Vicky Bruce was initially sent off for a challenge on Cortnee Vine but after much pleading, the referee spoke to her assistants and gave…
When transitioning from a former defender to a managerial role, often attached is an unfair misperception of being viewed as defensive-minded.
Nowadays, the modern game involves playing out from the back at all costs, with fast ball movement on the ground to create a quick-flowing and exciting brand of attacking football.
Some managers live and die by their stubbornness in trying to play a certain way and ignoring the possibility of adapting in any way possible.
Having that view is all well and good, but football is a sport that’s not always one-dimensional and requires chopping and changing tactics and players from time to time. A manager who possesses this skill and is able to read a game and make adjustments to the flow equates to more than just being a good manager.
Marko Rudan is displaying those exact qualities for the Western Sydney Wanderers with his pragmatism and versatility.
With one round remaining in the regular season, Rudan has guided his side to fourth place, just one point behind second-placed Adelaide United.
The 47-year-old represented Sydney FC and Adelaide United in the centre-back role during his playing career, so of course his first main priority is going to be structuring the defensive shape and organisation.
No doubt there have been a couple of inconsistent patches during his tenure not only at Wanderland, but also in his previous stints with the Wellington Phoenix and Western United. However, his great balance between attack and defence is an area of which the rest of the competition should take closer note.
During his one-year spell at the Phoenix and his two seasons at Western United, the average possession in each season from his teams was 49.5 per cent, 48.2 per cent, and 48.9 per cent. It seems pretty even to the eye, but in actual fact, the ball retention had been skewed from mid-60 per cent to mid-30 per cent, demonstrating that Rudan is able to get his players to control both sides of the game and dictate at their own pace.
Some out there argue that his football is boring and unattractive to watch. In those same three seasons, Rudan’s teams’ shots on target average were 4.7, 4.4, and 4.5. Again, at first glance, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that not many clear-cut chances were being created.
Wellington in 2018-19 and Western United in 2019-20 were the third-highest-scoring side in the league with 46 goals in each campaign.
Rudan took over in a caretaker role last year for the Wanderers where he got back to basics, earning him a permanent contract as he’s also got this squad playing well in the attacking third, ranking fourth in the league this season for goals scored with 41.
This season, though, the defence has really shone through which is a testament to Rudan’s coaching ability. The Wanderers have conceded the fewest goals in 2022-23, totalling 24, six fewer than league-leaders Melbourne City.
It’s evident how well-drilled they are in the defensive half as they look extremely solid in the backline with Tomi Mrčela, Marcelo, Adama Traoré, and Aidan Simmons in front of talented goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas. The defensive shape and unity are there for all to see, and the results speak for themselves.
It feels as though Rudan is at the right place at the right time, containing all the necessary pieces to cause major headaches for any opposition come finals time.
A perfect example this season of the Wanderers’ flexibility was during the 1-0 loss to Sydney in the derby when Yeni Ngbakoto was sent off after the hour mark.
Yes, Rudan’s men were down 1-0 by that point and chasing the game, but they performed as though it was still 11 versus 11, walking away feeling unlucky not to record a result.
Brandon Borrello’s stellar form scoring 12 goals so far this season is a much-welcomed alleyway up front, with the partnership and creativity of Miloš Ninković providing options on the counter-attack and playing possession football, gelling with the midfield of Morgan Schneiderlin and Calem Nieuwenhof.
Looking at the averages this season, the Wanderers have recorded 5.2 shots on target and 52 per cent possession. This is a scary stat because Rudan is guiding a team to more opportunities created with more time on the ball while still conceding the fewest goals in the league. The one-percenters in football can make all the difference.
Can the Wanderers go all the way and host a home Grand Final?