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Tactical Analysis: Sydney FC 2 vs. Melbourne Victory 3 – Round 6

In light of everything that occurred in the aftermath of this game, it was very difficult to write an analysis on this performance by Sydney FC. All the best to Ian Crook. He has my full and utter respect for what he did with Sydney FC and hopefully he will have a continued involvement in the club.

That being said, Sydney FC blew a two-goal lead to lose to their biggest rivals Melbourne Victory. Sydney changed their system going into this match to counter Victory’s strengths but they sat back and Melbourne piled on the pressure, scoring three goals in 11minutes to seal the comeback win.

Sydney’s Change of System

For the opening five rounds of the season, Sydney FC predominately used a 4-3-3 system. For this fixture, Sydney FC moved to a 4-3-1-2. The reason for this was to control how Sydney matched up with the Victory players when defending from the front.

Sydney pressing in the early stages of the match

This was an example of the system in action early on for Sydney FC. The basic idea was to have Blake Powell and Yairo Yau, the two forwards, pressure their respective central defender whilst Alessandro Del Piero would prevent the ball going into the Victory midfielder coming deep to receive the ball.

Here, Powell looked to send Leijer wide to Ferreira. As that ball travelled, Ali Abbas, the left sided midfielder, pressed Ferreira, again showing him outside. Once Ferreira passed to Rojas, Fabio pressured him straight away and Sydney regained possession when the ball went out of play.

What this approach did, which worked well for Sydney, was prevent Melbourne passing inside (i.e. to Milligan, Celeski, Finkler and Flores etc.). The knock-on effect of this was, rather than having Flores or Finkler playing balls in behind, Rojas here had to come short and receive with his back to goal.

This style of pressure was used by Sydney in the early passages of the match and Sydney’s relative dominance ended with a goal.

Sydney FC takes the Lead

Just prior to Sydney taking the lead, Melbourne created their best chance of the match up to that stage.

Melbourne threaten

Sydney’s triangle in midfield was bypassed with some neat skill by Archie Thompson who then found Gui Finkler. Fabio was out of position, much too deep, allowing Finkler to play Rojas in behind and but for a last ditch Seb Ryall intervention, Sydney would have gone behind.

The ball went out for a throw in and Sydney won back possession. A dinked pass by Bosschaart released Paul Reid (and took out six Melbourne defenders) and exactly 20seconds later the ball was in the back of the net.

Yau’s Goal (1)

The two keys to Sydney’s goal was the run of Blake Powell, the pass of Del Piero, but also vital was the body shape of Diogo Ferreira. Powell passed to Abbas and moved forward. As Abbas received the ball, Ferreira expected the pass to be played out to Del Piero and moved across to cover, Adrian Leijer then slid across to pick up Emerton. Instead, with that short moment of space, Emerton received the ball and Ferreira’s body shape was vital. In this situation, Ferreira turned the wrong way, spinning a full 360°. By the time he had turned and moved towards Emerton, the ball had been played to Del Piero

Yau’s Goal (2)

Blake Powell then made an intelligent run between the two central defenders and Del Piero slid in a perfect through-ball. From there, Powell squared the ball for Yau who scored for Sydney.

Sydney continued to press as mentioned until around the 30-minute mark, from there they looked to half-press and stay compact, allowing Melbourne to play in front of them.

Sydney Go Two Ahead …

Early in the second half Sydney doubled their lead. Pascal Bosschaart scored after a training ground move went right.

Sydney went ahead 2-0

Emerton, starting in a central area, arced his run and sprinted towards Del Piero, playing a one-two and drawing three Victory players. At the same time, Blake Powell wrapped around the back and ran towards the back post. Del Piero’s cross was slightly over-hit but Powell was able to keep the ball in play. After a bit of pinball in the box, the ball fell to Bosschaart who volleyed past Coe to score his first ever professional goal in his first game back from a long-term injury.

… And Sit Back

Just like the latter stages of the first half, Sydney looked to stay compact and defend their hard-earned lead. That was not necessarily the issue, with teams from all over the world doing similar. The problem was the fact that the formation did not change, which destroyed Sydney.

Sydney played a 4-3-1-2, and when they did not press, their distribution across the pitch was incredibly narrow (effectively three up front and three in midfield).

Sydney sat back, Melbourne dominated

This example occurred soon after going two ahead. Sydney was now looking to half-press. They allowed Melbourne to play-out from the back, wanting Melbourne to play in front of them, instead they played around them.

A commonly used phrase in football is ‘two banks of four’. Nearly every team looking to sit back and defend a lead use this structure to frustrate the opponents and compress the space. Sydney instead had ‘two banks of three’ – which are much easier to play through.

Melbourne could now look to play the ball wide quickly and try to create 2v1 situations out wide. This required the forwards and midfield players to constantly shuffle incredible distances to cover the space and perhaps was the reason why Powell and Yau were substituted with fatigue – they simply had to cover too much distance.

The flow-on effect of this was it meant Melbourne kept going forward, and most teams react to this by dropping deeper.

The same thing happens, but Sydney are even deeper

11 minutes later an almost identical situation occurred – Melbourne moved the ball horizontally to make Sydney move across the pitch. The only difference between this situation and the one given above, Sydney was now 10 metres deeper.

This formation continued, despite two substitutions. Del Piero was replaced by Mallia, who took up a forward position. Terry McFlynn then came on in place of Yau. As a result, Emerton moved to the ‘1’ in the 4-3-1-2 and McFlynn went to the right of the ‘3’.

Eventually, Melbourne scored. Sydney then made their third and final substitution and finally changed formation. Trent McClenahan came on for Blake Powell and Sydney went to a 4-4-1-1. McClenahan moved to central midfield and Emerton continued in the ‘1’ position behind the striker (Mallia).

By this stage it was much too late, as Sydney was so deep. Moments after moving to ‘two banks of four’, this situation occurred:

Sydney’s 4-4-1-1, incredibly deep

As seen, Sydney was incredibly deep and Melbourne was able to move the ball without any pressure. Milligan, now a central defender, was able to step 15 metres into Sydney’s half and pass across the pitch. It again resulted in a situation where the wide players were able to receive the ball with space to look for an overload.

Eventually Melbourne broke Sydney down through set pieces.

Melbourne Victory’s Set Pieces

To give some context, of their 16 corners prior to this match, Melbourne Victory had a player show for a short corner on 13 occasions. Most predominately that player was Marco Rojas. This trend continued here.

In fact, the Melbourne Victory corner routine, which was used 15 times in the game against Sydney, was very predictable – yet Sydney FC didn’t work out what was happening. Melbourne had done their research and worked out how Sydney defended on the posts.

Phase one

Simply, Marco Rojas would jog on an angle towards Finkler (this occured for all 15 corners). The man on the front post would then track his run and the player on the back post would move to the front post. The end result looked something like this:

Phase two

Finkler would then put the ball into the box and Archie Thompson (or on occasions a runner from deep) would drift into this back post area, completely free. Of Melbourne’s 15 corners, only once did Sydney maintain 2 men on the post, despite Melbourne doing the exact same routine for each corner and not once playing it short.

The move paid off twice, with Thompson and then Nabbout scoring, … both went in at the back post.

Thompson’s goal was text book with what was shown above. Rojas ran towards the ball, the man at the front post followed and the man at the back post moved to the front post. Thompson then peeled off Necevski and into the back post area. When Milligan won the initial header, all Thompson had to do was tap the ball in.

As expected, the movement was identical for Melbourne’s winner.

Phase one
Phase two


Sydney changed formation and it worked, but only for the first 30 minutes. As soon as they decided to go into a half-press, their formation was destined to fail. Two lines of four allow the defensive team to have an even distribution of players and cover ground across the pitch whilst still remaining compact. With Sydney playing with effectively two lines of three, they had to cover immense ground. As soon as fatigue set in, Melbourne was able to play the ball wide with ease and Sydney got deeper and deeper.

The examination of Victory’s corner routine was seemingly non-existent, 14/15 times Sydney played into their hands and in the end it cost two goals and three points.

The aftermath of the match has been tough, but it is still important to analyse what went right and what went wrong. Unfortunately for Sydney, over the course of the match only 30minutes went right.

Sydney now look for a replacement for Ian Crook, I wish him the best of luck.

By Kate Cohen –