In front of over 35,000 fans, Alessandro Del Piero made his home debut for Sydney FC. Whilst the crowd, Del Piero and Heskey lived up to the hype, Sydney FC again looked sloppy and were outplayed by the Newcastle Jets.
Are these performances due to a raft of player changes and a change of manager, and will they improve as the season progresses, or, are they a warning sign for another disappointing season ahead for Sydney FC?
Newcastle Exploiting Sydney’s Defensive Problems
For the first half, Newcastle Jets thoroughly outplayed Sydney FC, and were unlucky to go into half-time only one goal ahead. On an attacking front, they did a tremendous job of exploiting the spaces in Sydney’s defence. Even within 10 minutes, Sydney’s right side of defence was exposed. As Newcastle had a throw in on the far side of the pitch, Mallia was guilty of not dropping into his defensive shape. What this did was, as the ball was played centrally, Mallia had to close down from the wrong direction and Wheelhouse was able to beat his challenge. Wheelhouse was then closed down by Emerton, who had steamed out of his right back position, however, now that both Mallia and Emerton were out of position, Wheelhouse was able to pass into the path of Ritter who had moved into the space. Sydney could feel lucky, as Ritter decided to cross when Goodwin was in acres of space, and the cross went out for a goal kick.
Mallia and Emerton dive in
The plan from Newcastle was clear to see, as they looked to exploit the space in and around the Sydney fullbacks after winning the ball in midfield – and they were able to generate a number of chances, especially down the side of Goodwin.
After going ahead via a corner kick, where McClenahan may feel he should have done better, Newcastle continued to create good goal scoring chances; and in the 13th minute, Goodwin hit the post.
This chance was especially weird to watch as there was seemingly no clear structure to Sydney’s defence. As Sydney looked to transition into attack, Adam Griffiths had a heavy touch near halfway and Wheelhouse won possession back for Newcastle. He then passed to Ryan Griffiths, who was coming back from a previous offside position (though still onside). R. Griffiths then slid a pass in behind Emerton (who initially began to move forward but when possession was lost, began to move back) for the onrushing Goodwin.
Goodwin chance, Emerton’s recovery run
Incredibly, as the ball was played in behind him, Emerton decided to make a diagonal retreating run. However, he ran towards the back post, rather than the front post area to at least place some pressure on Goodwin. Goodwin was then able to run into the box and shoot across goal, just missing the far corner and hitting the post instead.
No pressure on Goodwin as he shoots
Sydney, after surviving that scare, later equalised thanks to a brilliant Del Piero free kick. However, Newcastle still created a number of great chances through the wide areas.
In the 33rd minute, Goodwin again had a good chance to score. From a long ball up field, the ball hung in the air after an initial header. Emerton then was caught ball watching and moved towards the ball (being competed by Heskey and A. Griffiths), allowing Goodwin to run in behind; and when Heskey won the flick on, Goodwin was again able to move into the box.
Goodwin’s second chance
He was then closed down by McFlynn and A. Griffiths, who were covering, but Goodwin turned inside the two and shoot across the goal. It was another scare for Sydney.
There were two further Newcastle chances in the first half, one resulting in Heskey’s goal and the other needed a clearance by McFlynn to avoid a shot by Goodwin.
The second goal was again proof of Sydney’s poor defensive transition, with space in the back line. Sydney had the ball on the left side of the pitch, but a poor pass by Fabio went out for a throw in and Sydney did not reset well enough. Emerton was slow to recover to the defensive line, and Heskey intelligently moved into this space. This then meant A. Griffiths had to not push too far across to the left (resulting in McClenahan having to do the same) and constantly look over his shoulder to see where Heskey was. This left a gaping hole in between Fabio and McClenahan, and Neville threw to the onrushing R. Griffiths (note, this was less than two minutes after Wheelhouse had made a similar run into the space between the LB and CB). R. Griffiths had a chance to cross after McFlynn slipped, and he was able to cross to Heskey, who had darted in front of A. Griffiths, whose body weight was moving backwards.
The final first half chance for Newcastle came down Sydney’s right side again, with three players caught ball watching.
Goodwin’s third chance
After a counter attack from Newcastle (the initial Sydney attack will be covered later), Goodwin was able to isolate Emerton 1v1. Ritter, not being tracked by Abbas, then ran in behind and was passed the ball. This required McFlynn to cover, and the cross was then played into an area where McFlynn would have been – had he not needed to cover. Emerton then was caught ball watching and did not track Goodwin as he moved inside, with Petratos also ball watching and not covering. Necevski saved the initial shot from R. Griffiths, however the clearance from Fabio fell to Goodwin, and only a well-timed clearance from McFlynn avoided another shot on goal.
Sydney’s Attacking Problems
Like last game against Wellington, Sydney struggled transitioning into attack. There was again a lack of structure and movement from Sydney players, who seemed unsure of the moves they were supposed to make.
The first example involved a counter attack down the middle from a Necevski throw. He threw the ball to Del Piero, who then ran 50metres with the ball, only to have the attack die out and Newcastle to create a good chance themselves (as mentioned above).
Sydney Counter Attack
The major issue with this counter is the fact that the forward runners ran in straight lines, and did not look to move the retreating Newcastle defenders out of position. As he reached the box, and was closed down by the retreating midfielders, Del Piero then had to turn back inside and try to thread a pass through four Newcastle defenders. It seemed as if there was no structure to Sydney’s counter attack.
Counter attack comes to nothing and Newcastle attack
Problems with Playing Out
In the first half, a ball went straight to Necevski, and as Sydney moved into shape to play out the ball was passed to A. Griffiths. Emerton then, similar to last week, burst forward and moved centrally, leaving no option on the right side. The ball was then circulated in the following order A. Griffiths > Necevski > McClenahan >Necevski > A. Griffiths > McFlynn > McClenahan > Fabio > Del Piero, who won a free kick. Whilst that wasn’t necessarily a bad result, nine passes and a free kick, in that situation Sydney could have played it a lot better. Firstly, Emerton should have made himself an option to create width. Secondly, when McClenahan received the ball the first time he could (and should) have passed to Abbas, and finally, when Griffiths passed to McFlynn he should have looked and received the ball facing forward (I will discuss this more in my statistical analysis).
Sebastian Ryall coming on
The substitution involving Ryall and Petratos, 5 minutes into the second half was effective, as it allowed Emerton to push further up the pitch. Already, within the opening 5 minutes of the second half, there were two examples of Emerton not being in position which didn’t allow Sydney to move forward.
Emerton example one
As Del Piero evades two players he looks for a long switch, but Emerton is in the middle of the pitch so the ball is played backwards.
Emerton example two
Sydney won the ball back from Newcastle and Del Piero had his back to goal. Emerton did not transition into attack and moved backwards to receive the ball, closing down his options. He then dribbled inside and lost the ball on the left side line.
Compare those two examples with two examples from Ryall within 5minutes of coming on a right back:
Ryall example one
Sydney won possession back, and Lovrek with his back to goal passed to McFlynn. Ryall begun to move forward in transition, and as the ball was played to Abbas, Ryall was in an attacking position and received the ball moving forward.
Ryall example two
This is another example of Ryall moving forward with intent, which creates a goal chance for Sydney. Sydney played their way out of a tight situation and Abbas was able to pick out Ryall, who was bombing forward into the space. Ryall’s first touch was superb, and his ball across the face of goal should have been turned home by a Sydney player.
Changes after the Third Goal
After a miss-control from A. Griffiths, Goodwin was able finish off a Newcastle counter attack and make the score 3-1. A. Griffiths then had to come off with a hamstring injury, and the only replacement was Blake Powell. With this substitution, Crook boldly switched to a 3-4-3, which added width to Sydney’s attack and nearly paid dividends.
With Newcastle setting deeper, the defensive trio of Ryall, McClenahan and Fabio were able to maintain a numerical advantage and enable one, or two at a time to step forward into midfield (with Reid as cover). The second Sydney goal was an example of this numerical advantage and added width in Sydney’s play.
When Fabio was in possession, he was able to step forward and avoid a challenge from Heskey. He then passed to Ryall, who had also stepped forward, and Ryall was able to drive at the Newcastle midfield. Ryall then slid a pass in behind for the run of Emerton who had maintained width. Emerton was then able to cross for Powell who headed home at the back post.
Whilst Sydney got one goal back and threatened to equalise, Newcastle held out and won 3-2
For the second game in a row, Sydney looked disjointed and lacked ideas. Too many turn overs gave Newcastle countless opportunities to exploit Sydney in wide areas, who were unlucky not to be out of sight at half time.
Some bold substitutions from Crook drastically improved Sydney in the second half. Firstly, by pushing Emerton forward, and then by switching to a back three (even if that was forced). Del Piero again shone, but it took the other players 65 minutes to join him.
There is still a lot of improvement needed from Sydney, but it was a better second half performance. Newcastle got all three points, and deserved them in the end.