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Adrian Mierzejewski, Sydney FC’s marquee playmaker, cracks open the FFA Cup Final

Tim Palmer Columnist

By Tim Palmer, Tim Palmer is a Roar Expert

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    In an intense, tight and at times scrappy FA Cup final, it was fitting that Adrian Mierzejewski provided the assist to Bobo’s match-winning goal deep into extra time.

    Mierzejewski was the game’s standout player, providing sublime moments of creativity to punctuate a final otherwise characterised by pressing, direct play and set pieces.

    The game actually started with a period of Adelaide United dominance, who closed down high up the pitch in the early stages and put Sydney under significant pressure.

    Under new coach Marco Kurz, Adelaide has moved away from the more patient, controlled style of play of Josep Gombau and Guillermo Amor, towards a more energetic and vertical approach.

    In a 4-3-3 formation, with Isaias playing as the sole holding midfielder, the two 10s, Daniel Adlung and Karim Matmour, push high up the pitch, moving into positions close to striker Baba Diawarra. The wide players, Ryan Kitto and Nikola Mileusnic, also take up narrow positions supporting the 9, further overloading the central area.

    The Reds’ build-up, therefore, is focused on finding longer passes to the feet, either through ground passes – Isaias is excellent in this regard – or longer, lofted passes towards the physical presence of Diawarra, who can lay balls off for runners in front or in behind. He was able to do this effectively as Adelaide made a strong start to the game, pinning Sydney inside their own half.

    However, the Sky Blues gained control over the contest for two primary reasons.

    Firstly, as aforementioned, the narrow positioning of Adelaide’s wingers when attacking meant the wide areas were often vacated in the moment where possession was turned over. Sydney were able to transfer the ball quickly into these free zones, with Michael Zullo on the left-hand side noticeably receiving a number of quick switches of play. With Mileusnic having to recover large distances to stop Zullo advancing, Sydney could establish controlled possession quite easily in transition moments.

    Secondly, following these efficient transitions, they were able to build up effectively by getting Mierzejewski on the ball with time and space facing forward.

    Sydney’s two 6s, Josh Brillante and Brandon O’Neill, execute positional rotations in the build-up to get free away from opposition pressing. One example here was when Brillante would move wide and outside of Adelaide’s front two (their first line), with O’Neill staying free between the lines, so that when Brillante received a pass from a centre-back that broke the first line, and one of the players in Adelaide’s second line (a central midfielder) stepped forward to press him in response, O’Neill would be free in a central position to receive a horizontal pass in front of Adelaide’s second line.

    What was crucial was Mierzejewski moving from his advanced starting position as a right-winger, into very deep, central midfield areas when Sydney were building up. When O’Neill or Brillante got the ball in these positions between Adelaide’s first and second lines, as an opposition central midfielder stepped forward to close the ball down, Mierzejewski would move into a deep position on the outside of this player, where the Sydney 6 could play a simple forwards pass to the free playmaker.

    From these positions, Mierzejewski was devastating.

    Picking the ball up from right-sided zones and driving diagonally towards the left, he constantly probed the space in behind Adelaide’s defence with ambitious through balls – most notably when Bobo had the one-on-one with Paul Izzo that the goalkeeper had to come well outside of his penalty box to stop.

    Mierzejwski also linked up with Zullo, finding him with cross-field passes twice in quick succession.

    This movement of a wide player into playmaking positions is nothing new – in fact, within the same game, Milos Ninkovic was doing something similar from the left-hand side. However, Ninkovic is more crafty in tight areas, often combining with teammates via quick, short passes, then breaking the last line with a forward pass, whereas Mierzejewski is able to pick out runners over a 30 to 40-metre range.

    He also drives forward diagonally, which is dangerous because he is simultaneously moving the ball towards the goal, while dribbling in a direction that takes him away from defenders, with a body position that allows him to see and play passes to players ahead and beside of him on the opposite side of the pitch (while the defender must face the attacker, preventing them from being aware of movement behind them).

    Both Mierzejewski and Ninkovic are brilliant in their own way, and their ability to unlock defences is what turns Sydney from an outstandingly good defensive team into an outstandingly well-rounded unit. It was noticeable following Ninkovic’s injury that Sydney’s fluency, and thus, influence, waned, with Adelaide scoring an equaliser via Mileusnic’s fine strike.

    Yet Mierzejewski’s passing accuracy proved decisive during extra time, as he delivered the fine free-kick from which Bobo scored the winner.

    This was a bruising “battle royale” as described by Simon Hill at full-time, with both sides enjoying alternating periods of pressure and dominance on the opponent’s goal.

    There were several standout performances – Bobo scored the winner, Mark Ochieng provided inspiration off the bench, and Jordan Elsey held Adelaide’s defence together – but Mierzejewski was the player who gave this final class and creativity.

    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 (46)

    • November 22nd 2017 @ 8:20am
      Franko said | November 22nd 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      Nice write up Tim.

      Adelaide just lack class in front of goal. If Kitto scored that sitter after 5 minutes we have a dufferent game.

      Sydney just a very professional outfit.

      • November 22nd 2017 @ 8:28am
        chris said | November 22nd 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

        Sydney just seem to be able to step it up a gear if they need to. Adrian is all class no doubt. With the hardworking Brillante and O’neill patrolling and protecting the central areas, it allows Ninko and Adrian to push forward.
        Geez even Matt Simon looked effective last night when he came on.

    • Roar Pro

      November 22nd 2017 @ 9:14am
      Josh Barton said | November 22nd 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      Ninkovic and Adrian in the same team, when both reach full fitness, is going to be a sight to behold.

    • November 22nd 2017 @ 10:20am
      Redondo said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      Commiserations Tim – the AFL story will probably suck all today’s attention.

      Regarding Sydney FC – I can’t wait for Mierzejewski to settle properly with the team. Great passer and easy to see why he has played 40 times for Poland.

      At the moment Mierzejewski and Ninkovic look slightly confused about where each will pop up but once that is sorted Sydney will be hard to defend against.

      Not sure if it’s playing with Ninkovic or being coached by Arnold but Brillante and O’Neill have both improved their passing this season.

      • Roar Pro

        November 22nd 2017 @ 10:22am
        Josh Barton said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        I feel like having Adrian and Ninko is like activating a cheat mode in a video game.

        • November 22nd 2017 @ 12:18pm
          Redondo said | November 22nd 2017 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

          I can’t believe Arnold got hold of M and also managed to keep N.

          Arnold will have a real problem in the champions league – has to exclude one of M, N, Bobo or Buijs.

    • Roar Guru

      November 22nd 2017 @ 10:23am
      Rick Disnick said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

      Thanks for the article, Tim. I always enjoy reading about your tactical insights.

      Keep up the good work.

      • November 22nd 2017 @ 10:36am
        punter said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:36am | ! Report

        Gaining respect here Rick.

        • Roar Guru

          November 22nd 2017 @ 10:52am
          Rick Disnick said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:52am | ! Report

          I enjoy this stuff.

          Been watching a few more games since I went to the derby match.

          • November 22nd 2017 @ 11:05am
            punter said | November 22nd 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

            I agree with you that the more football fans jump onto these type of analytical articles & comment on it & less on those code war stuff the better it will be for us.

            If you watched the game last night Rick you can see there is some nice football played, especially considering the whole pay packet of an A-League team would struggle to pay an average PL player.

            But glad you giving it a bit more of a go.

            • Roar Guru

              November 22nd 2017 @ 11:31am
              Rick Disnick said | November 22nd 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

              Look, it may be a rubbish league (please don’t take offense from that) but it’s our league. I’ve come to learn that.

              The game last night was quite good, totally agree.

              Very disappointed with Ange, it has to be said. However, I want to see us win a World Cup. For that, we need a strong domestic league. Our opinions on how to achieve this differ, but one thing is for certain: we need to support it, otherwise it will never become great.

              People like Tim can help with great articles like this.

              People like me can help because… well I’m a genius and know everything. 🙂

              • November 22nd 2017 @ 11:36am
                Waz said | November 22nd 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

                It’s not a rubbish league but it does have its rubbish moments.

                But your point is spot on – it’s our league and if we invest in it, it will grow and get better.

              • Roar Guru

                November 22nd 2017 @ 11:42am
                Rick Disnick said | November 22nd 2017 @ 11:42am | ! Report

                Every league has its rubbish moments. We just need to grow a league with less of them.

                And yes, for the first time I said ‘we’ when it comes to the A-League.

              • November 22nd 2017 @ 12:02pm
                Redondo said | November 22nd 2017 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

                Not rubbish – more like a precocious teenager. Doing extremely well for its age (relative to other football leagues o/s) but prone to throwing up some horrible stuff. Imagine how good it could be in 10 years.

              • November 22nd 2017 @ 1:44pm
                Lionheart said | November 22nd 2017 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

                well said Rick Disnick, hang in there.

        • November 22nd 2017 @ 3:40pm
          Kangajets said | November 22nd 2017 @ 3:40pm | ! Report


          Looks like Arnie spotted another gem with the polish player .
          Should arnie take the Socceroos job if offered ?
          I think he should

          • November 22nd 2017 @ 3:57pm
            punter said | November 22nd 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

            Kanga, love Arnie but the difference between Arnie & Ange is that Arnie is too conservative. Maybe Ange should coach Socceroos in 1st half & Arnie 2nd half.

            The reason SFC gets the boring tag, is that Arnie puts the leash on SFC in the last 30 mins & grinds team, ala SFC v your team Newcastle.

            As you saw on Sat night & you admitted SFC played very well & then Newcastle came good. I see this every week, we play a lovely brand of football & then close up shop too early (this is not taking anything away from the Jets), but last 20-30 mins Arnie closes up shop & grinds teams despite being on top.

            Sorry long answer, Socceroos is in transition, we need another innovator, positive mind, like Ange & to me Arnie too conservative for me. This may upset some, but when we can play possession football you can play many different ways, eg (yes) Portugal at Euros, (no) Liverpool at champions league.

            • November 22nd 2017 @ 4:34pm
              Redondo said | November 22nd 2017 @ 4:34pm | ! Report

              Mustn’t grumble though – 60 minutes a week of Arnie’s best is a big step up from the Farina days.

              Maintaining intensity for 90 mins is tough too, especially when you still rely on older guys like Brosque. Arnie might stretch to 75-80 mins of good stuff if he had a bunch of spring chickens on the field.

              • November 22nd 2017 @ 4:44pm
                punter said | November 22nd 2017 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

                Just once Redondo, I wish we could be 3-4 nil up Arnie would just release the handbrakes & go all out, no grinding. No complaints though, great coach, just think Socceroos needs to continue our transition from British style football to playing football, so we can’t rely on conservative coaches.

              • November 22nd 2017 @ 4:54pm
                Redondo said | November 22nd 2017 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

                I agree – I’m voting early and often for Bielsa.

                Hopefully Lille will crash further and he’ll be available soon.

    • November 22nd 2017 @ 10:35am
      punter said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      I enjoyed the article Tim, great analysis.

      However, just a couple of things, Bobo didn’t score a double, it was 1 each to Bobo & Ninko (loving these Aussie names). Plus I thought the SFC play was pretty good with some very good 1 touch football when they had the dominance, no as direct as you saw it.

      • Roar Pro

        November 22nd 2017 @ 10:44am
        Josh Barton said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:44am | ! Report

        Bobo, Ninko, Zullo, Wilko, Simo, Adriano, Brillanto, Redmayno, Brosqueo. Meh, kind of lost it and the end there

        • November 22nd 2017 @ 10:57am
          punter said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report


      • November 22nd 2017 @ 10:50am
        Redondo said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:50am | ! Report

        I agree Punter, regarding directness. SFC are only direct in the sense that they prefer to attack rather than pass the ball around aimlessly. They don’t mind losing the ball as long as they are attacking.

        When it’s working (most of the time for last 12 months) their one touch passing is great to watch and hard to defend.

        • November 22nd 2017 @ 10:59am
          punter said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:59am | ! Report

          My comment at the game last night was it a pleasure to watch a team i follow play such exquisite 1 touch football, especially here in Australia.

          • November 22nd 2017 @ 12:09pm
            Redondo said | November 22nd 2017 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

            I watch SFC do that every week and wonder what game the post-game SFC-bashers were watching.

            • November 22nd 2017 @ 1:07pm
              punter said | November 22nd 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

              You are not Robinson Crusoe there Redondo, but seeing it less & less now.

    • November 22nd 2017 @ 10:45am
      Needles said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:45am | ! Report

      Peculiar how Sydney can’t seem to put away their chances. I know we’re winning a lot but only just. Also, I think Matty Simon is great. He comes on and really upsets opposition. It’s good to have him as that late option in the game. I’d hate to play against him. Such an aggro head on him. Never a dull moment with him.

      • November 22nd 2017 @ 10:56am
        Redondo said | November 22nd 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

        If, unlike Fadida, you can forget Matt Simon is Matt Simon, you might see he plays quite good football. He can hold the ball off multiple defenders, he always manages to finds space for himself, and his crossing is usually an improvement on the fullbacks. He is actually better playing on the wing than as striker.

        • November 22nd 2017 @ 11:12am
          chris said | November 22nd 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

          But he needs to start getting some goals. Very few players are as committed and passionate as Matt.
          I know he basically gets 20mins per game but he has spurned some very good chances all the same. He is a striker and that means getting goals.
          Never a dull moment when he comes on, that is true

          • November 22nd 2017 @ 12:19pm
            Redondo said | November 22nd 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

            True – a goal would help.

            • November 23rd 2017 @ 10:39am
              Needles said | November 23rd 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report


          • November 22nd 2017 @ 5:26pm
            Square Nostrils said | November 22nd 2017 @ 5:26pm | ! Report

            “Simmo , Simmo”, is often, heard from Arnies lips on the sideline. Is he Arnies long lost son from events after the Argentina game in the Gold Cup years ago. where Australia won 4-0.
            In the dressing room after the match he said raucously “call an ambulance” intimating he would sink a few Tooheys and he would probably need it.
            Maybe after in a somewhat inebriated state he met a 2.5 metre blond female wrestler, then again I may have got my dates wrong.

      • November 22nd 2017 @ 11:00am
        punter said | November 22nd 2017 @ 11:00am | ! Report

        The day SFC can put away their chances is when they will start blowing teams away.

        • November 22nd 2017 @ 12:13pm
          Redondo said | November 22nd 2017 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

          I’m hoping they time that day to coincide with the champions league. It would be a massive boost for the A-League if SFC blew away Urawa Reds or Guangzhou Evergrande.

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