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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