Monday, September 18, 2006

 

There's No Substitute

All sorts of questions were asked of Nick Theodorakopoulos and Terry Butcher at the post-match press conference yesterday. The game had been a horribly uneven and clumsy one, with Newcastle providing the best and worst moments and Sydney merely providing the mediocre ones. Sydney’s disciplinary record, Newcastle’s defensive problems, Sydney’s struggle to secure Benito Carbone’s signature, Newcastle’s goalkeeping lacuna…they all got an airing.

But what about the issue of substitutes?

Let me explain. Pierre Littbarski was bitterly criticized by the Sydney FC faithful for much of last season for his unimaginative attitude towards substitution. With cuckoo-clock predictability, he would throw on his first set of fresh legs around the 75 minute mark, even if the team’s performance had been crying out for a personnel change since before half-time.

One hoped that things would change under Terry Butcher. But there were bad signs on Sunday.

Alex Brosque, although he contributed manfully on his return to the team, was so far from full fitness that many wondered what he was doing starting the game at all. Butcher described that decision afterwards as a “gamble”, which he claimed had paid off (those who witnessed Ruben Zadkovich’s nimble cameo towards the close might disagree).

But why on earth was Brosque kept on for the entire 90 minutes? It defied logic.

Butcher waited until late, late in the second half to make his first switch. And there were some very tired legs out there in the closing 45 minutes.

Similarly, Nick Theodorakopoulos should attract plenty of criticism for his craven approach once Sydney went down to ten. No changes in personnel until a couple of minutes before the close. And the eventual tactical reshuffle? A central defensive midfielder was replaced by…another one!

In Theodorakopoulos’s defence, he had already been forced into one change in the first half, due to Vaughan Coveny’s injury. But no reaction to a numerical advantage, when the team was stacked with defenders and coping quite capably with Sydney’s feints at goal?

Let’s hope the other managers in the A-League prefer to follow the example of Miron Bleiberg, whose decision to send on Dario Vidosic relatively early in Queensland’s opening game had such a positive impact.

Comments:
I agree with you completely Mike. I was thinking yesterday that some fresh legs would have been good around the 65 minute mark, then again at the 70 minute mark... I was very surprised Butcher took so long. Alex Brosque should have been replaced early as you say, but I think David Zdrillic should also have been given a rest. In the 2nd half he wasn't getting good service from McFlynn or Milligan and when he did get the ball he did nothing. Radkovich definitely should have come on sooner. Personally, I would've replaced pulled Milligan off sooner too. He was starting to try a few too many long balls for my liking...

BTW, do you know what's actually happening with Carbone? I read one piece saying he'd signed, and another saying he'd been stuffed around and might go back to Italy.
 
I find the treatment of Terry Butcher extremely harsh by all.

The man's hands are tied. Through very little fault of his own.

It is one thing to lose 4-5 players in a 20 man squad. It is another to lose all those players in the SAME POSITION.

Sydney FC's squad was built around pace on the flanks and an industrious midfield to feed the four front players. Butcher immediately remarked once settling in that the 4-2-3-1 formation pretty much set itself in stone. It's perfect too - with Brosque, Carney, Corica and Middleby fighting out the attacking trio, Sasho and Zdrilic the front-man role, McFlynn, Talay and Milligan the CM roles, etc.

And then bang, in the space of no time Butcher is deprived of all his width.
What would happen if Melbourne lost Muscat, Brebner, Fred and Pantelidids all at once (with Leijer to boot as we have Timpano to boot)?
What if Adelaide lost Dodd, Spagnuolo, Owens and Petta (and Cornthwaite)?

A poor performance (yet a winning performance) against the Mariners starts the roll, but out of nowhere the creativity of Brosque and Carney disappears, as does Middleby (revived and very impressive in pre-season). Sure, he has enough players for a full matchday squad - but I'll be damned if they form a starting XI of any note going forward.

The man's hands were tied in Perth, and similarly tied last night at Aussie Stadium. He's forced to play a CDM (and previously poor RB) at RM and have no width on the left of the park aside from a rampaging fullback whose strength is his defence. Combine this with being forced to play 4-4-2 with as dysfunctional forward pairing as you'll see (in fact watching Lynch, Qu and co makes me think that the one thing we need MOST is a forward).

The XI picked itself in Perth, a poor defensive XI, yet Sydney drew only because of a horrible goalkeeping error (and then a horrible linesman's call).
The XI almost picked itself again last night against Newcastle, and again Sydney were undone by two individual, uncoachable errors. Bolton again has a clanger and Steve Corica suffers the wrath of a referee (and the FFA) trying to curb dissent in the HAL (and rightfully so - it was horrendous across the league last year). A ridiculous thing to do, especially given Ceccoli's similar discretion and punishment in the Pre-Season Cup.

How does Butcher defend himself? How is it his fault?
Quite simply... It's not. Admittedly more is to be expected from this week onwards (with Brosque and Zadkid that much fitter, and weak opposition on the way in New Zealand), but calls for Butcher to be scrutinised by the club are rubbish and insulting.

Ceccoli being dropped does pose an interesting issue, and there may well be something underlying in it (there may well not be), but for the time being (and until the end of this full game round AT LEAST) such criticism of Terry Butcher is not justified.
 
Jaza, let me first of all offer my congratulations for submitting the longest comment so far in TFT history. ;-)

Specifically:

...How does Butcher defend himself? How is it his fault?...

Losing Carney, Yorke and Middleby in the space of little over a week is obviously not his fault.

Playing a diamond 4-4-2 seems a reasonable option with the make-up of our squad ATM, so no quibbles on that score.

Bingley, despite some of the wrath directed his way over the last couple of weeks, has turned out to be a fairly shrewd signing.

The jury is still out on Butcher, IMO. Tactically, so far, I prefer him to Litti. But two major areas of concern are:

(1) Discipline. Absolutely all over the shop at the moment as any honest SFC fan would have to admit.

(2) Second-half slumps. This includes the issue of substitution which I've dealt with in this piece; I felt it was ridiculous to keep Alex on for the full ninety yesterday.
 
All coaches have injury woes throughout a season. Butchers "crime" is not so much that he's had injuries but with the depleted squad he needs to look at options when the original game plan isn't working out. Maybe he's thinking the players will gel and the plan will work as the game progresses.

Realistically his plan would have worked but for a dodgy referees assitant's call against Perth. But I think he must accept responsibility for late or no reaction and not having the adventure to change things or try things. Also the team is playing poorly given the expectations of the squad. With 10 men last weekend possibly he was happy to get the point so we are reading to much into it. But the 10 men for the 2nd time this year is a team discipline thing as Mike point out which should have been adressed following the Rudan send off.

My initial view is he doesn't cut it with the team he has got, hopefully for Sydney supporters I'm a bit premature and I'll be proved wrong.
 
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