Dimitri Petratos the blossoming flower of the Jets’ rapid improvement

Tim Palmer Columnist

By Tim Palmer, Tim Palmer is a Roar Expert

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    Ten rounds into this A-League season, the Newcastle Jets have stunned in their surge to second place, with Dimitri Petratos the playmaker at the heart of their success.

    It has not always been plain sailing for the highly rated prospect.

    Starting his career at Sydney FC before a reported training-ground fight with the goalkeeper coach marked a sharp downturn in form and favour, Petratos ended up in the Malaysian league due to a lack of interest domestically.

    Ironically, a hat-trick against Sydney, months after signing for Brisbane Roar, was the beginning of Petratos’ transformation into a genuinely effective attacker.

    At Brisbane, Mike Mulvey used Petratos as a right-winger during their 2013-14 double-winning season. However the following year, both Mulvey and his replacement, Frans Thijssen, used Petratos in a central position. This was not always effective, as Petratos found it difficult to find space in congested central areas in a team that traditionally dominated possession.

    Under John Aloisi, the Roar became more structured in their patterns of play, a tactical shift that suited Petratos. A key pattern was his movement from a #10 position towards the wing, getting free away from opposition holding midfielders and creating space for the right-winger, often Brandon Borrello, to make forward runs.

    Throughout Petratos’ positional evolution at Brisbane, his technical and physical level also improved. He became noticeably more mobile and aggressive, while also improving his ability to make quick decisions in playmaking positions, an oft-repeated criticism of his at Sydney and in the early stages of his Roar career.

    As Jonathan Howcroft wrote for The Guardian, Petratos’s blossoming demonstrates the ability of the A-League to provide an environment for talented Australian footballers to grow and develop.

    What happened next was bizarre. Petratos agreed to a move to Newcastle at the end of his Brisbane contract, with financial reasons cited for the switch, before being offered an even more lucrative deal at Ulsan Hyundai in South Korea.

    However, the three-year deal came to an anticlimactic end after Petratos struggled to adapt to the change in lifestyle. Unsurprisingly, the Jets offered him a lifeline.

    With exciting marquee Ronald Vargas also to fit into his team, Ernie Merrick initially used Petratos on the right of a 4-2-3-1. However, the Venezuelan’s horrific injury meant Petratos has moved into the #10 position, where he has shone. This is because the Jets have primarily been a counter-attacking team, scoring goals from quick transitions after winning the ball back from pressing high up the pitch.

    The opening round demolition of the Central Coast Mariners was an excellent demonstration of this, where they were able to release Petratos making runs into the channels with forward passes into the gaps in the opposition back four. They had a similar approach against Wellington Phoenix, who also tried to play out from the back, but found it difficult against the speed and intensity of the Jets’ pressure, who then attacked goal quickly upon turnovers.

    Petratos is excellent in these counterattacking moments. From his defensive positioning – central, making the side compact from back to front – he makes quick, lateral movements towards the sides, getting free off the shoulder of the opposition defensive midfielders. In these positions, he is on the blindside of his direct opponent, so teammates can play forward passes into him, where he can turn and attack open spaces.

    What’s also important is that Petratos keeps an open body position when making these runs, where he can see the ball, see the defender, see forward and face forward on his first touch. It is a simple, yet critical adjustment. It means he doesn’t move as quickly as he possibly could – you run faster going forward than going backwards – but it means when he receives the ball he has full vision of the pitch. That, in turn, allows him to make more effective decisions, because he is aware of both opposition defenders that might pressure him, and the runs his teammates are making.

    Johnny Koutroumbis Newcastle Jets

    AAP Image/Will Russell

    In longer periods of possession, where the Jets are building up play, Petratos makes similar movements. While his notational starting position is central, he drifts towards the sides to get free behind defensive midfielders. In the team’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the two holding midfielders stay central, so that when the centre-backs get the ball and Petratos makes these movements, the passing lane opens up from centre-back to attacker where Petratos can then turn and attack goal. Again, keeping the open body is important, as it means Petratos is facing the goal, rather than the touchline, when he receives.

    These are small, technical actions that have ingrained into Petratos over years of training at Brisbane, and demonstrate that even into the early 20s (he is now 24) players still develop and learn new behaviours. Indeed, there are still weaknesses in Petratos’ game.

    For example, on the weekend, because they scored early on, Perth defended quite deep, restricting the space for Merrick’s team to counter-attack into. The Jets therefore had possession for longer periods.

    Petratos had to receive the ball in tighter areas. In these moments, even though he was receiving forward passes between the lines, his natural tendency was to take his first touch back – away from goal and from defenders.

    While he was able to retain possession in these moments, his inability to face forward on his first touch made it difficult for him to be able to play penetrating forward passes, because Glory defenders quickly closed up gaps between their defenders when Petratos took his first touch backwards. That is why Newcastle actually struggled to create chances for long periods, why they resorted to longer passes from the back towards the front three, and why Merrick described their late goals as “a theft”.

    Nevertheless, Petratos is still one of the league’s most exciting players, particularly when driving at goal in open spaces. He has made small yet crucial adjustments to his game that have allowed him to be more effective in these moments, and given the way he has steadily improved as an individual over the last four years, there is little doubt he will continue to enhance his overall game.

    That is good news for a Jets team flying high at the top end of the table.

    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 (9)

    • December 13th 2017 @ 9:30am
      j,binnie said | December 13th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      Tim – Dimi has ,as you say, a somewhat chequered career under 3, 4, or 5 different coaches, all of whom appear to have recognised he had “something” going for him, but weren’t too sure what it was, and how best to use it..

      I used to watch him very carefully in his time at Roar and like other analysts started to notice that his “ball – winning” ” ability in midfield was almost non existent, his defensive duties being “covered” by the energy and strength of the “supposed” front man Borello who actually covered extra miles in a game, doing the covering work required to help Hingert and co. in their defensive duties.
      This in itself didn’t denigrate Dimi’s capabilities as an attacker, but in the modern game many would regard it as a flaw in his overall “game”
      So what has made him “blossom” at Jets?. I find it quite simple to recognise.
      That wily old fox Merrick has recognised the apparent weakness as described, and has given Dimi what I will call “a pass” to play just behind the Jet’s front men, where his,football vision, dribbling skills, and obvious firepower make him an extremely difficult player to police. To compensate for that “free running ,go anywhere pass” Merrick has also covered his bases by using 2 “no-nonsense” defensive mids in Kanterovski, Ugarovic or Hoffman, all of whom are quite capable of doing the necessary work created by Dimi’s “absence’ from that role.
      Also it should not be forgotten that the procurement of Topor Stanley,Georgevski and Vujica has also added much strength and experience to Jet’s backline, which again reflects well on Dimi’s “freedom role”.
      You did notice his somewhat less than effective game against Glory and correctly put that down to Glory’s retreating defence filling in the spaces where Dimi likes to show off his skills to their best advantage,
      Will his game progress as it has in recent times?, only time will tell as other defences are going to take note and try to curb his undoubted attacking flair just as Glory,by intent or by accident, did last weekend. Cheers jb.
      ps Tim, if the opportunity arises chart Timi’s game and see how many times he wins a ball in a man on man situation. It will surprise.jb.

    • December 13th 2017 @ 11:08am
      Kangajets said | December 13th 2017 @ 11:08am | ! Report

      Petratos will have to continue his good form as Roy O’Donovan and Ronny Vargas are both out for another 3 months .

      The jets while season rests on Dimi unless Newcastle can get some injuries replacements

    • December 13th 2017 @ 4:51pm
      Lionheart said | December 13th 2017 @ 4:51pm | ! Report

      There is nothing more pleasurable than watching young players grow. Interestingly, when Dimi returned to Brisbane last season with Ulsan Hyundai for the ACL match, local media asked his new coach what he had to do to get a start, who replied that he had to off-load the ball quicker. He said he was too slow to pass for Thailand football, too slow deciding what to do and he added that he felt that that was an issue for the A League, our players hold the ball too long.
      Certainly, if anyone watched Ulsan in the ACL last season, they moved the ball around very quickly, very impressive.

      • December 14th 2017 @ 10:31am
        Lionheart said | December 14th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

        of course I meant Korean football, K League.

        • Roar Guru

          December 14th 2017 @ 9:36pm
          Griffo said | December 14th 2017 @ 9:36pm | ! Report

          I think we thought you knew which is why no one probably pointed it out…

          …you were chewing a Massaman Curry at the time of typing I’m sure…

    • Roar Guru

      December 13th 2017 @ 7:44pm
      Griffo said | December 13th 2017 @ 7:44pm | ! Report

      Dimi’s current position and exploits are the result of Vargas being injured so it would be interesting to have seen what Dimi would have done on the right attacking role he was in prior.

      He has produce some quality balls into the box as well as some long distance bombs both before and after Vargas’ injury so I think Dimi would have had impact there, and that would be expected on Vargas’ return.

      Dimi in addition is also a vast improvement on Hoole as a deadball specialist so an all round good acquisition by the Jets, who wanted first dibs if his Korean adventure ended prematurely.

      While putting a player in a single position seems desirable for a cohesive team, Dimi is one of a number of Jets filling in for injured team mates. Never let it be said that versatility isn’t desireable in a modern footballer.

    • December 14th 2017 @ 5:09pm
      Kangajets said | December 14th 2017 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

      Petratos has brought more excitement to Newcastle then anyone since Adam taggart 4 years ago .

      We need a big game from Dimi agdinst Adelaide this Saturday

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