Saturday, August 12, 2006


Making the Numbers Count

In many ways, it’s disappointing when a game becomes eleven against ten, as the encounter between Sydney FC and Adelaide United did last night. There’s a feeling (for me, anyway) that you’re not watching a “real” game anymore, that it’s a case of either a predictable runaway win or an embarrassment for the side with its original quota.

I feel that, perversely, the manager with eleven men is faced with by far the more difficult job. Little blame seems to attach to the manager if the side with ten has a handful of goals thumped past them, but if the side with the extra man fails to score, questions are asked of the man in the dugout. Why was X not brought on? Why did Y not push upfield? Why did you persist with just the lone striker? (That last question could have been asked of a fair few high-profile managers at the recent World Cup…)

From all the eleven v. ten encounters I’ve seen, one principle seems clear. If you have a numerical advantage, use the full width of the pitch.

“Using the width” is obviously an important facet of play in any case, but with eleven men it becomes even more important; stretching the play means forcing the remaining nine opposition outfielders to tire themselves out far more quickly, and often creates a shortage of men in the middle if a winger gets double-marked.

I witnessed a classic display of how to play with a man more in the Korea v. Togo game at the World Cup, which I’ve previously hailed as a marvellous spectacle from the off-field point of view. After Togo’s captain received his second yellow, the Koreans worked the ball over to the wings at every opportunity, regularly drawing defenders out of the centre; it was just this strategy which produced the winning goal, the striker Ahn finding space around the 18-yard area in which to pick his shot, and score.

John Kosmina was not so successful on Friday evening, although he did eventually come away with the points.

Following the dismissal of Alvin Ceccoli, Terry Butcher had sensibly altered his formation to suit the situation; the new fullbacks, Milligan and Topor-Stanley, were now effectively covering their entire respective flanks, allowing the remaining midfielders to close down the centre of the field. With Topor-Stanley – full of energy after a relatively undemanding first half – running furiously on the left flank, it was difficult for anyone not counting heads to tell that Sydney were a man down.

In this situation, the obvious strategy for Adelaide would surely have been to work the balls into the outside channels at every opportunity, especially with Sydney’s full-backs constantly pushing upfield. But Jason Spagnuolo, on the left, who had been a constant menace in the first half, hardly got a touch in the second; and Travis Dodd, on the right, actually dropped infield after a brief touchline chat with Kosmina.

Significantly, when Adelaide finally did score, it was from a corner won by Spagnuolo, released down the left for the first time in the second half.

Wingers…where would we be without ’em?

how did spanuolo and owens go?

im an adelaide supporter and have only seen the one home game so far and spagnuolo for a player of very limited experience at this level did quite well...

good to see we are still grinding out wins with qu, rech, petta, giraldi and burns still to come in.
Hi Shaun,

I thought Spagnuolo was excellent. Not super-fast, and a bit on the lightweight side, but he passes well and makes good moves off the ball, and he's got a good first touch as well.

As for Owens, he did some good things, including nearly scoring late in the first half (despite what most of the reports are saying, I'm pretty sure the early chance that went over the bar was from Spagnuolo, not Owens). He'll probably be one for the bench though, with all the players still to come in up front.

As I said in the A-League previews on the blog a little while back, you guys are going to be very, very competitive again this season. And getting Qu back is a godsend.
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