The most pressing issue from the Sydney Derby

Tim Palmer Columnist

By Tim Palmer, Tim Palmer is a Roar Expert

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43 Have your say

    In a typically feisty, atmospheric derby, the Western Sydney Wanderers were able to cause Sydney FC problems with their energetic pressing.

    In recent years, tactical discussion of the Wanderers has focused on their evolution towards a fluid, possession-based style. However, in their foundation years they were renowned for their ability to win the ball back high up the pitch.

    In the inaugural season, under Tony Popovic, they averaged the least possession of any A-League side, as they focused on pressing opponents in their back third, then breaking quickly towards goal.

    While there has been an evolution in playing style, that old, hard-running, hard-to-beat mentality has still been present, and despite his departure, these are qualities Popovic valued in his squad-building for the current season.

    It was clear from the outset of the derby that interim coach Hayden Foxe felt pressing was critical to cause the defending champions problems.

    The key tactical task for Western Sydney was to block their opponents from progressing forward into the middle third, by forcing backwards passes from this zone.

    In a 4-4-2 block, they were happy to allow the opposition centre-backs, Alex Wilkinson and Jordy Buijs, space to bring the ball out from the back. The Wanderers’ front two, Roly Bonevacia and Oriol Riera, took up narrow starting positions to prevent the Sky Blues’ double 6, Josh Brillante and Brandon O’Neill, receiving passes in central areas.

    However, if Sydney can’t progress the ball forward through their starting positions, the double 6 will rotate to get free in positions between and outside the opposition block.

    In the past, this has meant one of the 6s rotating into a wide area, level and outside with the oppostion’s front two, with the full-back on the same side moving higher and creating the option for the centre-back to break the first pressing line with a diagonal forward pass.

    However, when one of Brillante or O’Neill performed this rotation, either Bonevacia or Riera – whoever was closest – moved forward with an angle of approach to block the diagonal forward pass from the centre-back into the 6.

    While still blocking this pass, the Wanderers defender would move forward to apply pressure on the ball, forcing the central defender into a decision: in this case, often a longer pass towards the strikers, where the Western Sydney back four could compete aerially.

    This is one example of many of Sydney FC’s rotations, but what was impressive about the Wanderers’ pressing was their ability to flexibly cover different passing options, while still sticking to their key tactical task – prevent their rivals from progressing forward in the middle third by forcing backwards passes.

    For example, Michael Zullo and Luke Wilkshire pushed high up the pitch, but Alvaro Cejudo and Mark Bridge always tracked them into positions where if the full-back received the ball, his only option was to play a negative pass back towards his own half. Sometimes, the Sky Blue full-back could pin the Wanderers winger into a deep position, opening up a pocket of space inside the defensive block, but again the flexibility was crucial, with one of the central midfielders (Chris Herd or Kearyn Baccus) energetically pushing up to prevent their direct opponent from facing forward.

    Throughout the first half-hour, with the Wanderers’ front four worked together to block forward passes into the opposition’s rotations of central midfielders, and the back six supported the collective defensive effort.

    As a result, Sydney FC found it difficult to build up from the back.

    However, as pressing requires multiple high-speed running efforts over a short period of time, Western Sydney grew tired, and Graham Arnold’s men gradually gained more control over the game.

    Where they found particular success was when one of the wingers, Milos Ninkovic or David Carney, dropped into a pocket of space behind the Wanderers’ midfield in a central area. While in the past, Western Sydney have asked their full-backs to stick tightly to wingers moving inside, here, Josh Risdon and Raul Llorente waited for their direct opponent to receive before stepping forward to press.

    Therefore, if Ninkovic or Carney could receive a forward pass in this zone, they knew they would be closed down quickly – and so looked to play quick, passing combinations to break through the pressure.

    This was most obvious in the buildup to the controversial penalty. In response, Risdon and Llorente became very aggressive in closing down Ninkovic and Carney.

    Evidently, this was a game of small details, where either side tried to find solutions in response to the tactical challenge posed by the other.

    More generally, it was shaped by the Wanderers’ well-organised, disciplined pressing. They took the game to Sydney FC, and although the home side found some solutions, Western Sydney were able to assert themselves with a bruising, enthusiastic performance that should set the tone for a successful season.

    Tim Palmer
    Tim Palmer

    Tim is a football coach, writer, analyst and sports scientist. He has worked with the Socceroos in an analysis role, has completed the FFA B Licence, is currently a player in the Australian Deaf Football Team and coaches in the NSW NPL. You can follow him on Twitter @timpalmerftbl.

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    The Crowd Says (43)

    • October 25th 2017 @ 8:28am
      Post_hoc said | October 25th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      Great analysis as always. I enjoy reading your break downs and they are a great tool to educate people with.

      • October 25th 2017 @ 9:46am
        Redondo said | October 25th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        I agree – excellent analysis. More articles like this please.

        • Columnist

          October 25th 2017 @ 10:09am
          Tim Palmer said | October 25th 2017 @ 10:09am | ! Report

          Thank you both – very kind of you to say.

        • October 25th 2017 @ 1:34pm
          Fadida said | October 25th 2017 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

          Agree, excellent

        • Roar Guru

          October 26th 2017 @ 7:42am
          Griffo said | October 26th 2017 @ 7:42am | ! Report

          +3 from me. These are great as always Tim.

          Enjoyed this a great deal and hope they continue.

    • Roar Guru

      October 25th 2017 @ 9:43am
      Rick Disnick said | October 25th 2017 @ 9:43am | ! Report

      This is what this forum needs more of. Great Analysis, Tim.

      Shut any teams ability to pass forward at 45’s in the midfield and you’ll go a long way to winning. Execution of course is a different matter.

      I’m surprised SFC didn’t’ use width in their attacking 1/3 better to counter this. Then again, I don’t know their players all that well.

    • October 25th 2017 @ 9:52am
      Redondo said | October 25th 2017 @ 9:52am | ! Report

      Victory and Wanderers both rattled Sydney FC with early pressure – a good template for other teams. As you point out, the problem is maintaining that for the whole game.

      Last season, Sydney FC relied a lot on Vukovic and desperate defending to see them through the early part of games, and then relied on their fitness to overwhelm teams late in the game. Swapping Redmayne for Vukovic and Wilkshire for Grant has made both parts of that strategy more difficult.

      Grant is a big loss going forward – Wilkshire is a good footballer but he can’t match Grant’s running out wide or his endurance.

      • Roar Guru

        October 25th 2017 @ 12:26pm
        Cousin Claudio said | October 25th 2017 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

        Spot on Redondo. Wilkshire’s lack of pace makes it useless trying to spread wide to get into attacking positions against a team that is pressing hard in midfield.

        Redmayne is no Vukovic. He just stood there watching the ball crossed over and then headed into the net.

        I wish Vuka all the success in the world, but secretly hope he comes back to Sydney soon.

    • Roar Guru

      October 25th 2017 @ 9:54am
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | October 25th 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      Nice work, Tim.

      • Roar Rookie

        October 25th 2017 @ 10:21am
        At work said | October 25th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

        Thanks for your analysis Tim, much appreciated

    • October 25th 2017 @ 10:21am
      Nemesis said | October 25th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

      Great analysis of what happened in the Derby.

      I didn’t get a chance to watch the FFA Cup Semi Final last night. Would be interesting to note if the structural & tactical observations noted here were replicated last night.

      If it was, then it couldn’t have worked very well.

      If it wasn’t, then we can’t make any broad comments about WSW’s tactical plan since it changes from game to game.

      • October 25th 2017 @ 1:32pm
        Post_hoc said | October 25th 2017 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

        don’t waste your time, it was terrible from the Wanderers.

        Adelaide set up you would have to say defensively, Isiais slotted into the backline as a 3rd central back with two full backs that didn’t really venture high up the park.

        They let Wanderers have the midfield especially just inside the halfway line, but there was no way Wanderers could get through, there was no wide plays as they shut down the Wanderers overlapping backs well, the crosses that did come in were pretty ordinary or the Reds were remarkable in just being in the right spot.

        It was better tactics from the German, they deserved the win but Wanderers were bad

        • Roar Guru

          October 25th 2017 @ 9:18pm
          Ben of Phnom Penh said | October 25th 2017 @ 9:18pm | ! Report

          With two junior CB’s in the line-up, coupled with playing away from home, dropping Isiais a little deeper to sit above them and provide some leadership as well as cover was a sensible move. I meant Adelaide’s wider players had to work harder to create some space in the middle when going forward however they managed it in the end, No doubt there are some tired legs in the AUFC attacking midfield.

    • October 25th 2017 @ 10:28am
      Midfielder said | October 25th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

      Preliminary Squad just announced for the qualifiers.


      Club, Country A-International Caps (Goals)

      Mustafa AMINI Aarhus Gymnastikforening (AGF), DENMARK 2 (0)

      Aziz BEHICH Bursaspor, TURKEY 17 (2)


      Tim CAHILL Melbourne City FC, AUSTRALIA 103 (50)

      Milos DEGENEK Yokohama F. Marinos, JAPAN 14 (0)

      Alex GERSBACH Rosenborg BK, NORWAY 4 (0)

      Craig GOODWIN Sparta Rotterdam, NETHERLANDS 3 (0)

      Ajdin HRUSTIC FC Groningen, NETHERLANDS 1 (0)

      Jackson IRVINE Hull City AFC, ENGLAND 14 (1)

      Mile JEDINAK Aston Villa FC, ENGLAND 71 (15)

      James JEGGO SK Sturm Graz, AUSTRIA 0 (0)

      Tomi JURIC FC Luzern, SWITZERLAND 30 (8)

      Matthew JURMAN Suwon Samsung Bluewings, KOREA REPUBLIC 2 (0)

      Robbie KRUSE VfL Bochum, GERMANY 59 (5)

      Mitchell LANGERAK (GK) Levante UD, SPAIN 8 (0)

      Mathew LECKIE Hertha BSC, GERMANY 48 (6)

      Massimo LUONGO Queens Park Rangers FC, ENGLAND 31 (5)

      Awer MABIL FC Pacos de Ferreira, PORTUGAL 0 (0)

      Jamie MACLAREN SV Darmstadt 98, GERMANY 5 (0)

      Ryan MCGOWAN Al-Sharjah SCC, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES 20 (0)

      Mark MILLIGAN Melbourne Victory FC, AUSTRALIA 63 (6)

      Aaron MOOY Huddersfield Town AFC, ENGLAND 28 (5)

      Josh RISDON Western Sydney Wanderers FC, AUSTRALIA 4 (0)

      Tom ROGIC Celtic FC, SCOTLAND 31 (7)

      Nikita RUKAVYTSYA Maccabi Haifa FC, ISRAEL 15 (1)

      Mathew RYAN (GK) Brighton & Hove Albion FC, ENGLAND 39 (0)

      Trent SAINSBURY Jiangsu Suning FC, CHINA 31 (3)

      James TROISI Melbourne Victory, AUSTRALIA 35 (5)

      Daniel VUKOVIC (GK) KRC Genk, BELGIUM 0 (0)

      Bailey WRIGHT Bristol City FC, ENGLAND 19 (1)

      • Roar Guru

        October 25th 2017 @ 12:31pm
        Cousin Claudio said | October 25th 2017 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

        What a surprise – Mooy and Cahill made the squad.

        Looks like we are in for a “British style of football” as highlighted by the Honduran coach, and Tim Cahill to score the winner.

        I hope Timmy can get some sleep and an afternoon nap in before the second leg.

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