Monday, September 24, 2007


Keeping it Tight

Five rounds into the A-League, and the middle of the pack is tightly bunched, with no fewer than four teams on five points. But that's not the only way in which the league has been tight.

Tony Tannous wrote a typically insightful piece after last week's round of matches, suggesting that the trend towards greater athleticism and physicality was having a negative effect on the league as a spectacle. I'd agree.

Although there were some patches of pleasing football in the current round, particularly during the Newcastle v. Melbourne game, the competition has been far less entertaining than last year, thus far. The flanks are not being employed particularly constructively, players are finding themselves with no time to operate in central midfield, and many defenders are hitting more long balls than Yuvraj Singh.

The quote from Ron Smith in Tony's article is worth reading. The A-League, of course, is a fully professional competition, and with the professionalism has come a greater emphasis on maintaining optimum fitness levels. When Brett Emerton moved from Sydney Olympic to Feyenoord, he subsequently remarked that it had been difficult for him to adapt to the pace of the Dutch game, and the training regimes at a professional club. Somehow, I think that young players making a similar move from an A-League club will find the transition somewhat easier.

With the increased athleticism, as Smith points out, there has come a tendency for teams to close down the opposition very quickly. And, as he says, the next step will be for players to develop greater precision in their combination play, so as to break down packed defences and midfields.

That's for the future. But there are ways in which the league could be improved as a spectacle in the short term, I feel. For one thing, the refereeing this season has been quite lenient, more so than in 2006/07. The tone was set in the very first game, with Mile Jedinak getting away with some decidedly rough treatment of Juninho. The trend then continued in Queensland, with the over-the-ball indiscretions of Danny Tiatto.

It's possible to go too far the other way - we have seen that very clearly in Asian competition - but the referees in general have not been offering players sufficient protection, I feel (incidentally, though, I'm getting heartily fed up with the lazy cliché about "protection for creative players". Surely all players are entitled to protection from dangerous challenges).

Then there's the matter of the length of the league, not an insignificant factor, in my opinion.

With only 21 games (25 at the very most) to play, there's little onus on the players to pace themselves, and this is perhaps one reason why we've seen some players (Massimo Murdocca, for one), running as if every game would be their last.

There are so many reasons why 21 games is simply not enough.

Hey yep gotta agree on a few points here

I also think though at times, the tactics of some teams are really poor. Often teams put so many players back in defense and just play on the counter..

To me too many teams are emphasising on staying tight and man-marking good palyers (and even taking them out at times) instead of cosntructing play and trying to score some goals.

Ironically Harper and co immediately disagreed with Ron SMith going on about solely how "the finishing has been poor" rubbish, that is one factor but honsetly look at some of the chances created... they arent clear cut as they may seem.. fact is the final 3rd is very poor as well... how many times do we see a ball just aimlessly crossed into the box?

Agree with you on the reffing. Extremely poor at times, its like they are scared to show cards and call the fouls.. and even penalties ..... i just cant understand it.. i hope the FFA see this soon
"......incidentally, though, I'm getting heartily fed up with the lazy cliché about "protection for creative players". Surely all players are entitled to protection from dangerous challenges....."

True, although it has to be said that skilful players cop more than most.

I said this in Tony's blog, but my biggest disappointment has unquestionably been the conservative nature of the coaches. To use Ernie Merrick as an example, he was very quick to drag Caceres (admittedly he wasn't playing well), yet the equally underperforming Kemp, Brebner and Muscat have not been afforded the same treatment.

At the risk of embarking on yet another of my "coaches are all conservative twats" rant, this is probably one of my pet dislikes of the modern game. Many coaches have no hesitation in criticising a player for neglecting their defensive responsiblities (which is fine) even if they are offering plenty going forward, but players who constantly give the ball away, and fail to support the attackers, but provide accountability to the team and follow the coaches' instructions are seemingly a protected species. It's an ideological debate I suppose, but I definitely prefer the former. Most coaches seem to prefer the latter.

The only solution is balance IMO, and we are currently seeing coaches favouring two defensive midfielders. When Merrick took Caceres off against CCM, the team really only had Archie and Allsopp as true attackers (since Hernandez seems to be below par). Is it any wonder the match ended up scoreless?

Also, I couldn't believe Ron Smith's comment after their loss to Queensland when he said their biggest mistake was trying to win. That kinda sums things up really..
Though I agree with most of what you have said I wouldn't put down the lack of goals to an increase in fitness, more an increase in defensiveness.

Most teams are going out to defend well and try and get the odd goal rather then trying to outplay the opposition. They only look dangerous on the break with attackers stopping once they reach the opposition back line. No-one is making diagonal runs, dropping back into midfield or pulling out wide. I feel there are plenty of players capable producing killer passes, they just have no-one to pass to. Then to make matters worse they don't keep the ball instead possession is wasted by passing to a player with three defenders on his back.

A bit more discipline and movement in attack and we would see a lot more goals, of course this would require more running leaving players less able to get back when the opposition countered and more attacking from the backline again compromising defence. With the attitude of the coaches and clubs in the league it won’t happen.
Thanks for the mention Mike, certainly agree that the refs could/should play their part and agree with tfo about the conservative coaching....think that's the whole point of what I'm getting at that, yeah, we all want to win, but lets try and do it with a bit of style.
At the beginning of the season I was thinking the opposite of Mikey, that the general fitness level is poor and so we do not have good movement off the ball in particular on the flanks with full backs supporting in attacks. Now Mikey is saying that fitness is too good and therefore there is less space to work in.

If we concede that fitness levels are fine, this no reason to concede that bad football results from the fact. In fact I argue that the opposite is the case. Attacking and pleasing football is all about movement, on and off the ball. If you want ugly football, be static, both with the ball and without it. The most attractive teams move the ball around and move around and get numbers into the attack e.g. the Argentinas, Romas and Milans of the world. Where would their style of play be without movement? They are almost entirely based on movement in support of the ball. The fitter you are, the better you can support the play.

It must either be a coaching thing or a lack of imagination on the players part that is causing teams to play ugly in the A League.
...and frankly I see too much of static players and play in the league

the aimless long ball as a tactic is a product of this kind of approach to the game.
...Now Mikey is saying that fitness is too good and therefore there is less space to work in....

I'm not saying that the fitness is too good (in fact, it's terrific that it's gotten to this level), just that because there are now players who will hassle and challenge and track runners all day, it is more difficult to find time and space, particularly in midfield.

...Attacking and pleasing football is all about movement, on and off the ball....

Up to a point, I agree (I love seeing good, intelligent movement off the ball, and the sort of hunting-in-packs play that Wenger's Arsenal, for one, specialize in), but IMO it's all about balance. If you have 10 outfield players running like mad the whole time, you will get caught out towards the ends of games, for one thing.

Therefore you have to have your down periods, where you can keep possession, let the ball do the majority of the work etc., but that requires a certain level of technical adeptness, otherwise you end up giving the ball away cheaply all the time. Sydney FC towards the end of last season was a good case in point. They constantly ran out of puff towards the close, and because they weren't really a good enough team to play constant ball-to-feet against a fitter side so as to conserve energy, they ended up being under the pump for long periods.

Another problem which I didn't really touch on in that piece is that there's been very little genuinely good wing play this season.
It's the Ernie Merrick school of winning championships.

For all the credit the Victory got last season they played an amazingly conservative and safe brand of counter-attacking football. They had Allsopp, Thompson, and Fred and Caceras when they where on. 2-4 attacking players out of 11. It's when football becomes more about not losing then winning and is a problem most associated with profesionalsim.

My AA8 team got pumped all season. We were the worst team in the comp, but we never went anywhere looking for a draw, playing 10 behind the ball, we went everywhere trying to play football. Sometimes we copped an extra 4-5 goals because of it. People whose income depends on the results can't afford to do that.

There is some hope thou. For all the criticism they get CCM are still playing with two forwards. Melbourne continues to do so. Adelaide have always in one fashion or another etc. So hopefully the rest of us (looking at you Culina) will stop fucking around and get more attacking players on the pitch.

And if we can find half a dozen more like young Nathan Burns ...
But the thing is that you don't necessarily have to be 'running like mad' to achieve what I'm talking about, you just need to have your eyes looking forward instead of backwards.

Many teams in world football have shown in recent times that this is possible and still have reasonable success. Germany, Argentina, Roma , Arsenal etc all play this brand of attacking football and we cannot say that they overly exert themselves. Some times defending takes more out of you than attacking.

The Roar try to play in a similar way but and have been trying to do it for a while now. Newcastle were at times last year. But the problem with the majority of our league players is that they are very cautious. This makes them look lazy at times. Full backs take an age to make the decision to move into supporting positions. I feel sometimes that if they do a light jog from their standing or walking positions they will contribute so much more to an attractive style.
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