How the A-League grand final shapes up tactically in the absence of Arnieball

first_imgShare on LinkedIn Read more features Despite the increased sense of tactical ambiguity that Sydney FC’s absence provides, it still seems fitting Newcastle and Melbourne Victory will face off in Saturday night’s climax to this A-League season. More than others in recent memory, this term has been characterised by a reliance on counter-attacking, rooted in overall rigidity in possession against embedded defences – to the point where the team that sit off in these finals are arguably the more threatening. It’s fair to say, like most games of football, it will be won and lost in midfield. In Steven Ugarković, Newcastle have had the best central midfielder in the A-League this season, and by some margin. While his assist for Joey Champness in Brisbane was the best example of what he can do for the Jets in attack – making three separate movements before finally receiving, turning to face forward and thread the ball through the Roar defence – his assist for Jason Hoffman against Victory in December is important in context of the upcoming grand final. Despite Andrew Nabbout’s sale, Newcastle still have collective pace in attack through the likes of Roy O’Donovan, Riley McGree and Dimitri Petratos. With this in mind, Ugarković’s ability to harness that by receiving the ball in positions where he can advance the team’s field position still provides a threat, and it will be something Victory must be mindful of if they are to control the game. Newcastle are most dangerous in space, though. Combination slows down significantly otherwise, and it’s something even more pronounced with Ugarković playing as the deepest midfielder in Ben Kantarovski’s absence. Share via Email Melbourne Victory If the first weekend of this post-season was reflective of how the campaign was played as a whole – with lesser teams like Brisbane and Adelaide still in with a chance to win their games due to static possessional play from the opposition – the second weekend only amplified it. Both winners in last weekend’s semi-finals had less than 45% of the ball in their respective matches – Newcastle with 44.1% on Friday, while Victory triumphed with only 39.5% a day later. The reactive has overwhelmingly been more effective than the active this year, and where Sydney faltered despite individual talent was in the fact they were prompted to penetrate inside Victory’s half, the very aspect where they have showed fallibility on both the domestic and continental stage. If Sydney had snatched a win over Victory, Saturday’s grand final would have had a more knowable complexion, for Newcastle would have likely implemented the same tactics as Victory. With two inherently reactive teams coming up against each other, it’s a more indistinct but nevertheless critical aspect. The disparity in performances between Victory’s games against Adelaide and Sydney to get to this point was stark, despite Terry Antonis’s match-winning individual role last Saturday and improvement in collective play. Since he replaced Mark Milligan in Victory’s midfield, Antonis has made more key passes than Carl Valeri in almost half the total minutes. His per90 rate of 1.2 key passes is closer to James Troisi’s rate of 1.5 than Valeri’s comparably meagre 0.5. The perfectly weighted pass to get Victory into a shooting position for Kosta Barbarouses’s goal on Saturday was a glimpse of how he can unlock a defence – and, in turn, a match. However, Antonis’s instinctive movement off the ball has been increasingly tempered by Muscat, and Victory’s win in Sydney reflected a shift to a more natural tactical state for them. Their three goals against Newcastle in the regular season all came in transitional scenarios, hitting the back of the net each time within three passes of regaining possession.Sign up to receive the latest Australian sports stories every day Share on Twitter Consequently last Friday, it restricted the opportunities with which Ugarković could freely move between the lines and take greater positional risk in the Jets’ phases of possession, as opposed to playing as the second midfielder. Ultimately, and similarly to Victory, Newcastle’s goals against Melbourne City came quickly upon retrieving the ball and pressing the opponent in their own half.There will be drama in Saturday’s grand final – the A-League has been good at delivering that on a regular basis and last weekend illustrated the point quite clearly. However, in a somewhat indicting sense, the winner could simply be decided by which team allows the other to have the ball. A-League Share on WhatsAppcenter_img Australia sport Share on Messenger Forget fairytales, A-League success is borne out of unity of purpose Share on Facebook David Squires on … the 2017-18 A-League season’s grand finalists Share on Pinterest Newcastle Jets Read more Topics Reuse this contentlast_img

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