McBreen dominates midfield as Wanderers miss Poljak

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    Graham Arnold has his side purring. (AAP)

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    Central Coast Mariners manager Graham Arnold might have had an off night at Allianz Stadium 10 days earlier, but in Sunday night’s blockbuster at Parramatta he got it spot on by playing Daniel McBreen at number 10.

    That was his big tactical play heading into this much-anticipated clash.

    Tony Popovic and his Western Sydney Wanderers had been flying heading into the match, with four wins and one draw in their previous five games.

    But here he was missing four key players in Mateo Poljak, Michael Beauchamp, Youssouf Hersi and Dino Kresinger, three of them foreigners.

    Importantly, it meant that his powerful midfield enforcers, Poljak and Iacopo La Rocca, would not be paired together.

    With La Rocca forced to move to central defence, in place of Beauchamp, it meant that Aaron Mooy would return to the starting XI and be paired alongside Jason Trifiro, another technical player, very comfortable on the ball.

    But it meant that the Wanderers missed much of the midfield pressing power that has become their hallmark, with Poljak and La Rocca bossing the midfield in recent weeks.

    Poljak, after a quiet start, has been a revelation the past two months, taking over from Mooy as the boss of Popovic’s midfield.

    He is not only strong, but tactically mature. It was little wonder he was the first player recently re-signed by Popovic.

    La Rocca, too, has improved rapidly in recent weeks after arriving at the club hopelessly under-done.

    Without Poljak and forced to use La Rocca deeper, Popovic went for a more technical engine, with the hope no doubt being that Mooy and Trifiro would boss the midfield with their passing range and comfort on the ball.

    In the early going it looked like another master-stroke from Popovic as the Wanderers controlled things, with Mooy and Trifiro often on the ball, and influencing high.

    But soon enough it was the Mariners game-plan which started to dominate.

    Arnold had some very tough decisions to make heading in and he didn’t shirk the responsibility.

    With Tom Rogic suspended, he needed to find an effective solution at number 10, particularly after Adriano Pellegrino struggled to have an impact there on New Year’s eve.

    The most likely option, it seemed, would be to slide Michael McGlinchey across, from the right, and restore McBreen to head of the formation, where he’s been such a hit.

    But Arnold had other ideas.

    He kept his skipper from last week on the right, retained Adam Kwasnik at number 9 and brought McBreen into the playmaker role.

    It was a big call given how well McBreen had been going as a striker.

    While he had been used there for large parts of last season, it was a gamble playing him deeper from where he had been effective this season.

    Perhaps Arnold thought Poljak would be playing alongside Mooy and he needed some muscle in there.

    After the game he reasoned that it was McBreen’s work-rate and ability to drop back as a midfielder that made his mind up.

    Arnold’s other big decision was to retain Oliver Bozanic as a holder ahead of returning skipper John Hutchinson.

    It would give the Mariners better passing to go with the work of McBreen.

    It was ultimately from this area, in the centre if the pitch, that the Mariners got the decisive opening goal, and it was McBreen’s physicality which made the difference.

    Picking up a neat ball into feet from Bozanic, with Trifiro on his tail, he flicked it around the corner with his first touch to Kwasnik and set off.

    Bursting beyond Trifiro with a powerful run, he took Kwasnik’s return ball in his stride, driving beyond La Rocca and Jerome Polenz, before finishing with confidence.

    It was power combined with technique, and as Arnold pointed out in the post-match press conference, he is happy to have the option of playing either a physical or technical game.

    Later, when Bernie Ibini came on for Kwasnik, and there was space against a Wanderers side pushing to equalise, Arnold pushed the creative McGlinchey into the playmaker role, and McBreen to 9, with great effect.

    While there was very little in the game and the Wanderers pushed hard when reduced to 10 men, there was no doubt Popovic missed the above-mentioned four.

    While Joey Gibbs and Kwabena Appiah-Kubi worked hard for over an hour, there were a number of excellent first half crosses that were begging for Kresinger to attack.

    This was an absorbing tactical battle, finely poised throughout, and while Popovic has been getting the most from his men this season, he will admit that the Mariners looked deeper here.

    With a number of key players missing from both sides, it sets up another gripping battle between the two friends later in the regular season, and possibly in the finals.

    On the evidence at Wanderland on Sunday, one can barely wait.

    Tony Tannous
    Tony Tannous

    Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA

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    The Crowd Says (8)

    • January 8th 2013 @ 7:02am
      Bondy. said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:02am | ! Report

      I thought the pressing high up the park from both teams was sufficient and there were great tactical battles to hold and maintain possesion playing out of their third.

      Also I think Arnie should get D Mc Breen’s autograph on a peice of paper “officially” before the Heart or worse Sydney FC start snooping around for he’s services for next year, “looks as though he has two seasons left in him.

      I’d like to see Arnie use Bernie on the flanks a bit more he’s pace is electric and a concern for all fullbacks.

      Thats the beauty of football Tony the hypotheticals if Beauchamp Hersi Poljak Kressinger Rogic played would it have ben a better game?.

      Great game of football very intense,also I thought the sky blues fought hard for their point in Perth that was a good game as well.

    • January 8th 2013 @ 7:48am
      pete4 said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      Arnold has got an unbelievable return from McBreen so far this season. He wasn’t known for scoring this many goals and for that you have to give credit to Arnold’s tactical structure which so far has CCM on top and the most consistent side in the competition

    • January 8th 2013 @ 9:25am
      midfielder said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      Astute obversation ….hopefully he can keep iit up ….. A very under rated player …I love our 3-3-3-1 attack and its this system that allows. Our attack to work…

      • January 9th 2013 @ 7:37am
        Melange said | January 9th 2013 @ 7:37am | ! Report

        Mid, I was wondering how the Mariners would have adapted long term if Rogic had gone to the UK. Do you think it’s likely McGlinchy would have replaced him with Bozanic pushed to the right? I think longer term they wouldn’t want to lose McBreen as the goal scoring focus. Duke has big wraps on him but it seems better to ease him in as he didn’t live up to expectations early on, Ibini tears up defences but hasn’t shown the coolness in the box and probably way too early for Caceres. Hearfield seems to have been lost in this fantastic depth CCM have. How do you think Arnie would have adapted? (and no doubt soon will have to adapt)

    • January 8th 2013 @ 9:45am
      Roarsome said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:45am | ! Report

      Interesting stat. The Mariners don’t have a keeper featured in the Top 10 number of saves this season for the league. SYD FC have two keepers on the list.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 1:04pm
        HAL the king said | January 8th 2013 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

        Probably because of two factors: This season he has not had to make the kind of saves he has made in the last 2 seasons due to his defence and the new 4-2-3-1 formation CCM are playing. This season CCM have predominantly set out with 2 DMs in front of the 2 CBs in a bank of 4, as opposed to the 4-4-2 narrow diamond with a single DM that Arnold played in the previous 2 seasons. The second reason is Ryan’s positioning is exemplary and as a result most shots are straight at him as he is in the right place when the shot is released. Just this with his excellent distribution (thrown or kicked) makes him a very good keeper. Ryan just needs to learn how to deal with the crosses and improve his ball handling and I would say he would be well on his way to being a top class keeper, still he is only 20.

        • January 8th 2013 @ 3:40pm
          oly09 said | January 8th 2013 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

          I was impressed with how Ryan played the sweeper role against WSW too. A lot of keepers are scared to come out of their box, but he was able to read the play and had the speed to get out and clear the danger.

    • January 9th 2013 @ 2:58pm
      David Heidelberg said | January 9th 2013 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

      Arnie had the option of keeping Hutch on the bench because the WSW CMs could be more than matched physically by Montgomery. A great buy by Arnie, under the radar, just as he likes.

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