Preview: Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar

In a week when the comparatively mild shenanigans of a drunken rugby league player have been beaten up into a story, the football media has opted for a beat-up all of its own in the wake of Sydney FC’s 1-0 loss away to Melbourne Victory on Australia Day.

The Fox commentariat has sagely shaken its collective head and condemned Sydney as “boring”. Let us make no mistake here. The Sky Blues are the best defensive unit in the competition – conceding just 14 goals in 16 matches is no mean feat. But lapping up Kevin Muscat’s dog-whistle pronouncement that “only one team was trying to win” the Big Blue last Saturday night, the talking heads have opted to ignore the statistics.

They could do well to glance at their own Fox Sports’ Match Centre stats that they most helpfully publish each round. The stats that matter:

Possession 56% v 44%

Total Shots 8 v 8

Shots on Target 2 v 3

What was that again about only one side looking to win the match?

Melbourne Victory won courtesy of a lucky (for them) own goal as Graham Arnold found the key to nullifying the league’s best attacking quartet while ensuring that his side threatens the opposition goal as much as the hosts.

“Boring”?

Well, that’s in the eye of the beholder. But figures, unlike people, do not lie, and commentators who are former professional footballers ought to know better.

One final stat - care to take a stab at Adelaide United’s possession stats as they took apart the hapless Brisbane Roar 1-4 at Suncorp Stadium last Friday night?

60 percent? 70?

Try 35%!

Adelaide went out to contain Brisbane Roar’s attacking threats, gave away some possession, tactically absorbed Brisbane’s pressure and punished the visitors 1-4 for their trouble. And the Queenslanders’ solitary goal was a penalty following a most outrageous Henrique dive.

Not a word of Guillermo Amor’s “boring” tactics. I guess Arnie never played for Barcelona.

So should the Sky Blues approach Roar any differently to the way they have done their last two matches?

Perhaps a little as Brisbane are suffering a confidence crisis right now and could be ripe for the picking. But completely throwing out the tactics that bore fruit for Adelaide last week in order to please a few talking heads would be tantamount to folly.

Could Brisbane mentor John Aloisi spring a surprise by shutting up shop and playing for an away draw, the way he did early last November at Allianz Stadium? Don’t put it past him.

The men in orange are at full strength, returning Olyroos James Donachie, Brandon Borello and Jamie Maclaren giving their first 11 a far stronger look at both ends of the park, while in Corona, Thomas Broich and Matt McKay they have experienced midfielders whose passing game launches their attacking forays. This year they have leaked at the back, however, and the Sky Blues will aim to exploit that weakness.

Alex Brosque aside, the Sky Blues have their full complement, welcoming back Alex Gersbach in a a reshuffle that is sure to fascinate. With Matt Jurman and Rhyan Grant having done enough to keep their starting berths, will it be stand-in skipper Seb Ryall or the back-to-form vice-captain Jacques Faty hitting the pine?

In central midfield, Milos Dimitrijevic is back to his best and should start, but alongside who?

Mikael Tavares did well at Docklands but switched off at a vital moment to allow Victory’s Jesse Makarounas a run into the box that led to Jurman’s own goal. Brandon O’Neill, fresh after his spell on the bench last week following his excellent Olyroo performances, could well replace him, especially given the four day turnararound.

The other option is O’Neill in place of Dimitrijevic – particularly in light of the heavy pitch following some wet Sydney weather – bringing on the Serbian technician in the last half hour against tired Brisbane legs.

The other Milos, Ninkovic, has been excellent and must start but most Sydney fans will hope to see him in a more advanced role. He has the touch, dribbling and passing game – not to mention his shooting and underrated heading – to be a major threat in and around the Brisbane penalty area.

Filip Holosko will play on the right, no doubt riled by midweek suggestions that he could be one of two Sydney imports dumped for the ACL, and may be in for a blinder. On the other wing, Arnie has a choice between feisty Andrew Hoole, the more phlegmatic Chris Naumoff and fan favourite Ali Abbas.

Matt Simon has played well of late and should lead the line ahead of Shane Smeltz but Arnie may be less than impressed with both strikers if the return to the squad of young George Blackwood is any indication. Could the coach be set to spring a surprise up front?

And so, an intriguing home fixture, one that the hosts are more than capable of converting into a vital three points. In a week in which Sky Blue tactics have been under more scrutiny than the entire season, Sydney FC could answer their critics in the best way possible - by beating the inconsistent Roar and inching closer to the top of the table.

And the commentariat, most of whom have never coached a professional football team in their lives, can please themselves.

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Sydney Unlucky To Lose Big Blue

The two year old hoodoo continues.

Sydney FC were desperately unlucky to come away with nothing from Dockland Stadium on Australia Day, a Matthew Jurman deflected own goal proving the difference between the sides.

As much as losing any Sydney-Melbourne encounter stings, it is hard to be overly critical of Sydney’s performance on the night. The visitors went into the match with a specific game plan and executed it almost to the letter.

Predictably, the Sky Blues  followed the script from last week’s winning performance against the Wanderers, getting 11 men behind the ball, giving their opponents’ midfielders little breathing space and denying the Victory attackers time to think. Unlike the Sydney Derby, however, Sydney’s transition from defence to attack was good and the visitors launched a number of impressive-looking counterattacking raids, let down only by some poor decision making at the pointy end. 

Despite Victory’s possession superiority (54% to Sydney’s 46%), the hosts took only one more shot than the Sky Blues (9 vs 8) while the Shots On Target column sees the visitors, perhaps surprisingly, ahead - with three shots on target compared to Victory’s two. When Kevin Muscat complains that “only one side attempted to win the match”, he is doing little more than indulging in media populism – he is well aware of the tactical battle that took place.

So what went wrong?

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Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC Match Preview

Before launching into the preview of the Sky Blues’ return to Docklands Stadium to face Melbourne Victory on Australia Day, let us pause a moment to congratulate Sydney FC’s National Youth League side on their Grand Final win over Adelaide United. The Sky Blues established their superiority early in the contest, going on to play the Reds off the park, lifting the trophy at Central Coast Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Wingers Bai Antoniou and Max Burgess were excellent, Alex Mullen put away two goals up front and was no less effective when moved into his more customary midfield role, while central defender George Timotheu is destined for bigger things. But the star of the show was undoubtedly Nicky Carle’s lookalike and play-alike Daniel Araujo. The talented midfielder showed immense control and dribbling under pressure, together with a workrate and footballing brain that would not look out of place in the A-League side and with NPL football at Blacktown City under his belt, is ready for the senior squad right now.

These players, together with keeper Anthony Bouzanis, should be made part of Sydney’s Asian Champions League squad while the youth side will also gain Aaron Calver and George Blackwood for its upcoming NPL campaign and should become an experienced, battle hardened unit come September, with a number of players ready for first team action. The future looks bright for Sydney FC.

And so on to the Big Blue preview.

Will the real Sydney FC please stand up?

  • Are Sydney the free-flowing but profligate side that had turned a certain win into a 2-2 draw against Melbourne City two weeks ago?
  • The hesitant lot that had its rhythm disrupted by Wellington Phoenixs at Allianz Stadium last November?
  • The team that plays attractive football but is only a moment away from a lapse in concentration, as evidenced in the last Big Blue derby?
  • Or the side that parks the bus and grinds out its wins, as Sydney did at Pirtek Stadium last Saturday night?

No A-League team has been more chameleonic. Is Arnie adopting horses-for-courses tactics or has it just been a case of not putting all the elements together on any given night?

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