During the Socceroos’ comprehensive 7-0 victory over Tajikistan on Thursday, it was obvious that without Tim Cahill in the line-up there was a distinct lack of composure in front of goal.
The scoreline could and should have reached double figures following Massimo Luongo’s early strike, yet the Socceroos were guilty of some astonishing misses. The dominant performance deserved more.
Mathew Leckie, in particular, was and is a concern for Ange Postecoglou. He missed a few decent opportunities on Thursday.
The former Adelaide United forward has been a mainstay in Postecoglou’s squads, making every single one, and is there for good reason. Leckie’s speed and work rate are critical in Postecoglou’s gameplan to harass opposition out of possession and provide a direct route to goal on the counter. His outside-of-the-boot crosses are a delight as well.
But he does not produce in a crucial area – the scoreboard. He has just one strike during Postecoglou’s reign, while for Bundesliga club Ingolstadt he has only contributed two goals and zero assists in 25 appearances. That output has to improve, otherwise his place in the team will start to be questioned.
Counterpart Nathan Burns netted twice, and Leckie must start producing similar numbers.
There were other glaring misses from the Socceroos too, the most obvious being Mile Jedinak’s shank at the far post just before half-time. Jedinak’s output for a defensive midfielder is remarkable however, he has netted nine goals during the Postecoglou era, trailing only Cahill, who has 16.
That Australia’s second highest goalscorer is a defensive linchpin is slightly concerning though, especially as Cahill ages.
The good news is that the duties have been shared around, and there are numerous threats in the Socceroos midfield, where Postecoglou has a gluttony of choice. It is undoubtedly a strength of this team.
Aaron Mooy’s set piece deliveries are near perfect and the A-League star continues to grow into his role with the Socceroos. His balls into the danger area against Tajikistan deserved many more marks in the assist column.
Tommy Rogic entered the field in the 67th minute, and soon found himself with two goals, his second a truly beautiful effort. Picking the ball up on the edge of the box, he evaded one challenge by switching feet and then hit a delicious outside-of-the-boot shot past the Tajik keeper.
Rogic’s threat gives the Socceroos another genuine threat from midfield, alongside Mooy, Jedinak and of course Luongo, who looks much more confident and comfortable back in the twin No.10 role rather than pushed out wide.
So with these heavy midfield stocks scoring more than their fair share, and Cahill still defying age and producing the goods, should the Socceroos be worried about their lack of striking stocks? With so many goal threats, do the Socceroos really need a ruthless finisher to support Timmy?
Yes, they do. In the upcoming game against Jordan, Australia will have to be much more productive with their chances, and you cannot substitute a predator in the box.
Earlier in the week former Socceroo Jason Culina made the valid point that the Socceroos must start to establish a more familiar feel to squads. It is fantastic that Postecoglou has cast out a vast search for talent and chopped and changed extensively to build depth, but at some point the selections must settle in preparation for Russia 2018.
The only problem is that Postecoglou’s policy is down to necessity – he has not found the sufficient ingredients yet. Fullback has remained a long-term problem – as it does for many nations – yet hopefully Josh Risdon, Alex Gersbach, Jason Geria and Brad Smith can provide some much-needed answers.
Elsewhere, central defence is fairly safe along with midfield. Bailey Wright put in another assured display, Trent Sainsbury and Matthew Spiranovic have proven themselves beyond doubt when fit and a hopeful return of perhaps Australia’s most gifted defender, Rhys Williams, in the near future would add depth. Curtis Good’s lengthy recovery is hopefully nearing an end too.
So that really only leaves the centre forward role now for Postecoglou to build up. Which makes it strange as to why Jamie Maclaren was snubbed for the recent squad.
The Socceroos are light in the front third, especially of a genuine goalscorer who has a knack for scoring the spectacular but also the opportunistic. You can say that Maclaren will eventually get his chance, but I say give it to him now. Get him immersed in the setup, build his confidence and he will flourish. The sooner the better.
Tomi Juric has not been overly impressive for Australia, but he has shown his strengths in patches, certainly enough to excite fans about his future. If he can stay fit and put together a solid six months of goalscoring form, the Socceroos may have another genuine striker.
And that brings us lastly to Apostolos Giannou, the new kid on the block plucked from the Greek Super League (though now in China). He may not have scored in the rout of Tajikistan but Giannou truly impressed as the centre-forward leading the Socceroos line.
He held the ball up well, looked on the same wavelength with his teammates despite limited time with the Socceroos and also showed a lovely turn of pace, which is sorely lacking from most of our centre-forward options.
Giannou was extremely unlucky not to get on the score sheet, his turn and shot in the box in the 62nd minute was unfortunately straight at the keeper. But he did notch up four assists, including winning two penalties. It will be intriguing to see him up against better opposition
If Giannou can translate his early promise into goal returns, the Socceroos’ dilemma up front is looking bright. With the depth in defence, emergence of promising fullbacks, goal threat from midfield, continued goals from Cahill and emergence of Giannou and (hopefully) Maclaren, Postecoglou may indeed be ready to follow Culina’s advice.
A settled squad has to be the main aim over the next year, as it is the best route to breeding a successful team ready to switch tactics against better opposition.
As the Socceroos near qualification for the 2018 Russia World Cup, Postecoglou’s patience and flexible attitude towards selection is slowly starting to pay off.