Van Marwijk’s history shows that he rarely experiments

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

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

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    Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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    Managers rarely deviate too dramatically from their rusted-on tendencies.

    Over the course of a World Cup, it becomes even more important to maintain consistency; a small bundle of pressurised games, coming in quick succession, contested by teams that probably haven’t had more than a few weeks to gel.

    Managers, sensing this pressure, invariably retreat back into tried and trusted methods. This is particularly true for new managers, like Bert van Marwijk, who are taking new teams into the heat of battle; they have to prepare them quickly and efficiently, and there’s little room for risky tactical improvisation.

    The 26-man squad – to be trimmed again by three before the big tourney – announced by van Marwijk on Tuesday sent impassioned observers spinning wildly like dervishes, frenzied and frothing at Jamie Maclaren’s omission. They are right to be outraged, at least a little.

    A lot of the carrying-on has been exacerbated by Tim Cahill’s inclusion – pouring petrol on the fire, appropriately enough – not that that in and of itself should be particularly galling. No, it’s Maclaren’s exclusion combined with the truly ghastly ‘Cahilltex’ marketing campaign, a project that must have been brainstormed – a real meeting of the minds that would have been – ironed out, and mobilised months ago, when the final World Cup squads were months away from being established.

    It was then erected on Monday, launched during Tuesday’s announcement, a clanging – and not entirely atypical – bit of timing from the FFA and their major sponsor. Anyone with two synapses to rub together could have told you Cahill’s inclusion, having played an hour of football since January, was going to cause a ruckus when the squad was announced. Squad announcements, regardless of controversial ins-and-outs, are almost always going to disappoint some people.

    Why on earth would you choose the day of the announcement to launch a ham-fisted, nausea-inducing, pun-based marketing stunt? It was always going to elicit suspicion, mutterings of a conspiracy between the FFA and Caltex to force the manager to pick our most marketable player.

    Goodness,  I nearly spun myself into a mania there. We’ll put Cahilltex and Maclaren to one side, and focus on the rest of the squad. Interestingly, Bailey Wright and Aleksander Susjnar were cut, two defenders capable of playing at centre back.

    Jamie Maclaren Brisbane Roar portrait

    That leaves Trent Sainsbury, Milos Degenek, Matt Jurman and, at a stretch, Mark Milligan as Australia’s centre-back options. Van Marwijk has actually only named seven plus Milligan – defenders in the squad, enough for a starter and a back-up at each position. Fran Karacic and James Meredith – the right and left-back back-ups, respectively – have two caps between them.

    This is a very lean group, the bare minimum, really.

    And this is typical of van Marwijk. He is not a manager who chops and changes his defence, who experiments during tournaments, or even over the course of tournament qualifying. In the 2010 World Cup, as Netherlands manager, he used a mixture of just 14 players to make up the starting XI over their seven-game run to the final.

    If not for Joris Mathijsen’s injury in the warm-up before the quarter-final against Brazil, van Marwijk would have fielded the same right-back and centre-back pairing throughout the entire tournament. Mathijsen recovered for the semi-final and was reinserted into the starting line-up immediately.

    His time in charge of Saudi Arabia shows his distaste for changing defensive personnel has persisted; in all nine Saudi national team fixtures for which he was the manager in 2016-17, van Marwijk fielded the same centre-back pairing, Omar and Osama Hawsawi.

    Clearly, van Mawijk has decided that two of Sainsbury, Degenek and Jurman are his first-choice pairing, and based on his history as a national team manager – and assuming no injuries – it’s unlikely they’ll be shifted throughout the tournament. This is why the Dutchman dropped Wright and Susjnar.

    Of the 70 matches van Marwijk has taken charge as a national team manager – 52 for the Netherlands, 16 for Saudi Arabia, two for Australia – the overwhelming majority of them saw him field a 4-2-3-1 formation. In fact, only once has he fielded two strikers, indicating that the three true strikers he has taken – Cahill, Tomi Juric and Nikita Rukavitsya – won’t be used together.

    The bulk of his squad, as is usual for most teams, are the midfielders. But it does seem as though van Marwijk has chosen more attack-minded players than normal; really, only Josh Brillante, Mark Milligan and Mile Jedinak could be considered defensive midfielders.

    Aaron Mooy for the Socceroos against Honduras

    Van Marwijk experimented – unsuccessfully – with Jackson Irvine as a sort of rangy, off-the-ball No.10 against Norway, tasked with punching through into the box to scatter defenders and meet crosses. We’ll have to see whether Irvine’s imposing brand of midfield activity will be directed toward the opposition goal at the big tourney, or whether it’s channelled more specifically to disrupt opponents conspiring to plunder his own.

    Again, in the 2010 World Cup, what was striking about how van Marwijk arranged a talented set of Dutch attackers was the ever-presence of Dirk Kuyt, one of the great utility players of the last 20 years. Kuyt started every game and, often, appeared unconcerned with doing the traditional business of a left-sided attacker – namely, attacking.

    In the quarter-final against Brazil, for instance, Kuyt spent just 20 per cent of the time in the attacking third, the lowest percentage among the attacking unit, per FIFA tracking statistics. Possession was split evenly between the Dutch and the Brazilians, but Kuyt passed just once to striker Robin van Persie over the course of the entire 94-minute match.

    Largely, it seemed as though van Marwijk had sacrificed the left wing as an attacking conduit, placed Kuyt there to do the legwork, and recycle the ball back to the Netherlands’ creative central players. He passed most often back to holding midfielder Nigel de Jong, or to attacking fulcrum Wesley Sneijder.

    Kuyt ran further than anyone on the team in that game, and just 14 per cent of the Dutch attacks originated on his wing. This was not a choice van Marwijk was forced to make because of injury or paucity of left-wing options; Rafael van der Vaart had started the first three World Cup games alongside Kuyt before Arjen Robben replaced him in the line-up.

    Evidently, the manager wanted a water-carrier in the front-line and was willing to squeeze him in no matter how talented the alternatives were, or how lopsided the attack would be. If van Marwijk was to repeat the mechanic with Australia and blunt a wing with a non-attacker, would it be Daniel Arzani sitting unused on the bench?


    That would be a shame, to be sure.

    Van Marwijk’s two matches in charge of the Roos have seen Jedinak a constant in midfield, paired with either Aaron Mooy or Mass Luongo. For Saudi Arabia, almost every match under van Marwijk saw Salam Al-Faraj paired with Abdulmalek Al-Khaibri.

    Both were reserved central operators, that rarely dribbled through the midfield or drifted into advanced areas. Al-Faraj was the more ambitious passer, an elegant ball-player able to see and execute passes with a higher degree of difficulty and over a more varied range.

    Al-Khaibri passed almost exclusively sideways to the full backs, back to the defence, or short to his midfield partner. It was a traditional pairing, and Jedinak seems set to fill the more limited role under van Marwijk for Australia.

    If the Roos are hoping to rely on quick transitions, not slow and methodical passing, then Luongo seems a better partner for Jedinak than Mooy, who can be ponderous on the ball.

    There are, naturally, dozens of possible permutations available to van Marwijk, but what we know for sure is that he is unlikely to roll through more than about three of them. The attacking midfield is the bulkiest part of the squad, and so appears to be the area where the most flux will occur. Even then, a tinker-man van Marwijk is not.

    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 (23)

    • May 17th 2018 @ 8:22am
      AGO74 said | May 17th 2018 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      A left field option for centre back is Jedinak. Granted he has played most of his career at DM but in Villas run in to the playoffs he played there to rave reviews in place of the injured John terry.

      This move would allow Luongo to play DM who despite being known as a creative talent (which he is) but has also shown in the last year he can do the hard work (most tackles of any player in the championship winning their player of the year alongside Mooy who has played most of this year at Huddersfield as a DM.

      That said Jedinaks form at the moment in DM is rock solid having been MOM in the last few games for them so it’s difficult to see him not being selected there. This would mean one of sainsbury/jurman/degenek to miss out. I’d prefer it is the latter – in still not entirely convinced on Degenek.

      • May 17th 2018 @ 9:20am
        fadida said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        It’s no longer a left field choice. For years a number of us have said the only position for the captain is at centre back. Villa out of necessity have successfully trialled it.

        The big concern is his lack of pace, but a Sainsbury/Jedinak combo coul be ok.

        Midfield for me would be Mooy, Luongo and Irvine

        • May 17th 2018 @ 11:08am
          AGO74 said | May 17th 2018 @ 11:08am | ! Report

          There is no question pace is not one of his strengths but none of our CB’s strike me as speedy. Further he would have more ground to cover in midfield to break up play which he currently does adequately than along a more compact backline.

          That said if BVM takes even a relatively conservative approach – which we do expect – then Mile will be at the base of midfield.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 11:53am
          Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | May 17th 2018 @ 11:53am | ! Report

          “Sainsbury/Jedinak combo could be ok”

          Fad – I’m coming around to your suggestion with this combo. However, I still have concerns with Jedinak’s ability to turn and chase an attacker breaking the line.

          • May 17th 2018 @ 12:50pm
            Brian said | May 17th 2018 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

            especially the likes of Mbappe, Dembele or Martial.
            But if for some reason Giroud starts then Jedinak probably our best CB in terms of dealing with the more aerial threat.

          • May 17th 2018 @ 2:58pm
            shirtpants said | May 17th 2018 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

            We will have to sit deep defensively regardless of the CB pairing especially against France. They have far too much pace and quality and will expose us awfully if we don’t minimise space at the back. This match is almost as critical as Peru because its likely to come down to goal difference – though in football anything can happen. This is the beauty of it.

      • Roar Pro

        May 17th 2018 @ 10:29pm
        Andrew said | May 17th 2018 @ 10:29pm | ! Report

        As a Villa fan I can attest he was a good fill-in, but playing at CM for both the Boro playoff games he was an absolute beast with Terry and Chester at CB behind him.

    • May 17th 2018 @ 8:27am
      Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | May 17th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      Excellent read Evan. There are a lot of good discussion points here in your article, which I am going to have to think about more carefully before I can comment. I’ll be reading the comments from our regular contributors to see where they stand with how BvM will set out the Roo’s in their first vital game against France. Will he go for it; al-la-Ange, or will he take the Pim-MKII-park-the-bus approach…? I think I know the answer to that already.

      • May 17th 2018 @ 8:49am
        reuster75 said | May 17th 2018 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        The thing I am most curious about with BvM is what will he do if we need to chase a result and win by a few goals in the final game against Peru. We don’t have a lot of goals in us and playing the way he usually does will only exacerbate that situation so will he be capable of sending a side out to attack if the situation calls for it? My fear is if we get done by several goals against France he’ll double down against Denmark and go even more defensive likely resulting in 0-0 (as not sure Denmark squad has a lot of goals in them either). This will mean it comes down to the game against Peru and not sure he’d be willing to risk losing in order to win.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 10:15am
          Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | May 17th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

          I think it will be a pragmatic approach BvM will take—clean sheets, rather than going out to score goals. And as you rightly say; it will finally come down to the last game, which will undoubtedly force his hand to attack.

          • May 17th 2018 @ 4:25pm
            me too said | May 17th 2018 @ 4:25pm | ! Report

            I think 99% of fans will certainly be happy for it to come down to that last game, as long as we don’t need a few goals.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 10:27am
          AGO74 said | May 17th 2018 @ 10:27am | ! Report

          There is a clear difference between Denmark and Australia. They have Christian Eriksen. We do not. Other than that and I know the Danes have players at better clubs but I’d say it it is a relatively even affair.

          Also – you could see the situation in our game against Peru where BOTH teams need a few goals to progress. That would create a very unusual match!

          We saw it in 2010 when we played Serbia but that was really only in the last half hour after we took the lead, we needed to keep scoring and Serbia needed to equalise. It’d be remarkable to see a whole 90 minute affair played out like this.

          Just on Peru – how much of a soap opera is this Guerrero matter? In out in out. It’s got to be a hell of a distraction to the team especially the guys who will replace Guerrero not knowing if they are/aren’t playing. I believe Guerrero is appealing- again.

    • May 17th 2018 @ 9:11am
      Swampy said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      This was a really good read. Great analysis. A lot to take in but I appreciate the level of research that has gone into this article. Going back and reviewing stats from BvM stint with Netherlands was very interesting.

      As an aside, I actually don’t have an issue with the selection of Cahill, but it is dependent on how he is used. As a pinch hitter for maybe 10 minutes at the end of a game I think he is easily our best option. If he were to start then I think that would be a poor selection.

      Regardless of what we do we are likely to be outclassed in our group. Anyone who thinks we will be evens with Peru needs to have a look at their record over the last 4 years. It is far more impressive (including away from home) than I thought it was initially. A conservative approach to the group games may be our best chance of qualifying for an extra game.

    • May 17th 2018 @ 9:21am
      fadida said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:21am | ! Report

      Grat article Evan. Researched and detailed. Well done

    • May 17th 2018 @ 9:35am
      mattq said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:35am | ! Report

      agree, excellent article and the only one worth reading on this discussion so far.

    • May 17th 2018 @ 9:53am
      Redondo said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      Good article Evan.

      Wouldn’t it be funny though if Bert did a Bielsa and went with a 3-3-1-3, such as

      Sainsbury, Jedinak, Behich/Jurman
      Luongo, Mooy, Irvine
      Leckie/Petratos, Juric, Arzani/Nabbout

      • May 17th 2018 @ 11:56am
        Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | May 17th 2018 @ 11:56am | ! Report

        Not bad.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 5:22pm
          Holly said | May 17th 2018 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

          Not likely

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