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Overload the key to Socceroos’ World Cup qualification

Tim Palmer Columnist

By Tim Palmer, Tim Palmer is a Roar Expert

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    Australia competed excellently in the tricky away leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff against Honduras, creating many good chances from which they could have won the match, albeit returning to Sydney with a respectable 0-0 draw.

    A significant contributor to the confident Australian performance was their ability to overload Honduras in midfield areas.

    While the philosophy of Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou has been heavily debated, there has been less discussion about the key principles that have been ever-present throughout his regime.

    Regardless of the formation, Postecoglou has stuck to the mentality and core beliefs he instilled from day one. These include being proactive, playing forward, penetrating in wide areas and creating midfield overloads.

    These principles were fundamental to the controversial decision to switch to a back three. The 3-2-4-1 formation allows the team to play out from the back (with the back three usually ensuring comfortable numerical superiority against opposition pressure in deep positions), while the combination of two 6s (holding midfielders) and two 10s (attacking midfielders), in theory, overloads any opponent that plays with two or three players in the central zone.

    This was evident in the home qualifier against the UAE. Tom Rogic was able to get free in pockets of space behind the opposition midfield line, because the opposition’s two central midfielders were drawn up the pitch towards Australia’s deeper midfielders, creating space between the lines.

    Creating midfield overloads was also vital to against Honduras. However, building on from a tactical change he first made in the second leg against Syria, Postecoglou tilted his midfield square to become a diamond. In this diamond, each player had clear tasks in possession that created opportunities to play through the midfield zone and get key players on the ball in dangerous positions that suited their individual attributes.

    The player at the base of the diamond was Mile Jedinak, returning from a long injury lay-off.

    Jedinak’s primary role was without the ball, where he screened the back four, cut off direct passing lanes to Honduras’ front two (the South Americans played a 4-2-3-1 that became 4-4-2 out of possession), and helped win second balls against long passes from the back.

    With the ball, Jedinak had a starting position behind Honduras’ first pressing line (a front two). In doing so, he occupied the first pressing line so that either they would block passes into him – thus allowing one of the Australian back three time and space to play forward – or, if the Honduras front two pressed, Jedinak could move off the shoulder and get free to receive a forward pass between the lines.

    Sometimes, Jedinak would also drop into the back three, so one of the centre-backs could drive forward.

    Mile Jedinak vs Japan

    (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, FILE)

    In all these examples, Jedinak’s role is to facilitate the build up – help Australia move the ball from the back into the middle or front third, preferably via controlled, forward passes. The aim of this was to get one of the attacking midfielders – Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo or Jackson Irvine – on the ball in time and space, to be effective going forward.

    Postecoglou gave slightly different roles to each of these three to maximise their individual traits.

    Luongo, for example, as the right-sided 8, positioned himself between defenders, level and outside of his nearest opponent. This meant when he received forward passes, he could try and ‘break’ the defenders by turning quickly and darting forward into space. Luongo’s physicality means he is able to hold off defenders while turning in tight areas, and he was able to do so effectively from that right-sided position to motor forward into the final third.

    Mooy, as the left-sided 8, provides penetration with a creative range of passing, but needs to receive in space away from defenders to be effective. Therefore, his starting position was higher than Luongo’s, in the pockets of space behind his nearest defender. That meant he was receiving passes that broke the line, rather than receiving the pass, then breaking the line, as Luongo was doing. That, in turn, meant Mooy was getting the ball in space to turn and face forward, where he could then look for forward runs from Tomi Juric, Aziz Behich or Josh Risdon.

    Aaron Mooy Socceroos Australia Football 2017

    Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images

    The player at the top of the diamond, Jackson Irvine, was crucial in creating space for Mooy and Luongo. Irvine’s starting position was highest, getting in between Honduras’ midfield and defence (close to Juric). That had two effects. Firstly, it meant the two opposing central midfielders had to screen passes into Irvine, while also preventing Mooy and Luongo getting free in front of them. Secondly, it meant Australia’s back three could play longer passes towards Juric, who could then try and lay the ball off to Irvine between the lines.

    Where Irvine was most effective, however, was when the ball entered the final third. When this happened, Irvine would move into the box alongside Juric, becoming a target for deliveries from Risdon or Behich – the latter created a chance for Irvine who volleyed high over the bar.

    Specific examples of the different player tasks within Australia’s diamond midfield are shown in the video below.

    Evidently, there is a lot of detail that goes into Australia’s preparation for matches such as this – especially when considering this is only the organisation of the midfield when in possession.

    These tactical plans come from extensive opposition scouting and careful analysis of each squad member’s strengths and weaknesses, drawn up by Postecoglou and his technical staff. This match was a good example of how clear planning and player tasks can maximise each player’s abilities while still bringing the key principles to life – all the way up until the finishing, at least.

    We can expect a similarly detailed plan in the second leg, where the coaching staff will have analysed this match, assessed what worked and what did not.

    With fresh faces like Tom Rogic, Matthew Leckie and Mark Milligan to introduce into the fold, Postecoglou has plenty of options. Regardless of his selection, however, and whether he sticks or twists with this unique 3-4-3 diamond formation, overloading that midfield zone, and getting the likes of Rogic, Mooy and Luongo driving at the defence will be critical to an Australian victory.

    Tim Palmer
    Tim Palmer

    Tim is a football coach, writer, analyst and sports scientist. He has worked with the Socceroos in an analysis role, has completed the FFA B Licence, is currently a player in the Australian Deaf Football Team and coaches in the NSW NPL. You can follow him on Twitter @timpalmerftbl.

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    The Crowd Says (53)

    • Roar Rookie

      November 15th 2017 @ 11:18am
      Grobbelaar said | November 15th 2017 @ 11:18am | ! Report

      In front of our respective goals and in the middle of the park, we are superior to Honduras – you could play any formation and that basic fact wouldn’t change one iota.

      Honduras is a very ordinary team, and that’s putting it politely.

      We are at home, and we only need the one goal to progress, otherwise it’s off to penalties – that’s the very, very best that Honduras can hope for.

      • November 15th 2017 @ 12:23pm
        Redondo said | November 15th 2017 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

        Ordinary in the one game most of us have seen them play. It’ll be interesting to see what they can do tonight.

        Even if they are ordinary again, they may well fluke an early goal against our porous defence. If so, they can do what Sweden did to Italy and concede 75% possession and park 3 Honduran equivalents of a Volvo bus between us and the 2 goals we need.

        I wouldn’t bet against that happening tonight.

      • November 15th 2017 @ 12:37pm
        Waz said | November 15th 2017 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

        yup, and scrap the FFA/FA Cup while were at it. Football matches always go the way they’re expected too – just ask the USA 😂

    • November 15th 2017 @ 12:33pm
      Lionheart said | November 15th 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

      Thanks Tim. Great article which I’ll come back and read over again before tonight’s game.
      This is the sort of article we should be reading more of in the MSM, to generate an informed discussion and grow a knowledgeable fan base. Our ‘experts’ need to get away from the asymmetrical stuff, like the coach’s employment plans and fabrications of dressing shed morale, and get onto the game and how it’s played.
      Go Socceroos!

    • November 15th 2017 @ 1:15pm
      Rudi said | November 15th 2017 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

      Going 3-4-3 (Diamond) 3-1-3-3 has been a brilliant tactical move by Ange, I called it that he should have done in the Confed Cup as the box MF shaped structure did not help us play through the 2nd and 3rd line with effeciency so I’m glad he’s able to shift his midfield like that.

      Was it part of his plan all along? He did say there was one more tactical shift he would make before the World Cup so it was this one then well thought Ange!

    • November 15th 2017 @ 5:22pm
      matth said | November 15th 2017 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

      What a good article and well informed comments to match. Thanks everyone.

    • November 15th 2017 @ 6:28pm
      Gavin R said | November 15th 2017 @ 6:28pm | ! Report

      I’m so glad we are starting to see some more positive, thought provoking and tactical articles on the football tab again.

      For me, the issues are the cheap turnovers in the middle third which we cannot afford. If we can minimise these errors, it’ll be more attacking, and less defensive scrambling, particularly from the wing backs who need to work hard enough as it is. And we have been up against counter attacking teams waiting for this and exposing it. We are ready to defend when its cleared from the box as we can drop as they turn, but when players are moving into attacking positions and we lose it, we are caught out.

      I’ve backed ange from day one and i still believe he’s not only the best option available but the right man and truly hope (and believe) he sticks around for the big dance should we get past honduras. We cannot progress without challenging and developing our players which ange certainly has done. He seems to have the full support and respect from all players.

    • November 15th 2017 @ 6:51pm
      Nemesis said | November 15th 2017 @ 6:51pm | ! Report

      BREAKING NEWS

      Starting XI for AUSTRALIA

      ————————-Ryan—————

      —Jurman——–Sainsbury———Wright

      ———-Milligan———–Jedinak——

      Behich——–Mooy—Rogic—–Leckie

      ——————-Cahill————–

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