Thursday, February 01, 2007

The A-League Finals: Adelaide vs. Melbourne, part 1

Quite a long post, so I’ve split it into two – what we did, and what we need to do.

Where Sydney/Newcastle was a match of two teams who wanted to win, Adelaide vs. Melbourne was a very different affair. I know I’ve written a post on time-wasting, and I’m all for it… but only when some football’s already been played and you either want to hold onto your lead or not continue to be hammered. Melbourne turned up for a draw, and this was evident from kick-off.

In two-legged finals football, the away team should at least aim to score one goal. If things became tight, and draws level after the second match, the away goal is worth double. And thus it is very, very precious. By playing for a score-less draw, Melbourne were walking a fine line. The longer the match goes on, the less time you have to get one back should the other team score. Especially if your players on the park are playing defensive football and you need to make some subs to get the game going again. The new players on the park may take a little time to accustom themselves to the pace (or lack of) in the game, and integrate themselves in the team.

The thing that annoyed me the most about how Melbourne tackled the game, was that they were time-wasting from the start. Although I believe that time-wasting needs to begin before 15 min to go, I think 90 min to go is taking it a bit too far, especially since nothing had yet happened. Further, their time-wasting was evident, and I was getting worried that Theoklitos would pick up a yellow very early in the match. One of the first balls into the box (on his left if I recall), and instead of going over to retrieve it and give himself the option of either kicking it from his hands or kicking it from the floor, and he lets it go out for a goal-kick. Sure, he’d waste time restarting the game, but he could also have gone over to retrieve the ball, collect it with his feet and pick it up when an Adelaide player put pressure on him to do so. Typically this player will then walk away, giving Theo an opportunity to release the ball however he pleased.

Perhaps different goalkeepers work differently. I love kicking it from my hands as I have a box-to-box kick*, whereas my goal-kick has much to be desired**. There was an offside (or other Adelaide infringement) a little later, where Theo placed the ball on the floor, got ready to take the free, and then left it for a team-mate. Theo also took a while with his earlier goal-kicks, but he always seems nervous about them anyway so perhaps there was nothing in that.

I may sound hypocritical given my feelings towards time-wasting, but if you want to play defensive football so that the other team doesn’t score/you don’t concede, the safest way to do this is to not let the other team have the ball. i.e. Keep the ball to yourself, and you don’t let the other team play. I’m not sure how much keepings-off Melbourne do at training (perhaps I should turn up at more of their training sessions), but they do not seem to be able to play a possession-based game. They’ll lose the ball by transporting it too much, going for the long ball, or by simple pressure on the ball (Bridge vs. Vargas, anyone?).

The inability to play possession-based football is reflected statistically, as pointed out by Masterchief (ok, so his name’s Ricky, but he’s Masterchief to me and he’s well ‘ard). The table’s a little deceptive with coaching changes having an effect, but it’s interesting to note Sydney are on top. This is probably due to their defensive football, and that they try to score on a counter-like attack when they see an opportunity. Newcastle play a true-possession game via their midfield, which was locked up for half of their semi-final on the weekend.

From an Adelaide point of view, I’m happy to see Beltrame back in goals. He’s very solid at the back, comfortable with the ball and quite agile for a player of his size. But I’m sure his job is made easier with a defender like Costanzo. Take away the rough side of his play (and he did cop a yellow towards the end of the match), and you’d have one of the best players of football. He’s an excellent reader of the game, and always very very cool. There’s nothing like having a confident (and not over-confident) defender in the team. He can control the game from the back, playing the ball square to full backs for the wingers to attack, or playing the ball into his midfield to attack through the middle. And he’s very good at winning the ball, using his body effectively to block a player so that he can get between the opposition and the ball, and he has very good timing. i.e. when he makes tackles where he commits himself (eg. slide tackles) his timing is impeccable and rarely makes an error. In fact, you’d rarely see him commit in such a manner and young players can learn a lot about how to defend by watching Costanzo. Well, and edited video anyway, take away the nasty fouls that he pulls out every now and then.

From a disciplinary point of view, I was very frustrated by Walsh, who I think should have gotten a yellow as early as the first half with his reckless fouls. And he’d do them continuously, so it was a shame he was never booked. I’m also not happy with Djite. I do think there was some malice involved when he kicked Theo, and Djite effectively got away with it. If I was in Theo’s position, I’d make sure Djite would learn a lesson next time he came near and I had an opportunity to give him a knock. A bit hard to do this during some matches, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to do it (that’s far too silly and I wouldn’t want to get booked), but if there was an opportunity I’d take it. However, I don’t think Theo has my temper, and I doubt that he would seek revenge as I do.

In the return leg, I hope that Merrick aims for a 2-0 score-line. As I said before, f we get one goal, and Adelaide sneak one back, they're through. So we need a little buffer, just in case. Watt requested a line-up, which is not normally something I do, so I’ll just offer my thoughts and a little diagram. We need a more attacking line-up. (Duh).

(continued over here!)

* Hehehe, I even have a couple of assists because of this!
** The ball would always go past my defenders, but if I was having a bad day or had had a tough match I would only occasionally reach half-way…

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