One of the more pleasing aspects ahead of the Socceroos opening World Cup clash against Chile has been to hear the amount of technical discourse coming out of Camp Vitoria.
To hear youngster Tommy Oar, Mat Leckie and Adam Taggart talking about the need to play out of Chile’s high press and then utilise the resultant space higher up the pitch efficiently is to know that these players are being taken on an educational adventure by Ange Postecoglou.
It reminds me, in many ways, of the level of intelligent football discourse we heard from Guus Hiddink and some of his players in 2006.
It became standard for the Dutchman, during his press conferences, to educate Australia about the art of controlling opponents, a concept foreign to most in this country at the time.
What’s more, he was able to implement tactical plans for parts of games, arming his players with the understanding and tools to manage the fluctuations in matches.
Indeed, many will remember ahead of the first game against Japan in Kaiserslautern where Hiddink spoke of his Plan B, which involved bringing on the likes of Josh Kennedy, Tim Cahill and John Aloisi late and asking questions of Samurai Blue in the air.
History now knows that Hiddink did have to resort to his contingency and that it worked an absolute treat, forever changing our football landscape.
Those were heady days.
Sadly, in the period between Hiddink and Postecoglou there was far less of technical insight from the Socceroos as it became apparent that both Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck adopted a simple default position of retreating to the 18-yard box and scrapping their way to results.
Postecoglou, while he has spoken only of planning for the La Roja opener, will no doubt have watched the recent friendlies of all three group opponents, and will have pencilled down a few ideas for games two and three.
He will have seen, for example, that the Dutch are adopting a conservative 3-4-1-2 template under Louis van Gaal, making them extremely tough to break down or get behind.
Postecoglou will have also seen how quickly the Dutch go into forward transition when they win the ball, utilising the pace of Arjen Robben and the prompting of Wesley Sneijder.
He will know therefore that the Socceroos defence needs to stay switched on when the team is in possession, knowing the simplest mistake will be quickly seized upon by the electric Dutch attack.
Contrast Chile’s high press and high line with the Dutch door-shutting and Spanish keep-ball patience, and it’s clear the Roos will need to adjust to each opponent.
Yet there are still some similarities in the way both Chile and the Netherlands will set up, with each using much verticality in attack, looking to get in behind through pace and precise and rapid service.
As well, each will feature a back three, and part of the Socceroos planning appears to have been around playing long diagonal balls in behind the wingbacks.
You could see that tactic on display in the Croatia friendly on the weekend.
Even if the Croatians didn’t play too high, and played with a back four, you could see the Roos pinging long diagonal balls out to Leckie and Dario Vidosic.
Even if the execution thereafter was found a little wanting, you could see the potential in this tactic against Chile, where the left stopper Miiko Albornoz and right stopper Gary Medel may be a little exposed by the want of the Chilean wingbacks to get high and join the attack.
If the Roos can get in behind on the flanks and drag out either Medel or Albornoz, it’s likely the wingers will look to hit Cahill with early delivery into the middle, hopefully isolating centre back Gonzalo Jara.
Both Medel and Jara aren’t the tallest defenders around, so if Cahill can get into a one on one situation with either of then, with decent early delivery, he will fancy his chances.
Pace and quick diagonal and square delivery in behind will be key features of the Roos strategy.
The foundation for this will be a high octane Roos pressing game, from which they will look to react swiftly.
But, equally, the Roos will face a high press of their own and need to extricate themselves from it, being very brave and accurate playing out from the back.
To that effect, the friendly against Croatia wasn’t the greatest test.
Niko Kovac’s side sat off, with the midfield and frontline retreating to the halfway line, giving the Roos defence and midfielders ample time and space to stroke the ball around at the back.
There was little room for the Roos to execute a quick transition, and whenever they did try to utilise the flanks early they were held up by Croatia.
La Roja’s defensive position will be higher and they will put pressure on Alex Wilkinson and Matt Spiranovic to play through the first line into Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan.
If they can get through, this is where the Socceroos can think about looking to profit in attack.
It’s a fascinating tactical battle between Postecoglou and Jorge Sampaoli, and whatever happens the pleasing thing is the Socceroos at least and at last appear to have a plan that resonates and has the understanding of the players.
Osieck used to speak often about his players deviating from the game plan, yet told us nothing about the plan.
With Postecoglou it seems there’s little doubt the players understand what’s required, and that should now be the expected norm.
But have the Socceroos had enough time together and do they have the requisite quality to execute these plans?