Wednesday, August 23, 2006

 

Yorked!

Many Sydney FC fans who were feeling intensely irritated by Pierre Littbarski’s tactics towards the end of last season tended to forget how good the team looked during the 2005/06 pre-season.

Lest we forget, Littbarski’s side took out the knockout qualifying tournament for the World Club Championship, won through to the event itself in Tahiti, and then posted some effective performances in the pre-season cup – particularly a hard-fought 2-0 win over the Mariners in Gosford, in which the team looked organized and determined. The semi-final loss to Perth, when Sydney FC’s striking options were severely limited, caused few hearts to flutter, or minds to doubt Littbarski’s acumen.

Then came the season proper, and around the turn of the year, the fans’ enthusiasm for the Littbarski methods was gradually beginning to whittle away.

It was my opinion at the time, and it is still is now, that the main reason for this change can be summarized in two words: Dwight Yorke.

Don’t get me wrong here; Yorke was, by and large, arguably Sydney’s best player last season, pace Carney, Ceccoli, Bolton and Corica. The quality of his first touch, his passing and his shielding abilities was undeniable, even if his commitment (or lack thereof) sometimes caused concern. The problem with Yorke’s arrival was that it necessitated a change to a successful pattern.

Although Yorke did play in the aforementioned pre-season victory over the Mariners, most of Sydney FC’s early outings saw David Zdrilic – pre-injury – partnering Saso Petrovski in attack. Despite what many have said, with the hindrance of hindsight, this was a fluent, well-matched partnership. But Yorke’s signing promised greater things still; here was one of European football’s most experienced strikers, ready to apply his finishes to the lead-up work of Carney, Corica and the rest. So, who was going to make way for him?

In the end, Littbarski decided not to sacrifice either of his pre-season marksmen for the opening game against Melbourne, and it proved a poor move. Carney was dropped to the bench, depriving the team of some much-needed width, and Sydney were comprehensively outplayed. Archie Thompson, that evening, showed the sort of form that Socceroo fans wish he would display more often.

From that point on, Littbarski never found a workable system. Thanks to the quality of the personnel, the team marched on to second place – and then, memorably, to victory in the grand final – but the triumph had been achieved in painful and messy fashion.

This season, Sydney’s warm-up performances have been highly encouraging. After narrow victories over Newcastle and Queensland, Terry Butcher’s team brushed Perth Glory aside in style at WIN Stadium, and the loss to Adelaide, which can be ascribed largely to Alvin Ceccoli’s dismissal, hardly dampened the spirits of the Cove.

But, ominously, Yorke has yet to be integrated into the team.

Where is he to be used? He prefers midfield these days, and some have suggested (quite sensibly, in my opinion) that Mark Milligan should return to right-back, displacing the uncertain Iain Fyfe, allowing Yorke to partner Terry McFlynn in the engine room, as he did at times last season. But Milligan won plenty of admirers in his new midfield role on Wednesday night, and Butcher may well be inclined to keep him there.

Up front, David Zdrilic showed some of his old form against Newcastle on Saturday, and deserves at least consideration for a starting place. Petrovski has looked good in the pre-season as well, despite being used in an uncongenial lone-striker role; will there be enough room for Yorke up front?

Playmaker? Well, both Steve Corica and – more surprisingly – David Carney have thrived in that area of the park of late, and would both surely be more mobile than Yorke, if not quite blessed with his touch and vision.

Every problem, we hear, is also an opportunity. But, to use the famous expression from Yes, Prime Minister, Terry Butcher might find that Yorke’s return to Sydney FC will present him with some insoluble opportunities, as it did Pierre Littbarski last year.

As a Sydney man, I sincerely hope not. But those currently in raptures about Sydney FC’s recent performances should perhaps exercise a little caution. Butcher, like Littbarski, may yet end up getting tactically yorked.

Comments:
Remember how Yorke tried picking up a short-term stint for some overseas club to stay match-fit between the end of the A-League and the World Cup? I heard the theory that the reason he couldn't get a contract was because everyone wanted him as a striker, but he wanted to play in his T&T midfield position. So it will be interesting to see what happens this season.

If Zdrilic is over his injury and bad form, he might surprise some people.

Another quality of the Sydney team in the first season was their ability to step up in a big game. This was clear in their games in the WCC in Japan, and their games in the A-League finals.
 
...If Zdrilic is over his injury and bad form, he might surprise some people....

Completely agree. Unfairly written off last season, I feel.

...Another quality of the Sydney team in the first season was their ability to step up in a big game. This was clear in their games in the WCC in Japan, and their games in the A-League finals....

That's definitely true. Mind you, I don't think we were quite as brilliant in Japan as some of the other SFC fans do (we were incredibly lucky to beat the Egyptian side, truth be told).
 
Having seen Zdrillic in all but one of his games in pre-season I am happy to write him off. His touch is poor and his lack of pace damning in this formation. I feel he needs a man to play off, except that...

The 4-2-3-1 is brilliant for us. I toyed with it as an idea last year but this year's inclusion of Brosque has made it a necessity. What it means is that we have several options for the front 3, and that importantly we need to have a forward who can move around and be fluid knowing he's got those 3 players coming forward behind him. Sasho fits that bill imo - despite him missing too many chances I think he can function well enough as the point man whilst also posessing skills that bring others in (second goal recently against Perth springs to mind). Jeremy Brockie's half hour against Adelaide also showed he may revel in this role as had been previously suggested (especially when compared to Brockie's poor game last week).

As for Yorke?
His role is a forward one. As far as midfield players go we have Talay (revived in his new role, with no tackling or shooting to do he can play his passing game), McFlynn, Milligan and also Zadkovich is on the way back. We cannot play Yorke AND Talay in midfield as it lacks the grunt that a McFlynn or Milligan can provide.
I can see Yorke slotting in behind Petrovski - sadly at the expense of Steve Corica. Yorke has the capability of being just as fluid with Brosque and Carney alongside him.

But as we all know - it's where Yorke wants to play. For this very reason we won't see him up front, and I fear he may push his agenda to try and obtain one of those two midfield roles.
This, in time, could prove the true making of Terry Butcher at Sydney FC. I for one have no problems going in to the season with him on the bench this season. Even without Yorke our matchday XV is very strong - still the strongest in the league IMO.

As it stands now it seems that Fyfe will play RB, with a battle for midfield roles between the aforementioned 3. The front 4, I would guess would be that which faced Perth - I find it hard to see Sasho being dropped on the back of a pre-season where he's matched Zdrillic minute for minute but popped up with 3 goals.
 
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