Roos’ Confed Cup dress rehearsal ends in 4-0 defeat

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By , Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Brazil took to the MCG turf for the second time in a week, against Australia this time, having lost to Argentina in a friendly last Friday.

    Ange Postecoglou made a number of changes in personnel, but the back-three formation remained.

    We saw, here, what this formation looks like against a team that dominates possession. Australia tend to take the lead in that regard against Asian opponents, but Brazil had no intention of giving up their beloved plaything to the Roos.

    We saw what having energetic, advanced wing-backs can offer when defending from the front. Matt Leckie and Aziz Behich offered up some nice moments of swiftly applied, advanced pressure multiple times, forcing Brazil to play back to their keeper, stifling at the source – for a short time, at least – progress down the flanks.

    The problem is that for all of Leckie and Behich’s enthusiasm, Brazil were clearly good enough not to be flummoxed by this pressure for long, and to play around it with patience and precision. When they did squeeze their way through, the wing-backs were suddenly far too advanced to help the affect the situation defensively as it progressed toward the Socceroos’ goal.

    Additionally, when the Brazilian full backs ventured forward, too often it was the centre backs who had to separate, coming out to meet them; Milos Degenek, a good defender to be sure, is still no match for Juve’s Alex Sandro.

    Behich and Leckie were playing effectively as wingers, and their positioning broadcast as much. Simon Hill, calling the match, described Behich as playing as a “high wing-back”, a position that doesn’t actually exist outside of just being a winger that’s somewhat defensively-minded. In the first half, the spot that radiated most intensely in the Brazilian’s team-wide heatmap was the spot just ahead of the halfway line, on Behich’s flank.

    Behich’s average first half position was ahead of the halfway line, in Brazil’s defensive half. By the end of the match, Behich’s average position had retreated only slightly.

    Matthew Leckie

    (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

    There were still moments of considerable defensive peril; most of them involved Brazil attacking down one flank, with yawning weak side-space calling out to be exploited on the other. Brazil would raid down Behich’s wing, and Leckie would be seen jogging some distance behind his man, with Degenek unsure whether to cover across or not.

    Other moments – like Brazil’s first goal, after 12 seconds – saw our centre backs passing inaccurately out of defence, often straight to the opposition. Only Trent Sainsbury, really, has the ball-playing skills to pass ambitiously, and as he’s the central centre back. His ability to pass out to the wings is somewhat restricted.

    David Luiz – perhaps the ideal centre back in the system Postecoglou is trying to propagate – functions almost exactly like Sainsbury is supposed to in Chelsea’s back-three formation. It must have made Ange green with envy. Luiz was playing as a defensive midfielder, creating and snuffing out attacks with equal relish; he is superbly versatile and gifted.

    Luiz met a corner with a ferocious header in the second half, hitting the bar, and the chaos that ensued led to Brazil’s second goal.

    There were a couple of promising moments for Australia, with Behich, taking advantage of his advanced starting spot, linking up well with both Mark Milligan – an excellent passer, crucial to both our defence and attack – and James Troisi. Troisi’s bustling, sudden turn-and-burn tendencies in possession startled the Selecao at times.

    Troisi appears to shift straight into top gear from a standing start, and heavy touches and overrun lurches are a part of his game that will be difficult to shake if he can’t refine himself. But the injection of pure, aggressive directness he provides is an asset that, more often than not, helps rather than hinders the attack.

    Behich crossed well – at least better than Brad Smith has in his appearances for the national team – and really ought to retain his spot throughout the Confederations Cup, especially considering Smith’s injury.

    Almost all of Australia’s best attacking sequences involved dashing down the wings. Robbie Kruse was rarely seen taking the ball, under pressure or not, in the middle of the park, and Troisi’s accelerations usually began from deeper areas, with no space allowed in the areas traditionally the domain of a No.10. Luiz was making that area utterly uninhabitable.

    All attempts in the second half to try and pass through the middle, into the Brazilian box, ended with some blue-shirted player striding out of defence with the ball. Ajdan Hrustic, on debut, managed the first Australian shot on target, with 20 minutes to go, a skidder from distance.

    Saudi Arabia's defender Mukhtar Fallatah (R) vies with Australia's defender Trent Sainsbury


    Brazil played within themselves, comfortably thrumming along in a lower gear, surely aware of what happened the Socceroos manager the last time they got the cane out of the cupboard in a friendly against Australia. Philippe Coutinho and Luiz, two of the Premier League’s best, were substituted for Willian and Fernandinho, two more of Premier League’s best.

    Brazil scored a third, a wondrous team-goal that saw almost the entire midfield and attack combine in impossibly close quarters, with Paulinho’s back-heel setting up substitute Taison to slot home. A fourth goal was headed home too by Diego Souza, literally the last touch of the game.

    Postecoglu was clearly testing out players before the tournament in Russia, but as Australia was only making any headway down the flanks, Jamie Maclaren was hardly going to soar in to nod home a Tim Cahill-esque stunner. He’d replaced Cahill, and is – to put it mildly – not the same aerial presence.

    Moreover, if this was a time for experimentation, why not change the formation too, to see if anything else worked? When Leckie went off, Kruse slotted in to fill the gap at wing-back, a move almost reinforcing the stone in which this formation seems to be set.

    This was a Brazil team shorn of many of its best players, playing at an intensity level similar to that of a particularly vigorous training match. Australia, too, embraced the casual spirit of the match, a friendly affair after all.

    Ruminations over the validity of the Roos’ general tactical approach will continue, with this match offering little of substance to either side of the argument. But the quality that Brazil threatened, a deadly bite only hinted at with a snarling flash of the teeth, will be lethally inflicted by our Confederations Cup opponents Chile, Germany and Cameroon.

    Whether we, in our current system, will survive it is still unclear.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.