Do the Socceroos’ best players fit Bert’s system?

Tim Palmer Columnist

By Tim Palmer, Tim Palmer is a Roar Expert

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    The midfield zone was the area of greatest strength during the Ange Postecoglou era, but also the most problematic.

    At the start of his regime, he had Mile Jedinak, Mark Milligan, Matt McKay, James Holland, Oliver Bozanic, Mark Bresciano and Tom Rogic to choose from for the three midfield roles in a 4-2-1-3 formation.

    Bresciano was the link player, knitting the side together with his clever movement and composure in possession.

    Before the 2015 Asian Cup, however, Postecoglou wanted to ease the team’s reliance on Tim Cahill, and create a more fluid, attack-minded system which could allow the central midfielders to get forward and rotate with the front three for higher-quality attacking opportunities.

    This manifested in a 4-3-3 with ‘two 8s’, one of whom was Massimo Luongo, who broke through at the Asian Cup itself with his exciting blend of thrust and energy from midfield. Luongo’s goals, breaking forward from midfield, typified the changes Postecoglou made in this zone.

    Aaron Mooy did not even make the Asian Cup squad, but his emergence as an elite playmaker at Melbourne City then Huddersfield, meant Postecoglou had to evolve the Socceroos formation to fit him in.

    At first, this involved a 4-4-2 diamond, with Rogic, Mooy, Luongo and Jedinak a surprisingly strong spine for a team said to be lacking for talent.

    Yet the diamond didn’t offer natural width high up the pitch, which in turn reduced the space between the lines for the midfield playmakers. Coupled with the arrival of yet another talented midfielder, Jackson Irvine, who has the relatively unique ability among Socceroos midfielders to be able to run in behind from the #10 position, it meant Postecoglou turned to the 3-2-4-1 formation.

    Although controversial, the box midfield was logical, with Jedinak, Mooy and Luongo all better suited to the deeper #6 roles, and Irvine, Rogic and even Robbie Kruse able to play in the advanced #10 positions.

    However, the box did not necessarily suit the unique attributes of all the midfield players. In fact, we had an early insight into this when Postecoglou moved Mooy into the #10 position against Germany in the Confederations Cup. Mooy was highly ineffective in this position, constantly dropping back towards the ball and removing Australia’s overload between the lines made possible by the unorthodox 3-2-4-1.

    Hence, Postecoglou changed the format of the midfield quartet for the knockout ties against Syria and Honduras, using a diamond. In this setup, Luongo and Mooy were two 8s, moving between defenders to find space, allowing Irvine to play higher up, running in behind striker Tomi Juric.

    Clearly, Postecoglou had to do a lot to try and accommodate his midfielders into a system – arguably, too much. The constant evolution of the formation does signify the wider issue, which is the difficulty in fitting the likes of Mooy, Luongo, Rogic and Jedinak into a system.

    Bert van Marwijk’s approach is more straightforward. He has never strayed from a 4-2-3-1 formation, where the deep midfield pair sit in front of the defence, protect the centre-backs and control the tempo of the game through slow ball circulation from side to side. The #10 plays higher, between the lines – the link in the centre of the pitch to the front third who can turn in tight spaces and focus on creating chances.

    That suits Rogic, who has only impressed in fits and starts but is tactically the most suitable player for what Bert van Marwijk wants in attack. Rogic has the ability to receive under pressure between the lines, and turn away from defenders with his deft change of pace. What he lacks is the mobility to press energetically from the front or get in behind defences in the way Irvine can, which is partly why the latter felt like such a breath of fresh air off the bench against Hungary.

    Tom Rogic

    AAP Image/David Moir

    Yet Irvine is not as individually talented as the likes of Mooy and Luongo, who face their own battle to make the starting XI. The duo started both recent friendlies together in the deeper 6 positions, their nominal positions.  

    Luongo’s strength is receiving in tight areas to dribble forward, or driving at defenders with the ball – he’s more about energy and thrust than creativity. Mooy, on the other hand, is best when on the ball with time and space in deep positions, playing clever through balls forward and pinging long diagonals to teammates getting in behind the defence. As foreshadowed by the Germany game, he isn’t as skilled playing higher up and receiving under pressure.

    Therefore, it is not logical to push either Mooy or Luongo of them forward into the #10 position, but if they both play deep, where does that leave Jedinak?

    On paper, the captain is the most logical player for Van Marwijk’s style of play – physical, disciplined and safe with his passing, able to protect the back four and maintain the tempo of the game. He did not start against Czech Republic or Hungary, but that can likely be attributed to managing his fitness, and it seems implausible, particularly after a solid second-half performance against the latter, that he will not start against France.

    So, Mooy or Luongo? Mooy is the better player, having completed a fine season with Premier League underdogs Huddersfield, but question marks remain about his best position for the national team. Arguably, Mooy, as a deep-lying playmaker, is best when his side controls possession – which the Socceroos won’t do against any of the three teams in their group – but also when there is space in behind the opposition defence, as he is capable of starting counter-attacks with early, incisive forward passes. That makes sense given Australia’s likely route to goal via counter-attacks.

    Yet Luongo impressed when partnered with Jedinak for a March friendly against Colombia. Van Marwijk indicated as much.

    “He was one of our best players,” said the Dutchman.

    “He understands it, he knows the spaces and where he has to stand.

    “He’s also strong. You can see the chance he had that he created himself, it was his quality. I was very satisfied about him.”

    In many ways, Luongo’s energy, ability to cover ground quickly and take defenders on in tight spaces makes him a more logical tactical fit next to Jedinak.

    On paper, there are arguments for and against both, which suggests Van Marwijk might be damned if he does, or damned if he doesn’t. Nevertheless, Australia’s chances in the World Cup might hinge on this decision.

    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 (11)

    • June 13th 2018 @ 9:05am
      MQ said | June 13th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      “The midfield zone was the area of greatest strength during the Ange Postecoglou era…”

      So it should be, the 3-2-4-1 we used is a version of a 3-6-1, i.e. six players in midfield. It’s main intent is to place maximum numbers in midfield to control the midfield, and thereby dominate possession. This was where Ange was heading with the formation. People often referred to the formation as being overly aggressive in terms of attacking intent, and it was, but in all honesty, only marginally so. As always, the attacking intent as as much dependent on attacking mentality and how advanced the lines are as anything else.

      I agree that by definition, the formation lacked a bit of width, with only one wide player either side (and hence the capcity to put numbers in the middle of the park).

      • June 13th 2018 @ 6:17pm
        Kurt said | June 13th 2018 @ 6:17pm | ! Report

        you cant jam 6 midfielders in to midfielders, just because we’re strong there.
        it will congest our strongest players, and ignore our weaknesses, as Ange found out!!!

        • June 13th 2018 @ 6:36pm
          Kurt said | June 13th 2018 @ 6:36pm | ! Report


    • June 13th 2018 @ 10:16am
      Newie said | June 13th 2018 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      Nice analysis thanks for the read.

      Maybe BVM will use one pairing in one game and a different pair in another game? Seems obvious to me. Isn’t it? Surely he’d want a variety of solutions in a tournament, which can be physically very taxing on individual players. For example Jedi & Mooy vs France, Mooy & Luongo vs Denmark?

      • June 13th 2018 @ 10:46am
        Kris said | June 13th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        I’d use Jedi against France because we are going to take a beating (even if we pinch a draw). Jedi can park himself in the middle and kick anyone who comes near him and take a yellow.

        Then you can run Mooy and Mini Mass at the two teams we need to get results against; with Irvine as the option for game 3 if you have lost one of the other two for yellows in the first two games.

    • June 13th 2018 @ 10:42am
      Kris said | June 13th 2018 @ 10:42am | ! Report

      Nice read, but perhaps over-emphasising formation.

      Saying he ‘never strayed from a 4-2-3-1 formation’ doesn’t account for the 4-4-1-1 that we are frequently in. Leckie and Kruse fold back to the wings to support the full backs.

      The when Jedinak drops back (or holds) to become a 3rd central defender allowing Risdon and Gerbach to bomb forward, we are back in Ange’s 3-5-1-1 when in possesion.

      I’d say we defend as a 4-4-1-1 (and will probably see that early in games – Rogic and Juric are near passengers) and then when we have the ball are more a 3-5-1-1 … shifting to a 3-5-2 when chasing the game.

      Really all depends on where Kruze and Leckie are at any moment, and if a central midfielder holds or pushes on.

      I don’t see that much difference between Ange and BVM in formations. Ange used Sainsbury as an extra defender with licence to go into the midfield when we had the ball. BVM uses the skipper as an extra mid who drops back into defence when we don’t have the ball. End result is much the same.

    • June 13th 2018 @ 1:27pm
      TDV said | June 13th 2018 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

      Thanks for the article, Tim. I have learnt so much from reading your analyses over the years.

      I agree with the commenter who said our starting combinations in midfield are likely to change from game to game as a result of opponents’ game plans, tournament situation, and later on injuries and suspensions.

      For France, I think it will be Jedinak and Mooy as the 6s with Rogic as the 10. Irvine starting as the 10 will be a sign of damage limitation. Luongo unlucky to miss out but he will have a role in games 2 and 3.

      Does anyone know of similarly detailed tactical analysis on France, Denmark and Peru? Are they generally proactive or reactive? Will they press or retreat to a line of engagement?

      Also, how will BVM cover the defensive liability of Risdon? I can see France building up on their left flank and then looking for the fast/direct switch out to the other side, knowing that Australia’s defensive block will be shading towards its right side to cover Risdon. We saw Czechia try that a few times and if France can use it to get in behind Behich it will be huge danger.

      • June 13th 2018 @ 6:43pm
        Kurt said | June 13th 2018 @ 6:43pm | ! Report

        risdon is extremelly weak against speed, id be conceding posession to defend on our side of the park, and hit them on the counter hopefully, its what the US did it and it worked a treat, the french then have to build up against a strong defensive block with less chance of holes

    • June 13th 2018 @ 4:49pm
      Kangas said | June 13th 2018 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

      Good article Tim

      Our midfield is like a box of chocolates,

      before the Hungary game I was convinced that jedinak should be on the bench v France , but I can see the reasons for him to start.

      But then we lose Luongo , who can dribble forward and create a few problems for the opponent.
      maybe if Jedi starts for Luongo , then Arzani starts instead of Kruse ,to give the team some creativity.

    • June 14th 2018 @ 7:29am
      jbinnie said | June 14th 2018 @ 7:29am | ! Report

      Tim – You can speculate all you want on formations,diamonds screeners and wing backs but the biggest problem facing anyone who takes on the Socceroo coaching job over the last 4 or 5 years is the blatant inability to score goals ,which after all should be the main aim of any team.
      Our transition from defence to attack is painfully slow and will remain so as long as we persevere with this playing “out from the back” at all costs
      .’Playing out from the back” is actually based on the theory that if a pass is made over a shorter distance it has much more chance of finding it’s target that a 50 metre “punt”.
      Where our mis-understanding of the term manifests itself, is that those same passes have to be made quickly and accurately and must cross the middle third with the fastest speed possible. That creates pressure on a retreating defence and it is the failure to recognise r this simple fact of football that is causing the Socceroos the original observation I made,
      Measure the success of your system on the number of strikes on target ,that are being accomplished by the general play in your system, that is the only true way of measuring whether a “system” is working. Cheers jb.

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