A-League 2012/13 preview: Pressure Crooker at Sydney FC
Newly appointed Sydney FC head coach Ian Crook speaks to the media during a press conference announcing his appointment in Sydney, Monday, May 14, 2012. Crook has signed a two year deal with Sydney FC. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
The biggest question heading into Sydney FC’s 2012/2013 season is whether new manager Ian Crook can shake them out of their pragmatic and reactive recent state, and instil a style of play that will have the punters coming back for more.
Recapping 2011/12, the Sky Blues finished fifth after winning ten games, drawing eight and losing nine. They made the finals, but crashed out after a 3-2 loss to the Wellington Phoenix in week one.
This season, the prized capture of Italian great Alessandro Del Piero should attract plenty of immediate interest, as we’ve already seen.
But the key to keeping those that have recently had their interest aroused coming back consistently will undoubtedly be the level of Del Piero’s play and that of his teammates.
In that sense, there’s already much pressure on Crook to get things right and ensure that Del Piero is integrated into his system as soon as possible, and that it flows seamlessly.
While any new manager deserves time to get things ticking, the expectation has been ramped up by the extra attention brought by Del Piero’s signing.
As has always been his way, Crook has adopted a relaxed approach to his work, with humour at the core, and that appears to have fostered a culture of closeness.
Even Del Piero, it seems, was in a pretty relaxed mood at Tuesday’s launch of the A-League at Parramatta Stadium.
But behind Crook’s veneer of good humour lurks a shrewd football brain, one well versed in the modern technical trends thanks in part to his work at the NSW Institute of Sport.
At the heart of his modus operandi is a proactive style based on trying to get control through pressing high and dictating terms through possession and quick circulation of bodies and ball.
With his fullbacks, Fabio on the left and Brett Emerton on the right, getting forward regularly, you can expect to see much movement in the front third.
Crook’s team looks to be one set-up to transition the ball quickly into the final third, with the pace of the likes of Kruno Lovrek, Joel Chianese, Mitch Mallia, Ali Abbas, Yairo Yau, Dimi Petratos and Blake Powell bound to spring Sydney forward quickly.
But with Del Piero and youngster Terry Antonis comfortable at getting on the ball around the opposition box, and Lovrek also said to be a creative presence, compared at one point to Kresimir Marusic, there should be a bit of subtlety on the ball when Sydney are controlling games.
This dynamic and creative approach is likely to be a far cry from the often turgid style under Vitezslav Lavicka, and if there’s one thing Crook should focus on, it’s ensuring his team doesn’t wait for the opponent before he starts playing.
Being proactive is something rarely seen at Allianz in recent times, but an aggressive intent will help keep the punters happy.
While Crook appears to have front third options, to my mind there remains a few things that need to click behind them for Sydney to succeed.
What’s most important for the Sydney XI is what happens in the number six role, at the base of Crook’s midfield three.
After struggling in the first half of last season, McFlynn bounced back with some more polished late performances, and it’s this form he’ll need to bring from the start, enabling the front third to flourish though accurate distribution.
While Crook has obviously entrusted McFlynn with the captain’s armband, he has also shown pragmatism through the late signing of an experienced and hard-working midfielder like Paul Reid, ensuring he has options.
Central midfield remains one of a couple of areas Sydney look a little light in.
Of course, Crook will look to bring Antonis further on, but another midfielder I’ve been impressed by whenever I’ve seen him is Hagi Gligor. Gligor is a diminutive and mobile midfielder buzzer and is very neat on the ball.
Another area that Crook has been working hard on is the integration of his back four into the system.
Last season, only Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United conceded more goals, so it’s perhaps no great surprise to find three fresh back-four faces.
While an injured Emerton struggled higher up the pitch last season, he should be re-invigorated by a return to right back, from where he can roam forward.
But he and Fabio will need to be wary not to expose the central defence. This is particularly the case for Fabio, who was caught out a few times at Melbourne Victory.
While Adam Griffiths is expected to add strength alongside Pascal Bosschaart, they and Ivan Necevski will also be relied upon to play out from the back.
How well they manage this will have a big say on how far Sydney go.
There’s no doubt there’s a great deal of pressure on Crook to get things right, and the sooner he has Del Piero integrated and flowing, the smoother Sydney’s season is likely to be.
Prediction: Fourth to seventh.
In: Alessandro del Piero (Juventus, Serie A), Kruno Lovrek (Qingdao Jonoon, China), Yairo Yau (Sporting San Miguelito, Panama), Adam Griffiths (Hangzhou, China), Ali Abbas (Newcastle Jets), Fabio (Melbourne Victory), Trent McClenahan (Central Coast Mariners), Vedran Janjetović (Sydney United 58, NSW PL), Blake Powell (Sutherland Sharks, NSW PL).
Out: Nicky Carle (Bani Yas, UAE), Mark Bridge, Michael Beauchamp, Shannon Cole (Western Sydney Wanderers), Karol Kisel (Slavia Prague, Czech Republic), Scott Jamieson (Perth Glory), Liam Reddy (Esteghlal, Iran), Bruno Cazarine (free agent).
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