Ange Postecoglou must abandon his attacking instincts against Japan

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Saudi Arabia lost to the UAE on Wednesday, a result that has eased out – if only slightly – the Socceroos’ margin for error against Japan.

    The Saudis’ loss now means the following avenues for automatic qualification are open to Australia.

    1. Win against Japan, and we qualify automatically.

    2. Draw against Japan, and beat Thailand at home, and we qualify automatically.

    3. Lose to Japan, and beat Thailand, and we qualify if Japan beat or draw with Saudi Arabia in their final fixture.

    4. Draw with Japan and Thailand, and we qualify if Japan beat or draw with Saudi Arabia, or if the Saudis rack up a monstrous win over Japan.

    5. Lose to Japan, and draw with Thailand, and we qualify automatically if Japan beat Saudi Arabia.

    6. Lose to Japan, and lose to Thailand, and we can only qualify automatically if Japan beat Saudi Arabia by a large margin, pushing us ahead of the Saudis on goal difference (currently both teams are at +6, with Australia holding a game in hand).

    There are various goal-difference dependent permutations of these potential outcomes, as well as versions that take into account the dicey third-placed playoff route, but the thrust of all this ushers us to a clear conclusion: we must adopt a conservative, defensive approach to the game tonight against Japan.

    There is no need to take the game to the home team, to try and score freely, to attack the Blue Samurai with wild abandon. A tight win or a draw are perfectly satisfactory outcomes, while if a loss is suffered, it must be by the narrowest of margins.

    All of the outcomes that rely on other fixtures going our way are not ideal. Yes, we should be confident – a clammy, nervously-laughing sort of confidence – of comfortably beating Thailand at home on 5 September, but we don’t want to pin our automatic qualification hopes on an already-qualified Japan enthusing themselves in their final game, away in Jeddah.

    The mantra for our final two fixtures is this: four points won, and the job is done.

    With our priorities set, we must look to our defence, which isn’t quite eye-watering, but it hardly makes for contented viewing.

    Australia have managed a clean sheet in just three of the last eight World Cup qualifying matches, and although we haven’t lost a match in this campaign, three of our games – two draws and a win – have included four or more total goals scored. Our inability to shut teams out has hurt us badly, with the score-draws against Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Thailand boring bitter holes in the memory, four points wasted that could so easily have been seized.

    The 3-2 win over the Saudis in June was crucial, and though the team should be commended for securing it, the manner in which they did was haphazard at best. The two goals gifted to us by the Saudis in the first half were acts of generosity no one should expect Japan to repeat.

    Of all the tactical iterations Ange Postecoglou has come up with since transitioning to his back-three system, none of them are defence-first. His formation should be able to morph into one that’s primary function is to stifle, creating a formidable back-five, with the wing-backs tucked in.

    Postecoglou might even play two defensive-minded central midfielders to complement the defence in such a system. He hasn’t really done this yet though, and having selected a team that has no traditional, defensive right-back, one must assume Matt Leckie will start.

    Leckie is so athletic, he can usually make up his deficiencies when it comes to defensive positioning and decision-making. Still, it would be wise to firmly remind him of the defensive side of his positional duties, something Ange will be sure to do pre-match.

    Matthew Leckie

    AAP Image/Lukas Coch

    Alex Gersbach must start over Brad Smith on the left. Whether you base the selection on recent form for both club and national team, playing time over the last six months, or the theoretically appropriate player attributes, there’s no argument that Smith should start this match. Simply put, Smith’s continued inclusion is one of Ange’s most puzzling foibles.

    There are a few centre back variations that will offer a sense of sturdiness, all of them revolving around Trent Sainsbury. Then, as mentioned, a defensively-capable midfield of, say, Mark Milligan and Mass Luongo would also be pleasing.

    This is negative, to be sure, and it departs somewhat from the gaffer’s instincts. Even against Chile, in the Confederations Cup, Australia met the highly potent South Americans head on, running and harrying, transitioning up the pitch at a breakneck speed, rather than sitting back with the intention to frustrate.

    Mat Ryan had to make six saves in that game, and there were more than a few moments where last-ditch tackles from Milligan and others saved surefire goals. In what was essentially a glorified friendly competition, Australia’s plucky audacity was to be admired, and it secured a fine – if fortunate – 1-1 result.

    But that audacity is not what is needed tonight.

    Basically, I’m asking for a little pragmatism, something that demonstrably does not come easily to Postecoglou. This week, Robbie Kruse spoke about how team selection can remain a mystery to the players, right up until the last moment.

    “You never know with the boss, sometimes you feel like you might be playing but then you don’t know,” Kruse said. “You find out game day, he [Postecoglou] keeps everyone on their toes. Everyone prepares as if they are going to play.”

    Robbie Kruse for the Socceroos

    Photo: AFP

    This may breathe a lovely sense of freshness through the squad, knowing that everyone has a chance at starting, but it hardly promotes a sense of stability, of knowing your role, of feeling at ease and depended on.

    A 0-0 draw in Saitama would feel as good as a win, all things considered. It’s also a more realistic ambition, with Japan still snorting from their stumbling 1-1 draw with Iraq in the last round of qualifiers, and having announced a full-strength squad, with Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Maya Yoshida just some of the big names set to start.

    It would be unwise to go toe-to-toe with the Blue Samurai, swords and minds sharpened, with so much at stake.

    The Socceroos are, of course, no strangers to the big occasion; ten of the current squad members were present for that heart-stopping Asian Cup final against South Korea three years ago – a taught, clenched match that went to extra time.

    The intestinal fortitude evident on that night remains in the team, and if it’s on show – and, crucially, is buttressed by the tactical approach – again in Saitama tonight, we can leave Japan with our future still firmly grasped in our own hands.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

    The Socceroos' hopes of qualifying from the group stage at the World Cup are hanging by a thread after a 1-1 draw against Denmark. See how the match unfolded with our Australia vs Denmark match report, highlights and result.

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    The Crowd Says (38)

    • August 31st 2017 @ 6:59am
      Kurt said | August 31st 2017 @ 6:59am | ! Report

      First rule of football, never go for the draw.
      Besides australias stongest component is its midfield so forward movement is essential for it to be utilised

      • August 31st 2017 @ 7:04am
        Kurt said | August 31st 2017 @ 7:04am | ! Report

        Besides ange ethos is not about attack its about belief, if we believe we are better, why go for the draw.
        Trust me i want a draw, but if it comes there will be goals scored

      • August 31st 2017 @ 8:10am
        j,binnie said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

        The man credited with first using a back three way back in the 1920’s is often referred to as telling, (threatening), his players “You have a point when you go on the field ,don’t come off without it”.
        This was the mighty Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman talking. Obviously not reading the same “law manual”. Cheers jb.

        • August 31st 2017 @ 3:43pm
          strawman said | August 31st 2017 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

          That’s irrelevant now. Back then a win was 2 points and a draw was quite satisfactory.

      • August 31st 2017 @ 3:40pm
        strawman said | August 31st 2017 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

        Draw is Ange’s middle name. Look how many times the Socceroos drawed lately 😉

    • August 31st 2017 @ 7:59am
      Lance Skelton said | August 31st 2017 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      Ange is wanting his team to play football that can compete with the best teams in the World,
      not just a little region of the world that FIFA call Oceania. I’d rather see them continue to play
      aggressive attacking footy, but I do take your point. 4 points from the next two games and they
      qualify for another World Cup.

      • August 31st 2017 @ 3:15pm
        Phil of Sydney said | August 31st 2017 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

        Oceania? and I thought Australia were the current Asian Champions.

    • August 31st 2017 @ 8:01am
      Nemesis said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      “Ange Postecoglou must abandon his attacking instincts against Japan”

      Based on what I’ve observed of Ange Postecoglou’s coaching over the past 7 years, this is never going to happen.

      But, who knows. Maybe, Ange will log-in to The Roar this morning & he’ll change his coaching philosophy after getting advice from this writer.

      • Roar Rookie

        August 31st 2017 @ 8:25am
        Stevo said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:25am | ! Report

        Stranger things have happened.

        • August 31st 2017 @ 9:29am
          Caltex TEN & SBS support Australian Football said | August 31st 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

          Stevo – We have all watched Ange’s style for a great number of years now and there will be no: “stranger things have happened”, as far as Ange’s football philosophy is concerned. Many times, I had thought he was too ego centric and should take the good advice from us more knowable football analysts. Damn glad he has ignored us all and battled on with his singled minded head strong personality after that Chile game, I for one, will keep my mouth shut, until he departs—this world cup qualifying campaign has been one fascinating journey. He should walk away having no regrets, when his contract finishes at the end of this world cup campaign. 🙂

      • August 31st 2017 @ 8:25am
        j,binnie said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:25am | ! Report

        Nemesis- I think you are hard on the writer.What he is implying is that due to the constant “change” in the situation that is World Cup qualification a coach has to be flexible in his thinking as to how and why he goes about the task at hand.
        Personally I think we can take it as read that we would all love to see the Socceroos playing all out attacking football but the reality of the matter is that we may not have the players to constantly come up with that desirous method of playing,and of course the standards of the opponents always have to be considered when “planning” a game.
        Should we base our game plan on all out attack as evident against Chile (less Mooy and Rogic) or do we struggle to score goals out of what could be termed a more defensive attitude.
        Today that is part and parcel of a coach’s game preparation and we have to hope AP makes the right decision. Cheers jb.

        • August 31st 2017 @ 8:39am
          Nemesis said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:39am | ! Report


          I’m not necessarily saying I disagree with the writer.

          All I’m saying is that, based on all the information I have observed about Ange’s coaching philosophy – regardless of the situation – he never parks the bus.

          We can argue for the rest of time whether it’s important to be flexible & pragmatic or firm in your beliefs.

          Each of us can have our own philosophy when we are coaching.

          But, this discussion is about one particular coach: Will Ange decide to change his philosophy tonight?

          Maybe he will. But, based on the information we have available, there is no rational reason to forecast this could happen.

      • Roar Pro

        August 31st 2017 @ 9:13am
        Josh Barton said | August 31st 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        Just in case Ange does, I will say “Hi Ange. Thought your book was alright”

      • August 31st 2017 @ 10:13am
        Nemesis said | August 31st 2017 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        Good news & Bad News

        Good news: Looks like Ange logged in to The Roar & read this article.

        Bad news: He’s not changing his approach

        Full story:

        • August 31st 2017 @ 10:23am
          chris said | August 31st 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

          “Amazing media contingent” – Any msm journos there? lol

    • August 31st 2017 @ 8:18am
      AGO74 said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      I can’t see Ange changing as he has clearly gone all in on the new system.

      It will be interesting to see if spiranovic plays and if so how he plays – he has the talent and quality to immeasurably improve the back 3 alongside sainnsbury and wright/Degenek (personally I’d drop Milligan to a back 3 with sainsbury/spira). The question is whether spiras form/fitness are up to it. Let’s hope so.

      I also find it a bit frustrating that behich who performed fairly well in June against Saudis and Chile has been dropped for Smith who I’ve yet to see any degree of consistency/quality. Admittedly behich played poorly against Germany but so did many others.

      • August 31st 2017 @ 9:57am
        Fadida said | August 31st 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        Agree that a back 3 of Sainsbury, Milligan and Spira is the only way to go. Intelligent players who are comfortable on the ball.

        The Smith one is interesting. Phenomenal athlete who lacks any ball control, gets no first team football. I’ve never been a fan of Behich but he must be one confused player

        • August 31st 2017 @ 10:34am
          Lionheart said | August 31st 2017 @ 10:34am | ! Report

          he played 90 minutes v Birmingham just last weekend

    • August 31st 2017 @ 8:33am
      Caltex TEN & SBS support Australian Football said | August 31st 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      We all screamed blue murder and outrage, when Pim Verbeek, adopted his ultra defensive and pragmatic football style on our Australian men’s football team. Do we really want to revisit those dour international games played by our boys again? NO thanks!

      • August 31st 2017 @ 9:57am
        Fadida said | August 31st 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report


      • August 31st 2017 @ 3:47pm
        strawman said | August 31st 2017 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

        Not all of us did. Only the bogans did.

    • August 31st 2017 @ 9:02am
      Torchbearer said | August 31st 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      The only proviso I have on a defensive and negative mind set is the fact that we can qualify for the World Cup TONIGHT…..with a win. Why not go for it.

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