Versatile, flexible Brisbane sound a warning
Brisbane Roar player Besart Berisha. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
There is something very, very exciting happening in Brisbane at the moment. And it threatens to make the reigning A-League champions a more formidable opponent than ever before.
It’s hard not to get carried away in the glorious afterglow of the Roar’s 5-0 win over Melbourne Victory on the weekend.
Of course, that is usually the case these days when it comes to the team credited with revolutionising the A-League’s realm of tactics over the past two years.
For the first time, the guy who did all the hard work in laying the foundation for the Roar, Ange Postecoglou, was sitting in the row of white garden chairs reserved for the visiting coaching staff.
As if to lend the ‘Roarcelona’ nickname further credence, his former assistant is now running the show.
And Rado Vidosic has not at all been afraid to tinker with a side that has been the darling of Australian football’s intelligentsia.
Brisbane found it hard to get into any sort of rhythm in the first week of the season against a combative Perth Glory side in the west – but on Saturday night, the evidence of his work was there for all to see.
Victory were ragged and rickety, but they may as well have been the Washington Generals to Brisbane’s Harlem Globetrotters.
In football, there are many ways to skin a cat. Postecoglou won two grand finals and a premiership with his short passing, patient, probing philosophy at the Roar.
But Brisbane, quite frankly, have needed to add another string to their bow for a while now. In striking the right balance between possession and direct play, it appears Vidosic has done just that.
Remember that comedown of five losses in a row last season, after Brisbane broke the record for the longest undefeated run in Australian sporting history?
They held the ball, like they always do. But there was no invention, no killer pass, no new ideas. Yes, Thomas Broich was injured, but a good system is not reliant on the genius of one man.
This was around the time when the blueprint to beat them was spreading throughout the league like wildfire.
The answer was pressing. Pressure. Get in their face, don’t let them have time on the ball. Don’t let them play out from the back so easily. Make Brisbane’s defenders cough it up.
Insistent on his men playing it short and sticking to the script – even when a Plan B was clearly in need – Postecoglou had trouble circumventing the trap.
They recovered, of course, and scraped through with a grand final win. But they were never again quite as lethal in attack.
That is, until Saturday night.
Where Postecoglou would stick with the tried and true – some would say predictable – Vidosic is showing flexibility.
He knows his players very well – as he should do, after seven years at the club as an assistant. He knows his old boss’s game plan inside out. He can always go back to it if need be.
Fortunately, he also knows that a long ball is not always the stupid, blasphemous ball it is often made out to be.
An aimless one is, sure. But an intelligent long ball, played at the right time and directed into the path of the right player, can cut any side to ribbons.
Victory can attest. So can Ben Halloran. He has the pace. Melbourne allowed him the space.
Postecoglou has yet to make his new charges truly understand the difference between effective pressing, and running around rather aimlessly in the hope that a mistake would follow.
As his men rushed naively up the pitch to shut Brisbane down, Vidosic would have rubbed his hands together with glee.
After all, he has been prepping the Roar for this sort of transition play all throughout the pre-season – quicker, sharper, surgical incisions into the areas where the opponent is most vulnerable.
This was his response to the press.
Last year, you could almost count on one hand the amount of times the goalkeeper formerly known as Michael Theoklitos went for a long option instead of a short one.
On Saturday night, he punted the ball beyond the halfway line on nine occasions.
Three times he found a target. Crucially, one of those passes became a goal – Brisbane’s fourth, when Theo sent the ball sailing over the heads of the Victory back four and into the lap of Mitch Nichols, whose pass allowed Besart Berisha to sidefoot home one of the easiest goals of his life.
This is just one example. But the shackles are gone. Brisbane now have the freedom to come at you in a number of different ways.
Want to press them? You’d better do it right, because the likes of Halloran, Nichols and Fitzgerald will be waiting for the right moment to switch on the afterburners and dart off on a channel-bursting run. Hovering around the back post will be Berisha, the tap-in king.
Fancy sitting back and absorbing? Then enter Erik Paartalu, linkman extraordinaire, and Broich, who has the key to unlock even the most stubborn of A-League rearguards.
This season is still so very young – and yet it’s never been harder to shake the feeling that it will take something special to dethrone this Brisbane team.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.