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How soon is too soon for a coach to abandon a system?

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10th November, 2019

A couple of intriguing A-League clashes turned into markedly different contests on Sunday, even if the two contrasting results will have left Marco Kurz and Robbie Fowler sweating.

Ola Toivonen strikes you as the sort of character who arrived in Australia not quite knowing what to expect before realising shortly after that he’s actually the A-League’s biggest star.

And it’s safe to say the big Swede had an eventful afternoon in Victory’s 1-1 draw with the Phoenix at AAMI Park on Sunday.

It might have taken the VAR more than two minutes to award an early penalty against Toivonen for handball, but it was the correct decision. And having had so many decisions go against them to start the season, the Phoenix were probably due.

Ola Toivonen

(Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Mind you, Ulises Davila looked like he stopped completely during his stutter-step run-up – perhaps the VAR should have intervened – although it was nice to see Wellington not chasing the game for once.

It was interesting to see some new faces line up in a re-jigged Victory formation as well.

You know things aren’t going well as a playmaker when your replacement is Leigh Broxham. But no Kristijan Dobras in midfield meant a switch from a 4-2-3-1 formation against Western United to a nominal 4-1-4-1 formation against the Phoenix.

While wide men Elvis Kamsoba and Kenny Athiu frequently checked back inside to lend Toivonen support in attack, the pair were both guilty of giving the ball away frequently and spurning the chances that came their way.


Athiu plays like a traditional target man in attack while the pacy Kamsoba is more of an old-school winger, yet the problem for both players remains their inability to convert chances.

But when you’ve lost the likes of Terry Antonis, Keisuke Honda, James Troisi and Kosta Barbarouses in quick succession, new Victory coach Kurz can’t exactly afford to be choosy.

That’s especially the case with both Dobras and Jakob Poulsen making a mockery of the frequent online suggestion that any competent European player would “destroy the A-League”.

Poulsen was the 2009 Danish Superliga player of the year, but yesterday was the first time in the A-League he even looked like he knew which team to pass the ball to.

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The practise of slotting players into specific systems is something Brisbane Roar fans will have to get used to this season too.

It should be noted that if any of Scott Neville, Brad Inman, Jay O’Shea and Dylan Wenzel-Halls were better finishers, Robbie Fowler wouldn’t have spent the second post-match press conference in a row lamenting how many chances his team had missed.

“It can’t keep happening really,” Fowler said in the aftermath of the Roar’s 1-0 defeat to Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

“We do a lot of finishing, we do a lot on team shape, we do a lot of work in all aspects of football, but if you keep missing chances like the chances that we’ve had, then it makes football matches a little bit harder.”


Fowler’s side certainly plays like a unit that has had its shape drilled into them but, like Victory, they haven’t had much success in a couple of key areas.

Against Adelaide, Jake McGing and Scott Neville were both deployed as wing-backs in a 3-4-2-1 formation and ultimately ran themselves into the ground. And like Kamsoba and Athiu for Victory, it was perhaps more a case of fitting players into a specific system rather than creating a system for specific players.

The question is: should coaches stick steadfastly to a system or completely overhaul tactics and personnel if results aren’t going their way?

Both Fowler and Kurz have shown they’re flexible enough to make changes on a game-by-game basis.

So should we expect more changes heading into their games against Melbourne City and Sydney FC next week?