Super slick Sydney FC machine eying the first prize

Tony Tannous Columnist

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    Sydney FC's Steve Corica (left) is tackled by Matthew Crowell of the Central Coast Mariners FC in their round 19 match in Sydney on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    Sydney FC's Steve Corica (left) is tackled by Matthew Crowell of the Central Coast Mariners FC in their round 19 match in Sydney on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    In the most recent pre-season I was desperate to get out and see a few Sydney FC games. Not only was I needing my live football fix, but I wanted to see what had prompted the club, so often the laughing stock of the A-League, to go to Eastern Europe and hire a largely unknown Czech named Vitezslav Lavicka.

    I was suitably impressed, not only by Lavicka’s methodical and detailed work, but the manner in which the players were responding.

    Spending a little time with him after one of the pre-season wins only emphasised what a shrewd operator he was.

    There have been times throughout the season proper when things have looked a touch shaky, particularly throughout a three game losing streak in November.

    In the main though, Sydney have looked a well-oiled machine capable of winning its first premiership and qualifying for the 2011 Asian Champions League, the prizes awarded to the team that finishes the regular season on top.

    That was only emphasised over the festive period, when Sydney strung together an impressive set of performances over a nine day stretch which saw them go away to the defending champions before picking up maximum points in two home games.

    After the scoreless draw in Melbourne, much of the talk was about how the Victory had firmed in to title favouritism on the back of an aggressive and up-beat display.

    But I was equally as impressed with the Sydney effort, feeling they came away from Docklands with the psychological edge.

    Ernie Merrick’s men threw everything at Sydney, who refused to crack, finishing strongly.

    Yes, Melbourne had dominated possession, and controlled much of the tempo, but I sensed Lavicka was more than happy to set the stall out deep and nullify the space in behind, forcing Archie Thompson to play in front of his back four.

    Effectively he and his men were happy to play for the draw, not a bad strategy away from home and against a team that was flying.

    Note also that Lavicka was missing his main defender Simon Colosimo on that night, with Stephan Keller and Sebastian Ryall stepping up with great displays. For all Melbourne’s efforts, Clint Bolton was left to focus on organising his defence.

    All the while Sydney offered a threat on the counter, and in the dying moments just about made it a classic smash-and-grab.

    Four days later I was at the SFS to see Lavicka’s men all but put the cleaners through their northern rival, the Central Coast Mariners.

    Yes, Sydney only won thanks to Alex Brosque’s wonderful first-time first half strike, but in truth they were a two or three goal better team on the night, such was their domination in every third.

    Surely they couldn’t sustain this type of methodical control four days later, when Adelaide came to town? Surely, after two intense mental and physical efforts, they were due for a let-down?

    Not a chance.

    Once again Lavicka’s men produced a professional performance full of poise and purpose, with the 1-0 scoreline not reflecting their domination.

    Adelaide were shot, bereft of any control and short on ideas. As Aurelio Vidmar admitted after, “Sydney were very slick and very, very good.”

    It is the type of European professionalism we have hitherto yet to see in the A-League and perhaps not since the days of Zoran Matic and Adelaide City, and you sense Lavicka has been building the team to peak about now, in the run-in to the finals.

    In the early part of the season it was all about getting the back third functioning.

    Then the attack started flourishing, with Alex Brosque and Mark Bridge offering constant pace, mobility and some super technical combination, ably supported by the evergreen Steve Corica, in some of the best form of his career.

    No defence has able to get any rest with these three guys flying around the front third.

    Now the diamond midfield is functioning beautifully, with Stuart Musialik pulling the strings from deep, Terry McFlynn adapting on the left, and Karol Kisel offering some wonderful energy and attitude from the right.

    The Slovak took a while to get going, but his performances of late have been top-shelf, justifying Lavicka’s faith and eye for a player.

    Sydney have been a work in progress, but Lavicka and his assistants, Michal Zach and Tony Popovic, have built a machine.

    In recent times they have resembled a Melbourne Cup stayer, effortlessly put to sleep early before bursting to life in the home stretch.

    Sydney, the city, has never seen anything like it, season one included.

    Their team is watch-able, very, very watch-able.

    The pity is that not enough is being done to sell this message.

    Yes, the three new imports aren’t big names, but in Keller, Kisel and the unsung Sung-Hwan Byun, Sydney have picked up three winners, whose performances are getting better with the season.

    The Korean has been a revelation, not always for his attacking work, but importantly for his defensive work.

    Sitting alongside Colosimo, he has excellent positional sense, good coverage on the ground, and a decent leap, emphasised by some handy aerial work on Matt Simon and Co. recently.

    Meanwhile, the Swiss central defender has been brilliant. The bigger the game, the more dependable he appears.

    The form of all of these key men says much about Lavicka’s shrewd work, and the FC board would do well to lock the Czech in long term.

    Melbourne may have a game in hand, but right now, and provided injuries don’t hit, you’d be game to back against the Sky Blues finishing the season first past the post for the first time.

    Tony Tannous
    Tony Tannous

    Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • January 4th 2010 @ 8:16am
      Footbal said | January 4th 2010 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      I was at the Syd/Mariners & Syd/Adel games, & the quality of football Sydney are playing is outstanding. Balls being played into feet, one touch passes & outstanding movement of the ball. Most impressive is the variation in the speed of their game, this is develeping into a very good team.
      Many A league critics need to watch one of these games.

      • January 4th 2010 @ 12:46pm
        james said | January 4th 2010 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

        Footbal, most so called A-League critics wouldn’t know quality football if it hit them square in the jaw with a 4×2.Their idea of quality football is a 4-3 scoreline.

        One particular summary of the Sydney/Adelaide game effectively said it was a boring game for all but the first 10 minutes, and that was published in a major metropolitan broadsheet.

        Thank god for Tony Tannous and David Lowe, the only football writers in this country worthy of the title ‘analyst’.

        Another excellent article Tony, it’s been a long couple of weeks in waiting.

    • January 4th 2010 @ 8:57am
      agga78 said | January 4th 2010 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      Sydney are a very good side, but I would like too see how they goif they lost a few players, all season they have been able to basically have the same squad for each match apart from the odd injury, this stability has allowed them to be in the position they are in. Melbourne on the other hand have been battered by injury all season having lost every player in midefield for long periods through injury, Ward,Brebner,Celeski,Sukha, even Hernandez have all missed matches and Melbourne have still played the best most attractive football and still only 3 points behind with a game in hand. Sydney are a good team but their depth has not been tested at all, it will interesting too see how they go if they start to lose 4-5 players through injury for a long period and will see how good Sydney really are. If Melbourne get all their players back and have a full strength side going into the finals watch out Sydney.

    • January 4th 2010 @ 10:16am
      Realfootball said | January 4th 2010 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      The second last Gold Coast/Melbourne game could well decide who finishes first past the post – it could even go right down to the last game of the season in a 3 way split between Melbourne, Sydney and GCU.

      The only downside in all of this is that more people aren’t turning up to the SFS to see this terrific Sydney team in action.

    • Columnist

      January 4th 2010 @ 10:16am
      Tony Tannous said | January 4th 2010 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      agga, as i noted in my final par, “provided injuries dont hit”, I think they’ll be hard to beat to first place…

      As for the final, it’s another thing, with Gold Coast and Melb coming into it, and maybe even Brisbane if they can bring in an expereinced central defender for Moore…

    • January 4th 2010 @ 3:26pm
      Australian Football said | January 4th 2010 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

      Tony,
      your articles are nearly not frequent enough… I always enjoy reading what you have to say especially on your analysis of SFC’s and GCU’s past performances; both of these teams are the teams I support… SFC is my spiritual club as an ex pat from Sydney and GCU because where I live today…

      With these teams sitting a few points apart they are the best two teams in the HAL playing the most attractive football to watch (my humble opinion), of course we would have some MV supporters who would argue differently… 😉

      Sydney always find it hard against GCU when they meet… I can’t comment on SFC last outing against AU FC as I missed it, however, I concur that they are playing their best football now under Lavicka in a long while with standouts Corica and Colosimo playing their best football in a long time…

      However, when they come up against GCU they can’t put it together… I saw them play at Skilled Stadium twice so far this season and both times GCU have had the wood over them when they meet… They simply can’t break down the GCU full strength team at the back… GCU at full strength are the team to beat; never mind about Melb Vic it will be GCU that SFC will have to worry about…

      You wrote an article about GCU’s system of 2-4-2-2 well last home game it destroyed the ROAR FC 5-1 and I think SFC are going to struggle against GCU who are controlling every game from the back with the best keeper in the league distributing the ball, which so often leads to many GCU’s goals, and Bolton his opposite No. at the other end has been woeful in this department… This maybe a strange thing to say, but I think it will be the difference, between these two teams when they meet next in the final… I’m sure they will be both there at the end of the season… Melb Vic will start to fade is my prediction.

      ~~~~~~
      AF

      • January 4th 2010 @ 4:03pm
        MV Dave said | January 4th 2010 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

        Oh thee of little faith AF…let me remind which club currently holds all 3 HAL titles Premiers, Champions and Pre Season Cup winners…yes the mighty Melbourne Victory. Dont worry about GCU or SFC it will be MV with a full strength side who run home over the top to win another double in 2010 (as the last winners we keep the pre season cup) 🙂 At their best MV play the most attacking and attractive football in the HAL.

    • Roar Guru

      January 4th 2010 @ 4:33pm
      Mister Football said | January 4th 2010 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

      Is SFC on the verge of breaking the record for the most 1-0 wins in a season?

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