Joyce immediately building a new defensive foundation at City

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

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

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    Last season, City conceded only marginally fewer goals per game, on average (1.63), than Adelaide and Wellington did (1.70). Those teams finished ninth and seventh. They conceded more goals per game than Western Sydney, a team that finished two places below them and – like City – were bounced from the first round of the finals.

    As last season rolled into the later rounds, City’s scorelines tended to spill haphazardly toward one extreme or the other; in fact, from Round 19 onward, City paired rollicking four-goal wins over Newcastle and Wellington with ballooning two or three-goal losses to the Sydney clubs, all while sprinkling the occasional 3-2 win or 5-4 defeat into the gaps in between.

    Only Central Coast had more games than City conceding three goals, and only Sydney had more games scoring four goals or more. Inconsistency is the bedfellow of such a teetering approach, and it was no surprise City could not match the steady, compelling momentum Sydney FC and the Melbourne Victory towed into the grand final.

    New City manager Warren Joyce, a man who was met in the Victorian capital by high expectations and relatively little fanfare, has immediately got to work to rectify all of this. As with most managers starting afresh at a new club in a new league, the defence has been the first port of call.

    It makes sense to do this; not only is Joyce aware of Sydney’s powerful march to the title last season – which was largely fuelled by their historically mean defence – but City already have a vast array of attacking weapons, an arsenal that doesn’t need immediate attention, if any at all. Naturally, this perspective was rocked and dizzied by Bruno Fornaroli’s long-term injury in pre-season, but luckily Bruce Kamau has stepped up potently in the meantime.

    So, even from the small two-game sample size we’ve seen so far, it’s clear City are a different team defensively. Having played Brisbane, and then their city rivals Victory in the first two rounds – two teams who finished above them last term, and who have ambitions of a finals place this term – City’s new cast-iron back line has been seasoned by two capable opponents, and is already setting them apart, alongside champions Sydney, from the rest of the league.

    City and Sydney are the only teams to keep a clean sheet over the opening two rounds. City and Sydney are first and equal-second respectively, for goals conceded. According to Fox Sports’ stats, they are second and third for shots conceded, and first and second for shots on target conceded. It takes more shots-per-goal (18) to score against City than any other team so far.

    City are first for effective tackles and second for interceptions, all while placing third-bottom and second-bottom for clearances and blocks, implying that the considerable bulk of their defensive actions are taking place in safer areas of the pitch, where the opposing team can’t feasibly shoot. They’ve committed the second-most fouls so far too, although that might be less the result of some new-found tenacity, and more the result of 50 per cent of their game time coming under the heat of an incendiary derby atmosphere.

    This rise to the top of most of the defensive counting stats has happened in spite of Joyce changing his starting defence from week one to two, flux that’s usually counter-productive for defensive chemistry. Against Brisbane, Michael Jakobsen was stationed at left-back, but for the derby he was moved into central midfield, playing beside Osama Malik.

    We saw pretty early why the robust Dane was inserted into the heart of things, when he was made the victim of a scything Carl Valeri tackle, just a few minutes into the match. Jakobsen got up, shook himself off, and jogged away. Jakobsen is a hardy centre back; he played all his games last season there for City, and while there are advantages to playing a defender in midfield, there are also clear limitations.

    Here, just a few moments after the Valeri tackle, Jakobsen initiates a promising City counter with a stern tackle of his own. One pass releases Kamau, and you can see Jakobsen, at the top of the screen, hustling up to join the attack. The ball eventually rebounds to him, free and clear inside the box, and he scuffs his shot badly, showing all the finishing prowess of a centre-back with altitude sickness.

    Still, for all that he lacks in attack, the Dane is City’s best defender; it’s no surprise that, last season, when he missed consecutive games for the first time – three of them in December – City conceded as many goals in those three matches as they had in the previous seven.

    Almost as eye-catching as Jakobsen’s midfield berth against the Victory was the willingness of City’s attackers to drop back and defend with vim and vigour. Kamau, Fitzgerald and Mauk – three young, fine Australian attackers with no shortage of energy – all were seen scurrying back, tracking Victory midfielders, to a degree above and beyond that of a normal forward. Here, both Kamau and Mauk – with the latter tracking an off-the-ball Mark Milligan halfway down the park – help in double-teaming Victory midfielders alongside Jakobsen. Only a very questionable tackle stops City from launching another counter. They did this all evening.

    So, it meant that whenever the Victory made progress up the pitch, they were eventually met by, at least, the back four and one of either Malik or Jakobsen. More usually it was both the central midfielders, and then one or two of Fitzgerald, Kamau or Mauk tracking back. Here’s a fine example; as the Victory cleanly make their way up, you can see the urgency in the City players to chaperone them. The move ends with the attack heavily outnumbered, Fitzgerald and Kamau patrolling the edge of their own penalty area, and Leigh Broxham smashing a shot high and wide.

    City’s plan was intended to keep the Victory at arm’s length, and it largely succeeded. According to the A-League’s stats, the Victory whipped in a staggering 35 crosses to City’s seven and enjoyed 60 per cent of the ball. And yet City had nearly as many total shots, and three times as many shots on target as the Victory. Even when the Victory were snorting and pushing hard for a go-ahead goal in the second half, City didn’t crumble, and kept their shape and focus under immense pressure.

    City won the game because they made more of their smaller share of possession, and worked hard to neuter Victory’s time on the ball, keeping them insulated from the most dangerous areas. Berisha couldn’t manage a shot on target, making very little impression all evening, and the Victory managed just two shots on target as a team. Joyce’s side put in a disciplined, pragmatic, team-wide effort, the kind of display we really didn’t see – especially defensively – very often from City last season.

    Of course, City still benefited from some fortunate moments, and are still weak in certain areas; Kamau’s winner took a lucky deflection after a wonderful solo run, and Manny Muscat – worried for much of the night by the play of Leroy George – still looks a slight liability at right-back. City, naturally, would argue this doesn’t even come close to righting the scales of fortune when Fornaroli – and, to a lesser extent, Fernando Brandan – are still out convalescing.

    There were large periods of the derby when City were blunt and listless in attack, and Joyce will hope that these periods won’t linger for as long once his injured stars are back. City’s derby approach wasn’t particularly complex, and some would argue that it’s fairly rudimentary, retrogressive even.

    But the stark truth of it is that City relied heavily on their own defensive fortitude to win this derby, under duress; last season, this was something you would have advised heavily against. Now, under Joyce, this seems a much more secure position for City to take, and their start to the season says as much.

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (30)

    • Columnist

      October 17th 2017 @ 9:53am
      Evan Morgan Grahame said | October 17th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      There is a missing link, showing Mauk and Kamau tracking back. Here it is.

      https://gfycat.com/gifs/detail/MarvelousPortlyDarwinsfox

    • October 17th 2017 @ 10:20am
      Nemesis said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      Evan, I appreciate the detail you put into these analytical pieces. And, your writing style is very enjoyable with the constant use of metaphors to add a further vivid dimension to your words.

      However, does such analysis after matches tell us all that much? We saw what happened & then we find theories to explain what happened.

      What would be really insightful would be for someone to use the same match analysis skills they use for post-match explanations and apply them BEFORE next round of ALeague matches.

      So, what I’d find fascinating would be if someone wrote this article BEFORE the MelbDerby.

    • October 17th 2017 @ 10:55am
      Caltex TEN & SBS support Australian Football said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

      This was a good start for Warren Joyce. I hope he can build on this performance. I think he had highlighted that his team need more conditioning and I thought he was correct on that aspect. The thing that strikes me is; what was the club doing in the preseason, but to get ready for this season. MC since coming into the HAL have always looked under done—this is astonishing with the weight of expectation behind this most professional of all organisations.

    • Roar Guru

      October 17th 2017 @ 1:01pm
      Rick Disnick said | October 17th 2017 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

      Good to see three articles on the A-league today. That’s four in total for the week now.

      15 comments in total between these three articles today.
      75 comments on the 1 code war article today.
      200+ comments on an article discussing crowds yesterday.

      Sums this forum up perfectly.

      Well done everyone.

      • Roar Guru

        October 17th 2017 @ 3:04pm
        tully101 said | October 17th 2017 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

        How about you join us in the discussion of the football rick, instead of contributing to this issue you have discovered

        • Roar Guru

          October 17th 2017 @ 3:54pm
          Rick Disnick said | October 17th 2017 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

          Think of me more like a consultant trying to help you peasants out.

          • October 17th 2017 @ 3:56pm
            Kangajets said | October 17th 2017 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

            Hi

            Consultant rick

            What would you like to know abt the A league today????

            I believe that this season the Newcastle Jets have taken the role of previous Melbourne City teams . All attack , no defence !!

            What’s your thoughts rick ?

            • Roar Guru

              October 17th 2017 @ 4:07pm
              Rick Disnick said | October 17th 2017 @ 4:07pm | ! Report

              You have no basis for that comment. Newcastle indeed have a good attack, but their defence is quite sound relative to the top 5.

              Their balance is far better though, most likely due to better transition ability from defence to attack, not the other way around.

              Of course, 2 rounds in and it’s hard coming to any solid conclusion.

              Anything else you’d like my thoughts on?

              • October 17th 2017 @ 4:13pm
                Kangajets said | October 17th 2017 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

                Yeah rick

                What abt the mariners under Okon . Do they play too high up the pitch and leave themselves too vulnerable on the counter attack

                Also I’d like your input on a Geelong A league team . Can it work ? Which marquees should Geelong sign ?

              • Roar Guru

                October 17th 2017 @ 5:20pm
                Rick Disnick said | October 17th 2017 @ 5:20pm | ! Report

                “Do they play too high up the pitch and leave themselves too vulnerable on the counter attack”

                Two-way football my friend. You’ll always be vulnerable to the counter-attack when playing high, but it matters little if you are scoring more.

                Football is about balance. However, you need to understand the difference between attack and defence.

                1. Defending against a goal is always easier than scoring one; and
                2. Defensive football usually leads to boredom.

                Understanding the synergy of these two points is not only critical to winning, but sustained success.

                If you want me to elaborate (only if you’re truly interested) I’ll be happy to educate you further.

                “Also I’d like your input on a Geelong A league team . Can it work ?”

                Probably. The people of Geelong are great, but I don’t know enough about the financial stability of the A-League to answer this. I suspect it’s not great, hence why expansion is on hold.

                “Which marquees should Geelong sign ?”

                I don’t believe in the marquee system — it cheapens the system, resulting in nothing more than a nursing home for the retired. It’s the first thing I’d get rid of if I ran the A-League.

              • October 17th 2017 @ 6:57pm
                Kangajets said | October 17th 2017 @ 6:57pm | ! Report

                Thanks for the education, most of us just call it conversation.

                I’m inclined to believe that there will nothing boring abt the mariners this season . They have goals in them and are leakier then a politician in crisis .

                Yes I think Geelong are an A league team . So with out marquee players are u suggesting , no international recruiting or unlimited international recruiting . I’m happy with a small international flavour to each team . The unlimited foreigner show of the EPL has done nothing but make the English national team worse.

      • Roar Guru

        October 17th 2017 @ 3:04pm
        tully101 said | October 17th 2017 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

        How about you join us in the discussion of the football rick, instead of contributing to this issue you have discovered

      • October 17th 2017 @ 3:54pm
        Kangajets said | October 17th 2017 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

        Rick

        Do discussions abt the A league outside of social media count in your opinion .

        If I could get someone to dictate my thoughts and construct an article , I could explain things for u , so you wouldn’t have to complain abt lack of content .

        I’ll even get an afl discussion going for you , to keep you engaged in the off season .

        Now where’s that author I need to help me!!!

        • Roar Guru

          October 17th 2017 @ 3:56pm
          Rick Disnick said | October 17th 2017 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

          Can you not shorten ‘about’. It’s really f@2king lazy.

          It’s relevant, because people like you don’t put the effort in to help build the community here.

          I’m trying to help out by motivating you, rather than having you whine about how tough it is as a football fan.

          • October 17th 2017 @ 4:02pm
            Kangajets said | October 17th 2017 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

            Consultant rick

            Motivation through name calling and be littling people . Weren’t u loved as a child rick

            • Roar Guru

              October 17th 2017 @ 4:13pm
              Rick Disnick said | October 17th 2017 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

              Name calling? Peasants eat scraps, drive Hyundais and watch A-league. That’s just a fact, not name calling.

              Belittling? Take it more as advice on how not to butcher the English language.

              Loved as a child? 1st year psych student by any chance…

              • October 17th 2017 @ 4:27pm
                Kangajets said | October 17th 2017 @ 4:27pm | ! Report

                Rick

                When u talk football, u have some wisdom . But usually u follow it up with insults , hence why I think u have been conditioned to be nasty from a young age

                Not a psychology student , just an intelligent adult that can comment on a blog thoughtfully.

                I’ve seen u on the afl site , where u ridicule others . Please use your wisdom for good or seek some help rick .

              • October 17th 2017 @ 5:15pm
                punter said | October 17th 2017 @ 5:15pm | ! Report

                Rick knows his football, he follows the Premier League & thanks to the likes of Wenger, Pep, Kloop, Conte, Jose & Mauricio, they are learning the art of football, still a fair way behind other Euro Leagues, but with the money in the PL, slowly getting up there.

                It’s just that being an AFL fan he is threaten by the A-League hence the bully side of things comes out.

              • Roar Guru

                October 17th 2017 @ 5:40pm
                Rick Disnick said | October 17th 2017 @ 5:40pm | ! Report

                Trust me when I say: you’re completely off the mark with those comments, punter.

                I’m educated enough to know the Socceroos will never win a World Cup without a strong domestic competition. A competition which can provide the depth required to win such an event. I believe we can win the World Cup … does that sound like the type of person who fears the A-League?

                Unfortunately for the A-League, my advice extends no further than this forum. I actually deal with real problems in my line of work; not whether or not the A-League is going to fold in the coming years because it’s embarrassing to watch or run by a pack of cl0wns.

                Elite sport is about one thing only: entertainment! I don’t have time to be watching hundreds of football leagues around the world like some people do. As such, I choose to watch the best, and we all know the EPL is the best. 🙂 I engage in conversation on this site with fine people like yourself and ignore others. It’s really that simple.

                If the product isn’t entertaining then why bother? It’s not about the clubs or the players, they are nothing more than slaves to the consumer.

                Once the A-League understands this, the product will prosper, along with our national team.

              • October 17th 2017 @ 6:36pm
                Kangajets said | October 17th 2017 @ 6:36pm | ! Report

                a poor domestic league hasn’t stopped Brazil winning a few world cups

              • October 17th 2017 @ 6:59pm
                punter said | October 17th 2017 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

                Give you a hint, Premier League best in the world???, no World cup win since 1966 for England, only really close once since.

                So,

                1. It takes more then just a strong domestic competition.
                2. Entertainment as you know differs from person to person, La Liga & A-League for me, Premier League & AFL for you.

              • Roar Guru

                October 17th 2017 @ 9:57pm
                Rick Disnick said | October 17th 2017 @ 9:57pm | ! Report

                Firstly, I just want to point out how boring this thread was until I arrived.

                You two should feel privileged (along with Evan) that I take the time to make this forum interesting.

                Kanga – I’d hardly called Brazil’s domestic competition rubbish. Secondly, a population of 200 million, and nothing else to do but play football and watch women’s beach volleyball, will likely result in a few World Cups.

                punter – England has the same problem we do: domestic competition for elite talent.

                England has three football codes competing for talent along with a very impressive Olympic program at present. Don’t under estimate cricket’s ability to poach talent either, which countries like Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain etc don’t have to deal with domestically.

                Andy Murray could have made an excellent striker also … wait he’s Scottish!

              • October 17th 2017 @ 10:22pm
                punter said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:22pm | ! Report

                Rick sometimes when we touch the honesty is so much.

                Might want to do some study on Spanish sport, while we revere yesteryear of Rod Laver & Margaret Court, the Spanish has the current no 1 in bot men’s & women tennis, Serigo Garcia won the US masters this year, their basketball team has achieved more then the boomers, they have more tour de France winners then you can ever imagine.
                OK I give you that Australia has AFL, but like I said after watching the Sth American WC qualifiers they have lots of greater athletes then Dusty, lets not even discuss skill level.

              • Roar Guru

                October 17th 2017 @ 10:48pm
                Rick Disnick said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:48pm | ! Report

                Seriously, please don’t compare our great country to a dump like Spain. Apart from having atrocious human rights, that’s sending the country backwards, it’s a deplorable country that use tax payers money to prop elite sports up when they should be creating jobs for the young.

                The very fact we beat them in every Summer Olympics in recent memory, with half the population, must be embarrassing, but hopefully an eye opener to just how useless they are as a nation.

                Britain competes across an even greater array of sports at present – extremely impressive for a country of 60 million.

                BTW – they don’t have the number 1 women’s tennis player. You’re having a bad night.

              • October 18th 2017 @ 6:35am
                punter said | October 18th 2017 @ 6:35am | ! Report

                She was no 1 until last week, sorry not completely up to date.

                People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, human rights!!!!

                Oh & I think Britain competes in more localised sports like Rugby League, cricket, similar to Australia. In the scheme of world sports Spain are right up there. Not a big Spanish fan myself, just stating facts.

    • Roar Guru

      October 17th 2017 @ 2:59pm
      tully101 said | October 17th 2017 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

      I’m enjoying the sterner defence so far this season, the results close to what occurred last year, but this time I feel we won both games due to defense, not attack
      However one hope is with the back 4 and the 2 deep lying shielding midfielders, that we don’t end up having no one in transition, Marcin B was close to furfilling this Saturday, however he didn’t do it to the standard we need.
      RE Jakobsen, he impressed me in midfield, make smart passes, was often in the right position, and make life difficult for troisi and Kosta. Yes he wasn’t decive in the front 3rd, but not every midfielder is, he isn’t playing as a Lampard style, more of an Eric Dier type, and I’m happy with this, regardless of his finishing.
      Muscat struggled against Leroy, was often out of posistion and I blaim him for the goal, however Bart is the only reliable other choice at Rb, but he looks strong at Cb ATM, maybe when Kilkenny returns and MJ moved to cb we can omit muscat

    • Roar Guru

      October 17th 2017 @ 2:59pm
      tully101 said | October 17th 2017 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

      I’m enjoying the sterner defence so far this season, the results close to what occurred last year, but this time I feel we won both games due to defense, not attack
      However one hope is with the back 4 and the 2 deep lying shielding midfielders, that we don’t end up having no one in transition, Marcin B was close to furfilling this Saturday, however he didn’t do it to the standard we need.
      RE Jakobsen, he impressed me in midfield, make smart passes, was often in the right position, and make life difficult for troisi and Kosta. Yes he wasn’t decisive in the front 3rd, but not every midfielder is, he isn’t playing as a Lampard style, more of an Eric Dier type, and I’m happy with this, regardless of his finishing.
      Muscat struggled against Leroy, was often out of posistion and I blaim him for the goal, however Bart is the only reliable other choice at Rb, but he looks strong at Cb ATM, maybe when Kilkenny returns and MJ moved to cb we can omit muscat

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