The A-League’s first ever Sydney Derby was played in front of a sold out crowd, with Sydney FC recording their first points of the season by beating new comers Western Sydney Wanderers.
Sydney FC’s goal was courtesy of marquee man Alessandro Del Piero, who slotted the ball home calmly after his retaken penalty was initially saved.
Sydney Playing Out
There were some changes to the Sydney FC team going into the match which allowed them more balance with their approach play. Terry McFlynn, Adam Griffiths and Dimi Petratos were taken out, with Rhyan Grant, Seb Ryall and Paul Reid coming in. This allowed Brett Emerton to push forward on the right, which gave Sydney a better combination and more balance.
In the previous two fixtures, the right sided duo was Emerton and Mallia. Emerton, from right back, didn’t seem comfortable with his positioning when playing out and frequently showed his insistence on moving centrally. That was coupled with the fact that Mallia often drifted inside, or switched wings (with either Petratos or Chianese), and didn’t maintain width either.
Now, with Grant at right back, and Emerton in his preferred right attacking role, Sydney FC had more balance and this allowed them to keep possession more comfortably. A perfect example of this came in the first half, and resulted in Del Piero’s left footed shot over the bar.
From Fabio’s left sided throw-in, Sydney was able to string together some passes and create a chance.
Fabio threw the ball onto the chest of Lovrek, Mooy attempted to nick in but the ball fell to Abbas. Abbas was intelligent under pressure from Ono, as he let the ball run past his body and protected the ball before passing to Ryall. Already, as the ball was being passed from Abbas to Ryall, both Emerton and Grant started transitioning into wide, attacking positions.
Therefore, as Ryall took his touch, he had two players to his right and could immediately pass to Emerton. As Emerton was closed by Bridge, he played the ball back to Grant and ran in behind D’Apuzzo. Grant then passed to Del Piero, who had drifted into space and he could turn and slide a pass through to Emerton. Emerton then cut back and passed to Del Piero, who shot over the bar. Whilst the move didn’t result in a goal, it showed Sydney’s balance on the right, with the ball going from the left to an attacking position quickly and efficiently.
Sydney FC was helped by the fact that the Wanderers often couldn’t apply pressure from the front when they tried to play out. The one occasion where they could press effectively occurred in the first half.
From a throw in, Wanderers closed down Sydney FC’s forward options, forcing them central. The pressure from Kresinger and Ono (tracking Abbas) meant McClenahan had to pass backwards to Necevski. Kresigner then anticipated the pass to Ryall and sprinted towards him. Mark Bridge had done the same, leaving Ryall with two players closing him down with pace and had to pass back to Necevski. Kresinger continued to press and forced Necevski to scuff his clearance out for a throw in. This was a great, but rare example of Wanderers forcing Sydney into a trap and winning the ball back.
Too often from the Wanderers, when they tried to apply pressure, their wide forwards stuck in a position to cover the fullbacks, which allowed the Sydney FC central defenders to step out of defence.
This was an example of the type of pressing Wanderers more frequently used. The pressure was applied to the right side of Sydney FC’s defence, but as the ball was played from Ryall to McClenahan, Haliti stuck with Fabio. McClenahan was then able to move forward with the ball, and slightly drew Haliti before passing to Fabio. Sydney FC won a free kick and had gone from extreme pressure to being able to have a central defender comfortably move forward in possession.
The second half was similar to the first, a bit scrappy, but Sydney FC having more penetration and quality when going forward. The build-up to the penalty was a similar situation to above, with a central defender being able to comfortably step out from the back and play wide.
Reid’s pass to Ryall had taken out Kresinger and gave Ryall time to step forward. Grant move wide and then burst forward, allowing Emerton space to receive the pass. The pass was played to Emerton, who beat Bridge before playing a diagonal to Mallia. Moments later, Del Piero was brought down and Sydney FC went 1-nil up.
In the previous two fixtures, there had been examples of the fullback moving forward when the central defender had possession (the best example being against Wellington), but on this occasion it was effective because Sydney started with more width and Ryall had time to step out and move forward.
Sydney FC then had a spell of great football and dominance around the 70th minute. Sydney FC’s best passage of play so far this season (and could well be even once the season is over) occurred during this period of time. It showcased neat passing combinations in tight spaces, and then a switch of play which came as a result of better balance on the right.
The play started when Fabio intercepted a Wanderers pass and moved forward. He played the ball to Del Piero, who kept possession, beat Mooy and moved inside. He then played a one-two with Mallia, before creating triangles with Abbas and Fabio. It was Sydney FC’s own version of tiki-taka, much to the crowd’s pleasure
After these triangles, Del Piero again beat a man and had time to turn and get his head up. He saw Emerton in space, and Grant bursting forward to overlap. He played the ball to the right and Emerton dummied, ran into the box and nearly got on the end of the cross, but Topor-Stanley cleared the ball for a corner. It would have almost certainly been the goal of the season and, after eleven passes, it was brilliant football from Sydney FC.
Wanderers’ Coming Forward
As time ticked on, Wanderers made some changes and looked to equalise. Tarek Elrich came on and Wanderers were able to get many crosses into the box. Chances fell to Kresigner and Bridge, both via crosses, but neither could convert. Most of the time, Sydney FC seemed comfortable with this approach, and got good numbers in the box to clear.
A late free kick by Del Piero went just over, and full time was blown on the first Sydney Derby – with Sydney FC earning early bragging rights over their cross-city neighbours.
The changes from coach Ian Crook worked well, with Sydney FC more comfortable with playing out and keeping possession. This was due to more balanced play, especially on the right side, where Grant and Emerton combined well, but more importantly, maintained width. This width created space for the central defenders to bring the ball forward, and Sydney was able to start attacks.
Whilst it was a tense and tight match, Sydney FC had the better of play and deserved their win; Western Sydney Wanderers lacked ideas for much of the game, and until late in the game, their best chances came from set pieces.