The A-League season has been full of surprises, from Wellington Phoenix’s continued rise to the initial hope followed by the familiar disappointment of Western Sydney Wanderers.
Melbourne Victory, though, might just be the biggest shock, as they languish in eighth place after ten games, only two points above last place.
Newly appointed coach Marco Kurz was given the difficult task of following Kevin Muscat, whose identity was forged with the club’s own.
Add the loss of key players such as James Troisi and Keisuke Honda and there was going to be a big shake-up on the field too.
At first, it looked like Kurz had produced an exciting new line-up, bringing in Socceroos stars Robbie Kruse and Andrew Nabbout, as well as Ivory Coast international Adama Traore and Danish veteran Jakob Poulsen. All hugely experienced and talented players with outstanding CVs.
What’s gone wrong then for Victory, traditionally one of the A-League’s titans?
Making the most out of Toivonen
Kurz constant shuffling was initially forced by injuries and international fixtures, but in recent weeks, with everyone fit, he still can’t find the right balance.
The former Adelaide United coach has also confused the way he wants his team to play. Sometimes, they’re pressing high up the pitch, looking to win the ball aggressively, while in other fixtures they are happy to sit back and look to attack on the counter.
Their attacking game revolves around Ola Toivonen, perhaps the best striker in the league, and Kurz should take advantage of that as much as possible.
After a short experiment as a number 10, it’s clear that Toivonen works best as a striker who comes short into midfield and pulls defenders out with him, as the clips above shows.
His style clashes with foreign signing Kristijan Dobras, who also wants to operate in between the lines, which is a big part of why the Austrian has struggled so far in the A-League.
The forward line up should exploit the space that their captain creates, and best equipped for these roles are Elvis Kamsoba, Nabbout and Kruse.
Narrow structure leaves Victory vulnerable
Victory don’t bomb their fullbacks up like Rhyan Grant and Michael Zullo at Sydney FC. While this should mean they don’t get exploited defensively, this is rarely the case, largely because those defenders’ positioning creates plenty of space for opponents.
Many goals conceded have come from teams exploiting territory on the flanks that Kurz’s fullbacks have surrendered due to a structure.
Although this particular image didn’t end up in a goal, take a look at the positioning of Perth Glory right back Ivan Franjic and Kruse, who should be tracking him, as well as the defensive line up, who are all within the length of the penalty box.
Bruno Fornaroli’s astute positioning has pinned Leigh Broxham and Traore from moving out wide to cover the run of Franjic. Kruse though, is way too central and this gave plenty of space for Glory to attack.
Diego Castro ended up playing a pass down the middle though, and Glory gave up possession moments later, with Franjic flailing his arms in frustration.
Playing in a narrow structure is fine – the objective is to block the opposition from scoring, which means you must have control of the central areas. In saying that, the wide areas still need to be protected by the wingers and crosses should be stopped at the source, not competing against strikers in the box.
Victory are too predictable in attack
A number of teams struggle with what to do with the ball when they are looking to open up a deep block of defence. This has made it popular for teams to sit back and attack in the moments after the ball has been won.
Those transition phases can be chaotic, which defenders hate. Suddenly, they are running back towards their defence with a winger charging, ready to use the momentum to dribble past.
Kurz has looked to exploit this trend as well, with many goals coming through quick counter-attacks.
Their primary outlet has been to unleash Nabbout and Kruse out wide into space and let them cut in towards goal, as the opener versus Western United exemplified.
That same game also revealed Victory’s weaknesses, though. Once the new team on the block took the lead, Victory were devoid of ideas to break through a rigid and structured defence.
With the derby against City fast approaching, Kurz needs to invent some successful attacking patterns if Victory are to ignite their season and win crosstown bragging rights.