A-League review: What to make of Melbourne City; Durante's risky play
It's Monday. Here's the good, bad and ugly from Round 19 in the A-League...
The City dilemma
In contrast to narratives on Melbourne City's legitimacy as an A-League title contender, all of a sudden, they have only won two games from nine against opposition in the top six. Meanwhile, those two wins were at the start of the season. Furthermore, one of those wins was a first leg of sorts -- before Adelaide United thrashed them in the FFA Cup Final three days later. On Saturday, in their 1-0 loss to Wellington Phoenix in Auckland, Melbourne City were effectively Melbourne City-ed. In relation to the amount of possession, the type of chances Erick Mombaerts' side created were arguably not of substantial threat.
It's hard to quantify how much each aspect contributes, but this is arguably a combination of tactics, personnel and mentality. After City did the same to Melbourne Victory only a week before, Wellington were the team to absorb pressure and capitalise on the break this time. A sidenote, Cameron Devlin's pass to Gary Hooper in the lead-up to David Ball's eventual winner was centimetre perfect. He and Matti Steinmann continue to control games in a way City cannot against tougher opposition. City can control games, but there is growing sense that this can only happen with lesser blocks of possession.
With opposition containing similar qualities of attrition coming up in the next fortnight -- in the form of Brisbane and Perth Glory -- there is a sense we could see more evidence of this.
Durante stepping up
Andrew Durante stepping into midfield has been a tactic evident throughout this season for Western United, but it has arguably brought upon more risk than any tangible effectiveness. On Sunday, in their 1-0 loss to Brisbane Roar in Ballarat, it was a contributing factor in deciding the match. While the principle behind the instruction is logical, the issue with implementation has related to the how and when.
Take Mirza Muratovic's goal in the 61st minute, for example. Instead of retreating to the defensive line in an early phase of possession, Durante stays ahead of the half-way line with the midfield. Following Jerry Skotadis' pass to Tomoki Imai back into Western United's half, Imai is bereft of passing options and has to riskily try to dribble his way out of pressure. Because of Imai's lack of options in this scenario, Brad Inman is able to commit to pressing and upon winning the ball, leaves Oskar Dillon stranded in a 2v1 scenario. It's a 2v1 scenario to begin with because Durante has to retreat, and he's behind play.
In a game of half-chances and scrambles, Muratovic was then left with a simple finish. This is not to say centre-backs should be rooted to their positions when their team has the ball. Centre-backs can break lines with movement, which then allows midfielders to further manipulate defensive positions. They theoretically should be stepping into spaces that open up, but their starting positions and whether a defensive shape is actually stretched are key in this sense. With regards to Durante, risk becomes negative if as a primary passing option, he is closer to midfield.
Again, the kids are alright
Speaking of Muratovic's goal, thinking more holistically in terms of Australian football, there was something captivating in seeing two players born in the 2000s scoring. Not only scoring, but scoring and deciding matches in matches that actually matter. In a game that will likely influence eventual finals calculations, the Brisbane Roar attacker -- who only just turned 20 last month -- provided much-needed pressure relief as a substitute.
After Dylan Wenzel-Halls fulfilled a similarly substantial task, Muratovic had to incorporate others into the game with his back to goal, providing relief in possession and movement. This, along with the defensive responsibilities that have come to define Robbie Fowler's side. On Friday night, in Adelaide United's 2-0 win at home to Central Coast, 15-year-old Mohamed Toure changed the complexion of the match. With the result, and following Melbourne City's loss on Saturday, Adelaide remain in touch for the AFC Champions League qualification spot.
A team already brimming with energy and verve in transitional phases, Toure only complemented. It was fitting to see his movement and explosiveness helping create the space for George Blackwood's goal in the 82nd minute. Then, providing the punctuation mark to Riley McGree bustling his way through midfield in the most Riley McGree manner possible. More of it, please.
It seems appropriate that in a match between Western Sydney and Newcastle this season, a total of 37 shots resulted in only two goals. Added to that in the 1-1 draw, the Wanderers' goal came from the penalty spot, after Bruce Kamau was set free in transition. Their best opportunities came in broken phases of play via transitions, dead balls and quickly upon retrievals of possession. Along with the energy and numbers in advanced positions their full-backs provide, Newcastle remained in the match through their penetrative play in midfield.
Again, however, lacked the requisite realisation to truly capitalise on the chances they create. Same old story for both on the ball, despite the fact both sides have recently dismissed their coaches. It only reaffirmed the belief players always dictate what coaches can actually implement from a tactical standpoint.