How to bring down Sydney FC

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    Sydney's consistency will deliver them the championship. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

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    For a Sydney FC fan, the image of Graham Arnold riding off into the sunset on mounted steed with the A-League toilet seat draped around his neck isn’t offensive at all.

    I’m sure supporters of other clubs might find it a little less tasteful, yet the reality is that Sydney look like ‘good things’ with a couple of months of A-League action remaining.

    Opposition managers will be reminding their squads that nothing is a sure bet and there are ways to bring the rampant ladder leaders to their knees. It’s taken me a considerable amount of time to identify them, but they are there.

    Start fast and score first
    Much has been made of Sydney’s ability to build pressure. They are prepared to sit, sit and sit a little more. When in front on the scoreboard, the pressure becomes relentless. Against the Sky Blues a fast start is paramount.

    They are somewhat untried chasing games, rarely have they been behind. The Western Sydney Wanderers led in the most recent Sydney Derby and held their advantage.

    There were times during the second half that Sydney struggled and their attacking options were blunted.

    Forced to take possession and build from the back more often. They looked less effective.
    While this is all easier said than done, the clash with Melbourne City adds weight to the argument. Before the contest was ruined by the red issued to Manny Muscat, City started better, looked more dangerous and had Sydney under the pump in the early stages.

    Arnold’s men were a little lucky to be in front before Nick Fitzgerald’s stunning equaliser.

    It wasn’t until Sydney took the numerical advantage in personnel, that they were able to put them away. It was a case of what could have been for Melbourne City.

    Alex Wilkinson of Sydney FC

    Width, width and more width
    Any game plan designed to play through the Sydney centre-backs is destined to fail. Not only has the form of Alex Wilkinson and his defensive team been unprecedentedly good, the co-ordination of them as a unit makes them extremely difficult to break down.

    One of the most clear cut examples of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

    Sneaking in at near or back posts with quality ball played in from the by-line is far more likely to succeed. A way to achieve this would be to create a little more angle in the passes from the number ten position, sending wingers to space and then finding avenues to goal through cut-backs.

    Besart Berisha, Marco Rojas and James Troisi do this very well for Melbourne Victory and considering where they sit on the ladder, should fill Sydney with trepidation.

    Teams that have attacked Sydney with medium length balls played over the top have struggled. The speed of Michael Zullo and Rhyan Grant allows them to turn, chase and apply defensive pressure. Both of them work the line tirelessly and catching them out for speed is a forlorn hope.

    Making Zullo and Grant turn sharply with more acutely angled balls will open up more chances than long sweeping deliveries that play to their strength.

    michael-zullo-sydney-fc-a-league-sydney-derby-2016-football

    Make Zullo and Grant work
    On much the same theme, opposition teams need to approach the two back-men aggressively. If Arnold uses them to sweep forward in attack, looping around the attacking mid-fielders when possession is turned over, they must be forced to track back just as hard.

    Allowing them to assume their defensive roles without a challenge to their attacking position on the field plays into Sydney’s hands.

    Rebounding quickly and adopting Sydney’s mantra of speed outweighing the benefits of time in possession, could result in the two defenders potentially being a little more cautious with the positions they take up in attack.

    At times possession may be sacrificed in an attempt to apply quick pressure, yet this is the by-product of a tactic that could stunt the sky blues attacking options on the counter.

    Hit your KPIs and maintain discipline
    No team will beat Sydney FC without total commitment from each and every player. Every single moment will require execution of the highest standard.

    Players tracking back cannot drop off and sloppy challenges around the edge of the area will prove disastrous, as Milos Ninkovic and Brandon O’Neill wait to pounce.

    Communication at the back needs to be almost perfect when the Sydney press is engaged and maintaining discipline amidst the pressure is vital.

    All easy to say I know, however Brisbane Roar have done something akin to the above on two occasions this season. Their discipline and structures remained constant throughout both clashes. The 1-1 draw was sprightly football and the rather dour affair on a less than perfect pitch, remained scoreless after ninety.

    On both occasions Brisbane remained on task, something that Perth Glory, Adelaide United and Wellington Phoenix did not do and subsequently, had their pants pull down rather embarrassingly.

    The Central Coast Mariners also lost focus in January, playing sloppily on their home strip before finding their rhythm and pushing the record breaking club to the brink. The 2-3 loss saw Sydney shaking in their boots in the last twenty.

    The Mariners performance showed that pressure can be applied to Sydney, yet mistakes will cost you in spades.

    Try to limit the passing channels of Ninkovic
    Sounds simple doesn’t it? Eliminating Ninkovic’s impact on the game is a ridiculous proposition, yet controlling it is possible. Fundamentally it is all about space. Limiting his is key. Deft balls on the edge of the box are his speciality and made possible by that metre of space created by his skill and dexterity.

    Guarding space against Ninkovic doesn’t appear to work for his direct opponent when under attack. Stepping up and committing to the challenge to force a pass, time after time, makes the little man play without the luxury of that extra second that precedes the killer ball he so often produces.

    In saying all of this, men far more gifted in football analysis than me have attempted to penetrate the ruthless defence of the sky blues this season, with incredibility limited success.

    No one has really opened them up and their losses are both closely fought, one goal defeats.

    Perhaps the wizardry of Ninkovic, the class of Bobo and the running and workload of Filip Holosko are just a bridge too far for A-League defences. Maybe the hermetically sealed defence can’t be disarmed.

    Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold

    The cattle that Arnold has at his disposal might just be one of the best teams ever put together in this country.

    While Sydney FC fans will hope all this is true and the relentless march to the title continues, there are some learned men scheming in the shadows trying to find a way to counter their methods.

    On a given day, with a committed team, a little bit of luck and some football smarts, someone just might do it.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (13)

    • Roar Pro

      March 16th 2017 @ 9:36am
      Josh Barton said | March 16th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      One of the big things I think that differentiates Sydney from the rest of the teams is fitness. Most of their goals have come in the second half of games, and their ability to keep running full throttle until the final whistle is miles above any of the other teams at the moment. Its probably the main reason Grant has blossomed this season, his fitness has improved massively and he can run all game.

      The longer a match goes on, the more likely Sydney will begin to take control of it, purely because they just don’t get tired.

      Your first point is spot on, start fast and take Sydney’s superior fitness out of the equation. That’s the way to beat Sydney.

      • Roar Rookie

        March 16th 2017 @ 10:44am
        At work said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:44am | ! Report

        Also the fact that Arnie can make a substituation and not lose quality. The players we have on the bench would start in most teams and is a pity that we’re not in the ACL this year to give them starting spots their quality deserves.

        • Columnist

          March 16th 2017 @ 11:14am
          Stuart Thomas said | March 16th 2017 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          Having 5-6 rotating through the back four and bringing Ibini and Dimitrijevic from the bench is an undoubted strength. Even Carney has played some key roles so far. Asian cup would have been interesting, shame about last season as this squad could have given it a good shake.

      • Columnist

        March 16th 2017 @ 11:10am
        Stuart Thomas said | March 16th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        Very true Josh, their fitness levels are oustanding. Not something I included as at this stage other teams won’t be improving theirs and not much you can do to combat Sydney’s. Perhaps slow the tempo down at times, but I think this might play into Sydney’s hands with the quick counter.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 10:15am
      Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      Prevent SFC, turning up—drug or kidnap the SFC bus-driver on route to the venue.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 11:00am
      Ken Spacey said | March 16th 2017 @ 11:00am | ! Report

      The biggest club in the biggest with the most registered players being a run away winner should be drawing much better crowds. Allianz is a terrible stadium unless full and one hopes the new version will be better designed for football and SFC’s modest attendances.

      • Roar Rookie

        March 16th 2017 @ 11:41am
        At work said | March 16th 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        Ken Spacey I wouldn’t hold your breath on Allianz Stadium getting any facelift, I doubt there will be money left over after the new Parramatta and Homebush stadiums are completed.

        Agree Allianz doesn’t need to hold 45k, as neither Syd FC, Sydney Roosters or NSW Waratahs regularly fill it to half. But unfortunately I don’t see anything happening on that front for years to come.

        Besides, what our crowds got to do with how unstoppable we are!

      • Roar Pro

        March 16th 2017 @ 12:06pm
        Josh Barton said | March 16th 2017 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

        The main reason the crowds are so bad is that Sat night games draw the most, and Sydney haven’t played one since November last year and don’t play again until April. That’s a 4 month gap playing on days where Sydney crowds have trouble making it to the games – with sub optimal weather to boot. A lot can be said about the FFA scheduling.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 2:05pm
      Buddy said | March 16th 2017 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

      Stuart, I’d find it far more objectionable if the 5th or 6th placed team were to lift that toilet bowl seat in a couple of months. For that matter, 3rd or 4th. i can just about stomach the idea of 2nd v 1st but honestly is someone going to dispute the standings or the strength of the team vs everyone else?

    • March 16th 2017 @ 6:16pm
      Midfielder said | March 16th 2017 @ 6:16pm | ! Report

      RRRRR South Gosford FC … return the Mighty Mariner folk…. except you keep angry smurf

    • March 16th 2017 @ 9:20pm
      pacman said | March 16th 2017 @ 9:20pm | ! Report

      SFC are conceding one goal every two matches, and their goalkeeper Vukovic is credited with almost three saves per match. This is the challenge, and a challenge that is being avoided.

      Instead of wide attacking players hitting insipid crosses to the edge of Vukovic’s 6 yard box, with him plucking the ball out of the air and saying “thanks for the practice ball”, surely it would be worthwhile experimenting with different approaches?

      Why not attack the goalkeeper? Hammer in a few balls, either shooting for goal, or aiming for the penalty spot or thereabouts from wide positions. Create a little doubt and uncertainty for Danny and his defenders, for at the moment they are all too comfortable. Nothing like a deflection or rebound, for the attacks they presently face are conservative, predictable and pedestrian.

      Unfortunately, this is one of the liabilities attaching to the A-League. Lack of adventure when approaching the opposition’s penalty area. How often, particularly with the Roar, do we see the ball passed from the edge of the opposition penalty area back to half way, or further, because a clear path to goal is not evident?

      For goodness sake, let’s try and be proactive, and see if chances can be created rather than gifted? As it is, every time the ball is passed back from penalty area to half way, a creative opportunity has been squandered.

      This is not rocket science! All clubs are aware of SFC’s goal scoring abilities. Let’s concentrate on exploring their defensive capabilities. But let’s do it with some gusto!

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