The key tactical battleground in Australia’s crucial match against Denmark

Tim Palmer Columnist

By Tim Palmer, Tim Palmer is a Roar Expert

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    Australia defended very well for long periods against France, frustrating the European giants with a well-organised defensive block.

    This has become the defining feature of Bert van Marwijk’s tenure. Whereas under Ange Postecoglou, Australia defended through pressing and trying to win the ball high, now the strategy is about being compact, structured and getting numbers behind the ball quickly.

    This often involves moving quickly into a 4-4-2 shape, with the No. 10 and No. 9 quickly blocking central areas of the pitch, looking to deny the opponent from playing through these areas.

    The two central midfielders, Aaron Mooy and Mile Jedinak against France, rarely stray from their position in front of the back four both with and without the ball, so there is always a solid shape down the centre of the pitch to protect against counter-attacks.

    They also have an important role when the opponent controls possession for long periods. In these moments, the two No. 6s block passes into players behind them, between the lines. Against France, with their fluid front three of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, this was crucial.

    Antoine Griezmann celebrates scoring against Australia

    (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

    The three forwards constantly interchanged fluidly between their positions, positioning themselves in pockets of space behind Australia’s midfield line Mooy and Jedinak’s role was to screen, by constantly scanning over their shoulder and adjusting their position to block passing lanes from deeper midfielders into more advanced players.

    This can be more difficult than it sounds. It requires midfielders to focus on two sources of information – one in front, one behind, and make decisions quickly according to what they see.

    Clever forwards will adjust their position in the moment when their screener looks away or at the ball, and so the screener must scan again to block the passing lane.

    Blocking forward passes is easier when there are more numbers behind the ball, which is something Australia did well. Matt Leckie and Robbie Kruse, hard-working attackers selected for their ability to cover high distance diligently, dropped back alongside the 6s to create a midfield line of four.

    This is what creates a ‘block’ – getting organised in a defensive shape, being compact as a unit and protecting key spaces, in this case, the midfield zone, between the lines.

    This benefits the centre-backs, too. Trent Sainsbury and Mark Milligan very rarely had to step forward out of their position to press players between the lines. This meant they weren’t being dragged out of shape at the back, which can create gaps for forward runs and forward passes.

    Noticeably, the key defensive moments were from balls played in behind – for example, Trent Sainsbury’s superb over-the-head control inside the penalty area from a lofted ball into the box – rather than perhaps a centre-back having to dash forward to intercept a pass into an attacker.

    On the same note, it’s telling that France’s second goal came when they were able to drag a centre-back out of position. The introduction of Olivier Giroud caused real problems for the two No. 6s, who now had to block passes into both a No. 9 playing high (Giroud) and a No. 10 between the lines (Mbappe).

    Additionally, Giroud cleverly positioned himself in the same receiving line as the No. 10, as to block the view of the centre-back who might have to step forward and press the player between the lines.

    This was the one time France were able to play quick combinations – breaking through Australia’s midfield screeners to be able to drag a centre-back out of the defence and create gaps to penetrate into.

    This becomes particularly pertinent considering the tactical identity of the next opponent, Denmark.

    Denmark’s 4-2-3-1 revolves around Christian Eriksen as the No. 10, who moves intelligently between the lines and is adept at finding space to receive. Mooy and Jedinak will need to be very aware of the playmaker’s movement, as this is Denmark’s primary route to goal.

    As with Giroud, the positioning of the No. 9, Nicolai Jorgensen, might be key. Positioning on the same side as Eriksen could create space whereby the No. 10 can get free by moving into a new line of pass away from Jedinak or Mooy in front of him, in the moment when the No. 6 looks at the ball, and Jorgensen can occupy the centre-back to prevent him from stepping up to close down Eriksen.

    Alternatively, if the centre-back does step forward, this is the moment to look to get in behind.

    The positive for Australia is that these moments are few and far between. Whatever your opinion of the new style of play, it is hard to deny that the side have transitioned to it very quickly.

    Australia’s defensive block is very hard to beat – albeit with a few opportunities for opponents to exploit – and the tactical ‘battle’ between Eriksen and Australia’s 6s will be key to this crucial group game.

    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 (24)

    • Roar Rookie

      June 20th 2018 @ 9:16am
      Waz said | June 20th 2018 @ 9:16am | ! Report

      Will BVM deviate from his 4-4-1-1 set-up?

      Highly unlikely however I can’t see us winning this one without more umph up front.

      If he sticks with the lone striker I’d go with Cahill up front (not something I thought I’d be saying pre-World Cup) who will at least offer a significant aerial threat and can be subbed off after the hour if it’s not working or we need fresh legs.

      • June 20th 2018 @ 10:55am
        Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | June 20th 2018 @ 10:55am | ! Report

        We need a win, so I’d do a Southgate and go for it, with a 3-5-2.

        • June 20th 2018 @ 12:08pm
          James said | June 20th 2018 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

          And thats why youll never manage a team. Australia doesnt have the players to manage a 3-5-2.

          • June 20th 2018 @ 12:24pm
            Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | June 20th 2018 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

            Neither does Gareth Southgate, but they still won.

            • June 20th 2018 @ 4:52pm
              Fadida said | June 20th 2018 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

              Great coaching Caltex. Convert to a system that the team haven’t trained for, and that one didn’t suit these players under Ange.

              You realise Southgate has utilised this system with England for a dozen matches?

              Do you also realise that a 1-0 win still gets 3 points, so we don’t exactly have to “go for it” now do we? The last thing we want is to concede the first goal and have to chase the game. Erickson will destroy us on the counter.

              • June 20th 2018 @ 7:02pm
                Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | June 20th 2018 @ 7:02pm | ! Report

                I can’t see how we can win with 10 men camped in our own box for 90 mins. Are you waiting for a miracle? You do realize at some stage we are going to have to go forward to win this one don’t you to progress out of the group?

              • June 20th 2018 @ 8:33pm
                Fadida said | June 20th 2018 @ 8:33pm | ! Report

                Missing the point again.

                No one is suggesting 10 men behind the ball. We don’t need to win 5-0 either.

              • June 21st 2018 @ 9:55am
                Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | June 21st 2018 @ 9:55am | ! Report

                So your point is: we play for a penalty in the first 4 mins, get one, score, then defend our box for the remainder 86 mins… 🙂

    • June 20th 2018 @ 9:27am
      shirtpants said | June 20th 2018 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      We should sacrifice a little defensive stability for a little more attacking output as I really feel this is a must win for us. I don’t want to head into the Peru game knowing we need a win against Peru and relying on France to get the job done against Denmark who may well only need a point each to go through. We shouldn’t be leaving it up to other results.

      However, if BVM feels keeping the defensive structure is paramount and believing we can get something out of a set piece or counter then I truly hope he’s right.

      I’d like to see Cahill get half a game; either half is fine. Luongo to get significant game time. Rogic has done too little for too long. Arzani for Kruse if we are going to take it to the Danes from the whistle.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 20th 2018 @ 10:04am
      The Phantom Commissioner said | June 20th 2018 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      We did suffocate France in the middle of the park for very long periods of the game, apart from the early moments when France had a few chances and a sustained period of goalmouth pressure. Logic would say Denmark have far less quality overall in an attacking sense and playing in the same manner would stifle Denmark, as far logic ever comes into it in football. If Erikson is kept quiet our chances increase ten fold as well as we saw in their warmup against Sweden they are fairly impotent without their talisman running the show….a little lucky to come away with the points against Peru by all accounts as well.

      However we need the points so what will BVM do, play the same and hope we score with the few chances we’ll get or go all out for the win. History says he doesn’t tinker too much so it’s likely the former, either way i’m getting nervous already. Sadly i just get that ominous feeling we’ll bow out but i hope i’m wrong. Go out and play the game of your lives boys and keep us in this group.

    • June 20th 2018 @ 10:20am
      Lionheart said | June 20th 2018 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      I haven’t seen the Denmark-Peru match but obviously we’ll have to attack more than we did against France. I guess a lot depends on Denmark’s defence of set pieces as to whether Cahill or Arzani is our best option for that attack. Cahill will doubtless attract a few defenders, which Arzani may not. In any case, go Socceroos.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 20th 2018 @ 11:39am
        Lancey5times said | June 20th 2018 @ 11:39am | ! Report

        Probably makes sense to have them both on the ground at the same time. I’d start Kruze and Juric them sub them both after 55 minutes for Azzani and Cahill.

        Or just do what I’ve wanted for a year and play Rogic at 9, Mooy at 10 and Jedinak and Luongo in front of the defence. I know this won’t happen though

    • June 20th 2018 @ 10:47am
      MQ said | June 20th 2018 @ 10:47am | ! Report

      The author talks about how tight we are in the middle of defence, but let’s not forget that players such as Poulsen and Sisto are equally comfortable out wide as playing through the middle – so defending our flanks will be every bit as important as safeguarding the middle.

      The other thing to note is that Denmark has already wrapped up a very valuable 3 points against a good opponent. In the game against Australia, they don’t need to over commit. How adventurous will Australia be in coming forward? One thing for sure, Denmark’s counters are lightning quick, so don’t be surprised if they remain patient and rely on a few of those for the whole 90 minutes, safe in the knowledge that a draw will do them just fine. They’ll put the onus back on Australia to try and do something.

      For those interested in such stats:
      – Australia has now last four consecutive world cup games and has conceded at least two goals in every game
      – Australia has played 9 European opponents in the history of the WC, with 1 win, 1 draw and 7 losses.

      • June 20th 2018 @ 11:33am
        Kris said | June 20th 2018 @ 11:33am | ! Report

        Exactly. France wanted to play through the middle, so we played narrow and deep. We dared them to put the ball out to the flanks with our fullbacks tucked right in – and France refused to take the bait.

        We basically gambled – we will back ourselves to defend the middle and dare you to go down the flanks and put in a cross we can’t deal with. Until Giroud came on it was going to work a treat because France refused to attack our wide positions – and wouldn’t have won a header even if they did put in a cross.

        Denmark will happily attack us from wide positions and love putting in crosses to their two big target men. If we play deep and narrow against Denmark we will be in lots of pain. Norway beat us 4-1 with Kamara getting a hattrick – 2 from running at the left back position.

        Denmark also won’t want to dominate possession – they only had 47% possession against Peru and had fewer chances (5 v 15).

        So I guess Denmark would love if we played narrow and pressed giving them counterattacks.

        So I guess we will have to look to control possession more and build up attacks a bit more patiently; play the full backs wider.

        I wonder if Jurman comes in at CB and Milligan steps out into the number 6 role, and Mooy pushes forward into Juric’s role.

        The extra height of Jurman against the Denmark big blokes, Milligan rounding up Eriksen in that number 10 space.

        • June 20th 2018 @ 1:12pm
          MQ said | June 20th 2018 @ 1:12pm | ! Report

          Good post, agreed.

        • Roar Rookie

          June 20th 2018 @ 4:59pm
          The Phantom Commissioner said | June 20th 2018 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

          I think the friendlies where very good prep for the Danes. Adam Szalia (6ft 4) for Hungary and Michael Krmencik (6ft 2) so i think the lessons have been learnt from the Norway game.

    • June 20th 2018 @ 11:01am
      Franko said | June 20th 2018 @ 11:01am | ! Report

      Can’t see Rogic running out another 90 mins so Luongo should either start ahead of him or replace him on the hour.

      Feel like Juric should start ahead of Nabbout, and Cahill needs a run.

      • Roar Guru

        June 20th 2018 @ 5:13pm
        Griffo said | June 20th 2018 @ 5:13pm | ! Report

        Depending on how much he’s recovered, this might be the game where Jurić needs to start.

        I think Arzani subbing Kruse at some point is the go to change, while Cahill vs Maclaren will depend on how well Denmark deals with crosses. Cahill has the better scoring record but Maclaren is faster…

        Other than that can’t see much change from France game, except Luongo for Jedinak…

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