Tom Rogic’s isolation is partly the fault of Bert van Marwijk’s system

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

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

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    Tom Rogic’s apparent inability to involve himself in the attacking play against Hungary is a symptom of Bert van Marwijk’s tactical scheme.

    This is not to say Rogic shouldn’t shoulder some of the blame for his limp performances against the Czech Republic and Hungary, because the Celtic player is certainly guilty of wallowing in a sort of drifting malaise, that could be – if not solved – certainly be helped by a bit more self-propelled invention and industry. 

    But the disconnect between Rogic and his midfield colleagues is a problem that the system is creating.

    Without possession, Australia are in a tight, structured 4-4-1-1, with Rogic defending behind Andrew Nabbout, ahead of a flat midfield. Here, wingers Matt Leckie and Robbie Kruse are relatively deep, able to help track wide runners, and support their full backs.

    The rigidity of this defensive formation, and the risk it runs of letting unchecked opponents drift into dangerous positions between the lines, ahead of the defence and behind the oblivious midfield, is a separate concern. 

    When arranged this way, with plenty of men in midfield, it’s harder for the opponent to pick up and specifically neutralise Rogic. Obviously, the defensive stance is the starting formation for many of Australia’s counter-attacks, and indeed it was from a scattered counter-attack 25 minutes into the Hungary match that Rogic first glinted into view, albeit only fleetingly.

    All our World Cup opponents are likely to demand more than the 43 per cent possession Hungary enjoyed, and so these counter-attacking situations – assuming we can defend without haplessness – may become more relevant at the big tourney.

    But for now, when we have the ball and morph into the in-possession scheme, Rogic’s isolation is exacerbated. As was identified in the game against the Czechs, Australia’s centre backs and central midfielders take up a box formation in the deep midfield, as the full backs roam up the flanks and the wingers tuck into the interior – either dropping deep, or lingering either side of the striker.

    As much as this mechanism allows for ease in possession for Mark Milligan, Trent Sainsbury, Mass Luongo and Aaron Mooy, giving them time and space to clip longer passes into the final third, it means the opposition can basically double-team Rogic in the middle of the pitch.

    Hungary’s strikers were dropping off, allowing the Aussie centre backs to hold the ball unmolested, and were marshalling Mooy and Luongo on the turn. The Hungarian wingers had tracked the Australian full backs, and their full backs were marking Kruse and Leckie. This meant the entire central midfield – Krisztian Vadócz and József Varga – could drop back and double-up on Rogic.

    I have illustrated the process here, in a clip from the first half; you can see Mooy and Luongo settle back into the box formation, as the full backs trot up the flanks. There’s Rogic in the middle, with two Hungarians next to him for company. The Hungary midfielders are even content to let a tucked-in Leckie come deep for the ball, signalling for a winger to pick him up so they can remain around No.23.

    Rogic is, effectively, insulated by markers, making it difficult for the centre backs or central midfielders to find him with a pass. In fact, the system seems to be purpose-built to activate the flanks primarily, subjecting Australia’s best play-maker to isolation almost by design. 

    Up until the 40th minute against Hungary, Rogic had touched the ball in the opposition half a grand total of two times. A relative flurry of activity saw him garner another five touches in the five minutes before halftime, but Rogic was barely involved.

    As for the rest of the game, well, he played 80 minutes of football and, according to Socceroos match data, attempted just ten passes.

    Rogic isn’t some expendable element of the team, that we might regrettably sacrifice for the greater good; he’s perhaps our best player, certainly – with the possible exception of Daniel Arzani – the player most capable of delivering a sparkling moment of attacking incision. 

    Tomas Rogic congratulated by team generic football

    AAP Image/Paul Miller

    One wonders exactly how strictly van Marwijk has instructed Rogic to hold that No.10 position when the team have the ball, because – apart from some fairly pedestrian lateral drifting – Rogic didn’t do much to solve his on-pitch exile.

    He didn’t drop deep to collect off the centre backs. He didn’t charge forward to break the defensive line to coax out a long ball. He didn’t swap positions with Mooy. If the opposition are content to let the centre backs pass freely – and why wouldn’t they be, who knows, maybe a calamitous error will be gifted to them – it quickly becomes clear the excess markers will be sent to nullify Rogic. 

    Rogic, for all his talent and success in Scotland is not a player who can survive yawning spells of being uninvolved. His touch and passing degrade with inactivity, and so when his teammates do finally glimpse an avenue to pass to him, this happens.

    The other problem is he provides little other than on-the-ball contributions; he doesn’t defend with relish – or, indeed, chutney – or put himself about, as it were. He doesn’t make unrewarded runs that stretch the defence into favourable shapes, like Robbie Kruse does. For a tall lad, he doesn’t win much in the air, and against Hungary he had as many fouls committed as he had duels won.

    If the system around him is actively hindering Rogic’s very point as a player, what use is he in the starting XI? Why not have the physicality and athleticism of Jackson Irvine there, or a wildcard Arzani element?

    Van Marwijk said again before the Hungary game that he has no time to experiment, but he really ought to rethink Tom Rogic’s place in the team.

    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 (41)

    • June 11th 2018 @ 7:56am
      Fadida said | June 11th 2018 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      The system arguably didn’t suit him, but against the Czechs he had plenty of the ball but continually missed simple passes. A couple of them were key passes that should have led to shots on goal.

      He’s an enigma. Arguably our most talented player, but so often looks careless and has no impact. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the more industrious but less talented Irvine start against France. Rogic might be more effective from the bench, once the game is more open

      • Roar Rookie

        June 11th 2018 @ 8:11am
        Stevo said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:11am | ! Report

        Pretty much. Enigma. Careless. Wasteful. That describes his contribution so far but then again he could do something brilliant. Borderline luxury player. With Irvine you know you’re going to get industry and output if not dazzling flair but so what. He was very effective coming off the bench against Hungary.

      • Roar Guru

        June 11th 2018 @ 9:10am
        Griffo said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

        Agree here and it may be due to confidence dropping with little impact and touch in the game that does this, but other games where he’s been involved and done similar things – baffling with the touch, technique, and vision he does have and show.

        BvM in an early interview in camp has said that Irvine and Rogić are interchangeable depending on the type of game he needs the team to play – read: opponent.

        Rogić starting the two friendlies seems to indicate his preference for France.

        But as the USA showed a direct style could trouble France so would Irvine be better to start then?

        There are no more games to test this. It’s now very real and days away.

      • Roar Guru

        June 11th 2018 @ 9:36am
        That A-League Fan said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        To be honest, I don’t know what’s the use of a playmaker who gives the ball away!

      • June 11th 2018 @ 11:14am
        Mark said | June 11th 2018 @ 11:14am | ! Report

        Rogic didn’t do much better under Ange’s system, either. Certainly not once the quality of opposition stepped up.

        The problem with Rogic is he looks fantastic beating up on minnows in the SPL and first phase qualifiers, but against decent quality opposition he goes missing. I suspect Premier League clubs have noticed it too, hence why he has never earned that big move that seems to get talked about every year.

        • June 11th 2018 @ 3:33pm
          Fadida said | June 11th 2018 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

          I tend to agree Mark. The Scottish league is so woefully one sided that he can drop in and out of games. He’s thrown his career away in Scotland

        • June 12th 2018 @ 12:36pm
          striker said | June 12th 2018 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

          yep i agree he does not have the quality hence why he re-signed in the SPL for another 5 yrs, he loses way too many balls for the national team, for me his very overrated, i hope he proves me wrong at this world cup.

    • June 11th 2018 @ 8:00am
      Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      We have been defending too deep and as a result the two strikers up front have been isolated. Defend higher up the park and Rogic will be better on and off the ball. Risdon, needs to show more if we are to control the opposition’s attack—he is the week link at the moment. Also Milligan’s performance as a CB is a big concern.

      • June 11th 2018 @ 8:32am
        Fadida said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:32am | ! Report

        Defend high v France and lose 5-0

        • Roar Rookie

          June 11th 2018 @ 8:36am
          Waz said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:36am | ! Report

          That’s it. Defend deep and draw 0-0.

        • June 11th 2018 @ 9:02am
          Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:02am | ! Report

          In 2010 Pim Verbeek sent out our team to defend deep against Germany and we got thumped 5 zero.

          • Roar Guru

            June 11th 2018 @ 9:17am
            Griffo said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:17am | ! Report

            Pim used a different formation than what got us through qualifying so well, but used the second half vs USA final warm up to test it.

            We were all at sea in confusion but Podolskis goal didn’t help.

            Germany were expecting a tough game and later wondered why we changed.

            Pim tried to out-think Löw for the win and it failed 🙁

            • June 11th 2018 @ 9:27am
              Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:27am | ! Report

              Yep, exactly the system which Fad and Waz want to employ against France. (park the bus behind the keeper). 😉

              • Roar Rookie

                June 11th 2018 @ 9:43am
                Waz said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

                It’s not the system I want to employ … it is the system Bert seems to be planning.

                My only concern and the only change I would make, is for a defensive system like this to work the forwards need to provide some relief at times during the game. I don’t see that happening right now (and that’s partly my logic for wanting Arzani in).

        • Roar Guru

          June 11th 2018 @ 9:44am
          That A-League Fan said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:44am | ! Report

          To be honest Fadida, I’m doubtful that will be the case. France hasn’t scored many goals in World Cup Qualifying and the last time they scored 5 goals was nearly two years ago. Besides, Australia has defended high before and never conceded 5 goals. But defending deep could be a gamble if France scores early.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 11th 2018 @ 8:35am
        Waz said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

        “We’ve been defending too deep” – that’s exactly the system that BVM is employing though, 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 with the “1” meant to be the link in transition from deep defence to attack. Is Rogic capable of that role?

        The deep lying midfield is also allowing a Midfielder to drop in to the back line creating five at the back when required. This will be BVMs tactics to defend/not to lose against France.

        Arzani for me is the only player that can provide the spark up front and give France a headache if they push too far forward on a Socceroos defence that’s likely to dig in from kick off.

        • June 11th 2018 @ 9:20am
          Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:20am | ! Report

          The 442 system is the problem—it’s an old unimaginative system to adopt. To play that system you need two world class strikers who are good in the air, good on the ground with and top notch ball control and lightening speed, to counter attack. I don’t think we have anything near that quality of player to perform that role.

          • Roar Rookie

            June 11th 2018 @ 9:44am
            Waz said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:44am | ! Report

            @ Caltex, I think it’s a 4-4-1-1 he’s planning – defend and counter.

            • June 11th 2018 @ 9:53am
              Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:53am | ! Report

              4411 or 442, no difference, it’s basically the same system. Defend deep and counter.

              • Roar Rookie

                June 11th 2018 @ 10:57am
                Waz said | June 11th 2018 @ 10:57am | ! Report

                Not really. It’s up front where the 442 and 4411 formations really differ.

                442 requires two strikers eg Maclaren and Keogh played very well in that system but you couldn’t play both in a 4-4-1-1.

                4-4-1-1 requires one striker and a creative linking player behind in the AM role who’s job is to find space, receive the ball, hold and distribute the ball to wide midfielders/wingers and wing backs and feed the attacker where possible. Also helps if they can score too but that’s only a part of the role.

                I dont dislike the formation personally. Done well it’s very effective but the counter to the 4411 is to attack the central midfield area and overwhelm the lone AM and the two central
                midfielders – this is what’s being described here and likely what France will try and do to us.

                Put Arzani in that role and watch the difference IF he can get the ball.

              • June 11th 2018 @ 11:57am
                Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | June 11th 2018 @ 11:57am | ! Report

                I didn’t see it that way—no two striker will ever be identical and you will only ever have about six metres apart between them; you’ll never see two striker in a 442 system in a horizontal straight line formation in any case; they will switch over one leading in front of the other as play unfolds. 4411 suggests that one striker sits permanently behind the other for the entire game and that’s false premise. I didn’t see that in the Hungry game both strikers were swapping over front and back during the match; like in a normal 422 system.

              • Roar Rookie

                June 11th 2018 @ 12:14pm
                Waz said | June 11th 2018 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

                Well there’s nothing more to discuss then.

        • June 11th 2018 @ 9:39am
          MQ said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:39am | ! Report

          Yes, it was very clearly a 4411 employed the other night.

          There was one small twist I noticed (very difficult to discern on the TV screen), the midfield line took on a diagonal shape as the ball swept from one side of the field to the other, it looked well orchestrated, and was held quite well, my guess is that BVM was trying out a structure he intends to use against the French, and fortunately, the game was played at a slow enough pace for the socceroos to try it (the game is likely to go up a notch or two against the French).

    • June 11th 2018 @ 8:01am
      Kangas said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      A really interesting article.

      Rogic must be getting frustrated and maybe he needs to come back deep and break the hard tag so to speak . Become a bit more interchangeable on the odd occasion with Robbie Kruse or Leckie ..
      I certainly wouldn’t play rogic as a number 9 as he wouldn’t offer enough defensive pressure.. .. Nabbout or juric will do a lot selfless running in defence against France .

      The biggest 2 questions for the team is who does Jedinak come in for. Luongo or Milligan
      Also , does Arzani start in front of Kruse

    • June 11th 2018 @ 8:03am
      jbinnie said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:03am | ! Report

      Evan – An in depth critique of Tom Rogic and how he is being used in “BVM’s system”
      First of all that system is not new, and is being widely used across the whole spectrum of top class football today.
      So what is a very talented ,if somewhat lacking in true pace,individual to do to justify his selection in our top eleven.
      First of all we have to look at statistics and how they are procured and registered. A successful “pass” today is counted when two central defenders pass the ball to each other while under no pressure, as opposition players retreat to re-set themselves for their next counter attack.
      To beat this organised retreating defence, “passing” has to be deadly accurate and, much more than that, the successful pass has to put pressure on those players retreating into their own half therefore “speed of pass” has to be addressed and become even more important as to how successful a system will operate.
      During this game we noted almost constant cross field passing going on among back four players which actually puts a “death knell” on truly progressive play. Today’s tactics show that players in the opposition are not going to be lured up-field in an attempt to win possession,in our case opponents are quite willing to wait until one of our players make an error and then triggers a counter.
      Into this scenario we have a player with above average skill levels, both in ball skills and vision, being totally nullified by close marking, or numerical superiority.
      It is this area of ball movement ,both in accuracy and speed that will go a long way to improving Rogic’s contribution in what today is usually a “crowded” midfield. Until that is accomplished we will see our more gifted individuals being nullified. Cheers jb.

    • June 11th 2018 @ 8:19am
      Squizz said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      Rogic looked better in the second half of the Czech game because as the Czech’s tired Mooy’s passing got better and Mooy advanced a bit more. this meant that Rogic was not so isolated. In the game against Hungary neither Luongo or Mooy trusted each other to play the lone screener role so Rogic was terribly isolated. It wasn’t until Jedinak came on that Mooy had the belief to press forward and give Rogic some support. So the problem is not the system but the balance of the selection.

      To my mind both Jedinak and Rogic are important for Australia defensively and offensively. Jedinak is the only one that can play the screening role by himself, That can free up Irvine, Luongo or Mooy to move forward without concern and link up with Rogic.

      For all the complaints about Rogic’s isolation though he was constantly being watched by three or four players well into the Hungary half. As a result those three or four players were not further up the park attacking our goal.

      • June 11th 2018 @ 6:00pm
        nevyn said | June 11th 2018 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

        “So the problem is not the system but the balance of the selection.” is spot on. Blaming the system fails to understand how the players around Rogic can affect the way that he performs.

        The video above shows a clear example of both Mooy dropping deep almost between the centre backs, and Luongo dropping wide into the space between right back and centre back, which is fine when teams are pressing up on your defence and you need an outlet.

        However in most of the situations against Hungary both Mooy and Luongo went deep searching for the ball when Hungary had dropped deep and compacted as a unit. It essentially left Rogic as one midfielder vs Hungary’s three midfielders who were then free to pressure elsewhere on the pitch.

        Whether it was Jedinak, instructions by Van Marwijk, or Hungary being more adventurous, or possibly a combination of those reasons, we were able to get Mooy higher up the pitch and tempt Hungary’s midfielders out and create space for Rogic and then Irvine when he came on.

        It speaks to a larger issue with our football development as a country. We have struggled against a lot of deep lying compact opponents because for the most part our midfielders don’t know or aren’t good enough to get into tight areas and tempt opposition defenders to step out of the defensive block.

    • June 11th 2018 @ 8:41am
      MQ said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      My immediate response: would not BVM be very happy to leave Rogic isolated up against two opponents if it means being able to quickly fold back to two deep lines of defence when we lose possession?

      The answer is an overwhelming yes! (especially in the opening game against France).

      Make no mistake, putting aside our overall sloppiness the other night, BVM had clearly structured us with France in mind.

      Expect more of the same in the opening game.

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