Adelaide, Central Coast get it right by congesting ACL midfields

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    The Central Coast Mariners' Matt Simon reacts to his goal. AAP Image/Paul Mille

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    The question flying about after Adelaide United’s 2-0 win over Gamba Osaka on Tuesday night is why do the Reds look so good in the Asian Champions League, yet have struggled in the A-League?

    While there are a myriad of reasons for their disappointing domestic season, the ACL has provided John Kosmina and his men an opportunity to start again and put all the issues of the A-League campaign behind them.

    With this in mind, Kosmina has set about changing the way Adelaide play, from the diamond 4-4-2 he used for most of the season to a 4-3-3, ironically a system favoured by his predecessor, Rini Coolen.

    While it has been a change in formation, more telling has been the shift in emphasis from trying to play an offensive game to sitting back and absorbing, and relying on the counter attack for much of their forward thrust.

    In many ways it’s the prefect strategy for the continental tournament. Not enough to win games in the A-League these days, the safety first approach appears to be working a treat against strong continental sides from the J-League, K-League and Uzbekistan.

    Realising that Pohang, Gamba and Bunyodkor are all likely to try and get on the front foot and dictate, Kosmina has set his unit up to defend deep, screened by a three man central midfield made up of workers.

    On Tuesday, at Hindmarsh, it featured ball winner Francisco Usucar, deep lying playmaker Osama Malik and the slightly more advanced, but far from attacking, Zenon Caravella.

    Not far from them, on either side, were Dario Vidosic and Iain Ramsey, charged with the task of tucking in, then breaking forward with pace in support of the lone target-man, Bruce Djite.

    By congesting the midfield and remaining compact, Adelaide have looked very hard to break down in their opening two games. Kosmina’s decision to choose a destroyer in Usucar over Evgeniy Levchenko for his ACL squad told much about his plans.

    When they have won the ball, there’s been a real purpose about the way they’ve moved the ball forward swiftly.

    In many ways, the formula being adopted by Kosmina is exactly the same one used by Aurelio Vidmar at the start of the 2008 ACL campaign, the one that saw the Reds march all the way to the final.

    Then, coming off a season in which Adelaide finished near the bottom, and having leaked goals at the back end of the season, Vidmar was adamant about building his unit from the back.

    He spent the two months between the end of the domestic season and the start of the ACL working on his back four, getting that right, ensuring the likes of Richie Alagich, Angelo Costanzo, Robbie Cornthwaite, Sash Ognenovski and Cassio were versed in the concept of staying organised and compact.

    Ognenovski, you might remember, was immense.

    From that platform came the countering strategy, with the likes of Fabian Barbiero, Diego, Lucas Pantelis and Travis Dodd taking turns to burst forward and support Djite and Nathan Burns, and later Cristiano.

    As I wrote at the time:

    “Tactically, Vidmar built a disciplined template that took United all the way through six group games and four play-offs; defend deep, stay compact, congest the midfield and spring forward through the power of the wide men and central striker.”

    Sound familiar?

    Kosmina didn’t have the luxury of time to work on things between the end of the A-League and the start of the ACL.

    In some ways though, that’s been a god-send, with the players able to shift their focus immediately to Asia. As well, having domestic games on the weekend has given Kosmina the option to experiment.

    He did exactly that a few weeks ago in Sydney, starting Djite on the bench and Sergio van Dijk alone up font.

    More recently it’s been van Dijk warming the bench while Djite makes the most of his latest opportunity.

    Against Gamba Djite was a menace, all physicality and desire, playing the hold-up role to a tee. Try as he did, Sota Nakazawa couldn’t handle him.

    Adelaide weren’t alone in congesting of the midfield, with Graham Arnold adopting a similar process.

    After the 1-1 draw at Bluetongue on Wednesday, Nagoya Grampus’ manager Dragan Stojkovic expressed some surprise at how deep the Mariners sat.

    Arnold shifted from his standard 4-4-2 diamond, essentially for two reasons. First, he wanted to incorporate his two gun youngsters, Mustafa Amini and Tomas Rogic in the same formation, something I’d suggested he should do a few weeks back.

    As well, he wanted to make it difficult for Nagoya’s midfield to feed Josh Kennedy, and there’s no doubt the Mariners, set-out in a Christmas tree 4-3-2-1, did a very good job at stopping the Japanese midfield.

    It provided the platform for the prodigious individual talent that is Rogic to go to work at the other end.

    While these pragmatic strategies might need to be loosened at a later point in the tournament, when the offensive cream tends to rise to the top, there’s no doubt, for now, the United and Mariners players should be commended for adapting to the changes smoothly and getting the job done.

    Tony Tannous
    Tony Tannous

    Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA

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    The Crowd Says (27)

    • March 23rd 2012 @ 8:26am
      agga78 said | March 23rd 2012 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      Adelaide are playing a 4-5-1 system with Djite as the lone striker, not 4-3-3 as you suggest Tony, Kossie himself said it was a 4-5-1 formation, Adelaide are keeping compact between the lines defending from the front and using what I believe is a crucial tactic aganst Asian teams and that is using our psychical robust plsyers to out muscle them at free kicks and corners it has worked in both matches so far.

      But Adelaide were fantastic on Tuesday they really controlled the whole match, they didn’t allow Gamba time on the ball and really should of won by more. CCM I was slightly disappointed with I thought in both there matches they should of won with a bit more attaciking intent, Nagoya and Taijin in the 1st match were not giving the Mariners too much to worry about and with a bit creativity up front should of won the game. I felt Arnold was not trying to win the match on Wednesday as he played with no recognised striker and I thought it would of been ideal game for Sutton to throw himself around as Japanese do not like big strong strikers who are good in the air.

      Overall Adelaide and CCM have started well and are well in the hunt to make it out of the group while Brisbane are looking less likely as Ange is determined to play 1 style of football in Asia and it is a style most Asian teams see every week and are far more comfortable in facing than the more direct nature of Adelaide and too a lesser extent CCM.

      • March 23rd 2012 @ 9:30am
        Danny Bhoy said | March 23rd 2012 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        Agga78- a 4-3-3 can be construed as a 4-5-1 though (the 2 wingers pull back to wide midfielders) and as Tony stated these 2 players would then push further up the field to become a 4-3-3 in attack!

    • March 23rd 2012 @ 9:30am
      RIP_Enke said | March 23rd 2012 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      Do not have PTV, so cannot see a match, though you would have to take your hat off to Ange and the Roar in the faith they have in their game play if they are sticking to their style and not resorting to counter attack.
      Not that there is anything wrong with counter attack football.

      • March 23rd 2012 @ 12:28pm
        MC said | March 23rd 2012 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

        I don’t know that you could call Adelaide’s match against Gamba “resorting to counter attack”. Adel U and CCM have simply recognised that certain opposition and certain matches require adjustments in formation and style. That’s just being astute.

        You can take your hat off to Ange and the Roar, but you don’t get extra points for trying to play a particular style. AU 6pts, CCM 2pts, Bris 1pt.

        • Roar Rookie

          March 23rd 2012 @ 7:16pm
          Behold said | March 23rd 2012 @ 7:16pm | ! Report

          Adelaide were great this week and dour in the match before. CCM are just boring but thats what you get when Arnold is your coach.

    • Roar Guru

      March 23rd 2012 @ 10:29am
      AndyRoo said | March 23rd 2012 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      Korean clubs have done very well in the ACL recently and Koreans love counter attacking.

      I would say it’s their natural style despite their better technique than us.

      I’m glad the A league teams are good enough to adapt it for the ACL but don’t use it week in week out in the A league.

    • Roar Guru

      March 23rd 2012 @ 11:15am
      The Cattery said | March 23rd 2012 @ 11:15am | ! Report

      As a general rule, Asian keepers are hopeless, their defenders only marginally better, and their strikers can be a bit hit and miss, but the Asians produce good midfielders with good technique and passing range – so it makes a lot of sense to crowd the midfield and give them less of a chance to weave their magic, opportunities will definitely open up to score at the other end if you stick to the game plan. Patience and wearing down your opposition will pay dividends.

      • March 23rd 2012 @ 1:07pm
        Nathan of Perth said | March 23rd 2012 @ 1:07pm | ! Report



    • March 23rd 2012 @ 12:39pm
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 23rd 2012 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

      I’ve found that Adelaide play better when they try to play a little less like Barcelona and a little more like Adelaide.

      The crowding of the midfield works well when you have a player like Malik who can take advantage of the proximity and then use the ball intelligently once they have it. Winning the ball isn’t much use if you then find yourself in the same crowded midfield with exactly the same problems faced by your immediate opponent only seconds before. The timing of the runs from the overlapping fullbacks at this point is vital, as the ability of the wider midfielders to immediately cover as a subsequent immediate turnover can result in a disaster. Hence the importance of Cassio.

      Talent is one thing, however to play that type of game you need players who can talk and who can listen.

      • Roar Guru

        March 23rd 2012 @ 1:25pm
        The Cattery said | March 23rd 2012 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

        Farina’s Roar, one season when they finished around 3rd, played a crowded midfield, extremely crowded, blocked like a dunny, they would use Zullo and Kruse as rapid release valves to get it out once the opposition had been sucked down the gurgler, and of course, despite Reinaldo’s many flaws, in that season he played a vital target man role, where he could compete against two defenders, and hold it up for the support (which was better than letting him have a shot).

        No A-League team has ever played the crowded midfiled the way the Roar were able to, although when the Jets won the championship, they were pretty close (actually, it might have been the same season – the season of crowded midfields).

    • March 23rd 2012 @ 12:42pm
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 23rd 2012 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

      Incidentally has anyone seen a game featuring Buriram yet? I cannot help but wonder if they are playing a similar style to the War Elephants that was so successful in upsetting the rhythm of the Socceroos.

      • March 23rd 2012 @ 1:09pm
        Nathan of Perth said | March 23rd 2012 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

        No, although I’d like to. Surprised to see them knock over a pair of pretty damn big names.

      • Roar Guru

        March 23rd 2012 @ 2:19pm
        Griffo said | March 23rd 2012 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

        I saw their first half against Kashiwa Reysol – similar if not quite as organised at the back as the national team, but technically very good.

        The energy and passion of their fans was also amazing 😉

      • March 23rd 2012 @ 3:42pm
        Matsu said | March 23rd 2012 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

        At the risk of emphasizing my advanced age, Burriam looks a lot like a modern version of the Farmers Bank teams that were a major force in the old Asian Champions Cup and Cup-Winners Cup tournaments, back in the 80s and 90s: Not too big or physical, but fast and technically skillful. They play a very compact formation and press the ball relentlessly no matter where it is on the pitch.

        I have no idea if they did pre-tournament homework on Reysol or if their normal style just happens to coincide with the strategy that J.League teams have developed to try to contain Reysol, but they implemented it extremely well – double teaming the ball regardless of who was in possession, and maintaining good position and spacing. If you let Reysol do so, their midfielders will draw you into man-marking, and all of a sudden a big empty space will appear on one of the wings for someone to run into. With only a few exceptions (including one of Reysol’s goals) Burriam refused to get lured out of position. In other words, they seem to be extremely smart and well disciplined players.

        I dont know if BU have the physicality and depth to make it all the way to the final, but they definitely look like a team to be reckoned with this year.

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