performance in Wellington, where Alessandro Del Piero shone above the rest of his teammates, you would think Ian Crook’s men had barely met.
Of course, a series of canceled pre-season games meant they didn’t get the match conditioning required, and building an understanding will take a few games, but Crook has to sort out some personnel issues.
Primarily, he wants to play out from the back. In that sense, his set-up was very Brisbane Roar-like, with the two central defenders split wide, the fullbacks pushing on to half-way and the holding midfielder dropping between the defenders to start the play.
Structurally it looks sound, but the bigger question appears to be whether he has the personnel right to fit the system.
A loyal club servant he may be, but Terry McFlynn is not the passing type to enable a proactive approach in an open system, like, say, Erik Paartalu.
He is more of a ball-winner, suited to a reactive system where things are tight and you can spring from there. Sydney’s play at the back end of last season suited McFlynn.
Sydney’s other main issue in Wellington was the release from goalkeeper and central defender. Again, this appeared a question of personnel, with neither Adam Griffiths, Trent McClenehan and Ivan Necevski looking entirely relaxed on the ball.
Even left back Fabio struggled, while right back Brett Emerton tended to drift into central midfield. It was unclear if he was doing this under instruction or to help those struggling in the centre.
You’ll remember Guus Hiddink used Emerton in central midfield from time to time, so it’s not an area completely alien to him.
Higher, Del Piero had no-one to play with in the front third, with Kruno Lovrek, Mitch Mallia and Joel Chianese all struggling to combine.
The issue for Crook is that, until Jason Culina signs, he doesn’t have a natural enabler, so he may have to tinker a bit, either with system or personnel.
A couple of young players that should be in the immediate mix are midfielder Hagi Gligor and wide attacker Dimi Petratos, but this doesn’t quite answer the question of who will carry the ball out of defence?
The Jets are likely to prey on this uncertainty and press Sydney’s back-five.
Will the Jets be a less direct to Heskey?
The danger for Gary van Egmond, in bringing a big target man like Emile Heskey in, is that his team will be too tempted to hit and play off him at every opportunity.
This was the case against Adelaide, and with the bumpy pitch and strong wind not helping, Newcastle’s play was disconnected.
When James Virgili came on late for Heskey, the Jets kept it on the deck and looked more cohesive.
The difference was that Virgili dropped off, so when he received the ball he was facing goal and able to play forward or strike at goal.
Heskey, meanwhile, played high and always had his back to goal, thus making it more tempting to aim long to him.
The surface at Allianz Stadium should help the Jets passing, but they mustn’t be so obsessed about hitting Heskey early.
Who will take the initiative between Adelaide and the Wanderers?
With both Adelaide United and Western Sydney Wanderers playing a 4-2-3-1 with an emphasis first on remaining compact defensively and springing quickly into forward transition, it will be intriguing to see who makes the running tonight.
Of course, the onus is generally on the home side to take the initiative, but this isn’t always the case, as we saw with the Wanderers on Saturday.
Adelaide, in the off-season, appear to have added a more proactive style to their play, and this was evidenced by the first 30 or so minutes of the first leg of the ACL quarter final against Bunyodkor.
Until Nigel Boogaard’s red card, Adelaide were all over their opponents, playing high, pressing and playing at a tempo their opponents couldn’t live with.
The red card forced them back. The evidence since has been that it may take them some time to get used to playing a little more proactively.
The Wanderers, it seems, are also set to play reactively, and I’d expect to see them looking to utilise the space in behind Cassio here through the pace Youssouf Hersi and prompting of Aaron Mooy and Shinji Ono.
Adelaide meanwhile will look to stretch Wanderers through the pace of Ian Ramsey and if they can do this, they’ll create some room for Jeronimo Neumann and Fabio Ferreira.
The latter had such an impressive impact off the bench against Newcastle and is set to come in for the injured Dario Vidosic. Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Adam D’Apuzzo will need to be alert.
Of course, Tony Popovic’s men proved on debut that they can remain compact, even defending high, so this should be another intriguing tactical battle.
On the road, I’d expect the tempo to be hotter here, and this will be another test to see how organised Western Sydney can remain.
Will Aloisi need some creativity against the Phoenix?
I wrote about Melbourne Heart’s tactics in the Melbourne derby, but the Phoenix are likely to pose an altogether different challenge for Aloisi, even with so many away on international duty.
Instead of trying to boss possession like the Victory, the ‘Nix are likely to be more reactive, happy to sit back, absorb and counter.
Even with Ben Sigmund and Manny Muscat absent, they will rely on a defensive axis marshalled by the consistent Andrew Durante.
The Heart, at home, are unlikely to be able to use the high pressing game they used against the Victory as often.
Does this mean Aloisi will need play a more patient possession game, looking for answers to break down what is likely to be a stubborn rearguard?
If so, there may be a little more game-time for someone like Josip Tadic, and it will be interesting to see what this means for the likes of Dylan Macallister and Richard Garcia.
Can Brisbane Roar be more effective with their quicker transition?
The one thing that was clear to me in Perth last week is that Brisbane look a far less patient team then they were under Ange Postecoglou.
Under Rado Vidosic they look to be more direct in forward transition, getting it into the final third quicker and looking to penetrate immediately through the pace of Ben Halloran and Nick Fitzgerald on the flanks.
The strategy was more miss than hit in Perth, and will need to be more ruthless at home.
Against a Victory side that want to play out from the back, the Roar may have more opportunities, especially with Postecoglou’s best back third passer, Mark Milligan, absent on international duty.
Pressing Melbourne high and reacting swiftly might just suit the new look Roar.
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