The Sky Blues host Adelaide United at the semi final stage of the A-League competition. Both sides head into the fixture in good form. Adelaide United have a great record against Sydney FC this season. But is that form being made out to be more vital than it actually is?
The answer, in short, is no. The long answer involves taking a brief look at encounters between both sides this season.
The sides first met in the FFA Cup some six or seven months ago. As Kate Cohen said on the NBBS Podcast, Graham Arnold fielded a weakened side in a 4-3-3 that he’s not used prior to or since that game. Adelaide fielded a strong team and ended up winning the game in extra time.
The two sides then met early in the A-League season in Adelaide and the game finished in a nil all draw. Nikola Petkovic had what was arguably a legitimate goal ruled out. A few rounds on, both sides met in Sydney where Adelaide laid the smack down, winning at a canter with three goals scored without conceding. This game, however, came in the middle of a barren spell for the Sky Blues. The club had lost four players to anterior cruciate ligament injuries (knee reconstruction operations required) and it was clear that Arnold was struggling to restore an effective balance to the side in this period.
The true reflection of what Saturday night’s semi final offers comes in the form of the third meeting between Sydney and Adelaide, in Sydney, a few weeks ago.
The Sky Blues dominated the game, with a key statistic being that we registered eight shots on target to Adelaide’s two. Unfortunately, Adelaide scored their solitary goal and the winner against the run of play and at the end of the day, goals scored and conceded is what counts most.
The semi final game this Saturday is being played on different terms.
In Graham Arnold, we have the best coach in Australia. A second place finish means that he has had two weeks to plan for every scenario and every formation Adelaide could possibly play. In addition to this, Arnold will no doubt have the right words and motivation to make sure our lads are primed for winning the game and in the processing, despatching Adelaide to an early holiday.
Adelaide play in a 4-3-3 formation which sees the best of their striker Bruce Djite. He is not known as a goal scorer despite being a striker. However Djite has other attributes that suit the formation. Djite has the ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play while also being able to drift between the lines to receive the ball. To counter this, Arnold may choose have one of our defenders man-mark him.
We all know that Isais and Carrusca have formed a wonderful combination of the past two seasons. They are both good distributors of the ball as well as being able to run with the ball at their feet effectively, cutting in and around defenders to gain an extra yard or create a touch more space for themselves.
Countering the threats posed is a touch harder to implement. Man-marking is an option but in man-marking you need to carefully consider who will be responsible for it without disrupting Sydney’s defensive structure and responsibilities as a team. The second option is to let them roam freely and risk the threats they bring being played into Arnold’s overall tactics for the game. The final option is to give Adelaide a taste of their own medicine, rough tackling.
Adelaide did this against Brisbane to great effect, stunting Brisbane’s ability to build any sort of momentum. Sydney have enough players in their squad who could dish out this type of punishment in Seb Ryall, Nikola Petkovic, Matt Jurman and Jacques Faty. This can be a good ploy as sometimes teams who aren’t used to receiving their own treatment of others can throw them off mentally.
For Sydney, I can’t see Arnold drifting too far away from what he has established since the A-League resumed after the Asian Cup.
Arnold will look to use his wide players, Chris Naumoff and Bernie Ibini, to create space through their speed. Alex Brosque will no doubt anchor the attack in the number ten role and also supporting Marc Janko in attack. Milos and Dimitrijevic and Mickael Tavares will make sure they supply the ammunition to get attacking phases rolling, while also defusing Adelaide’s attacking movements.
The key issue from a Sky Blue perspective is our defence and home record.
Defensively, Sydney has shown they are still capable of mental lapses. At the thirteen home games, the lads have conceded 1.62 goals a game. For a team such as ours, aiming for trophies is made more difficult by having a leaky defence. Further to this, our home form in general has been poor. Four wins at home is extremely poor, making our second place finish even more impressive. Our home record is made even less impressive by the fact we’ve only scored nineteen times but conceding twenty one.
If Arnold has found a reliable way to improve our defence and scoring at home, then there is no reason to think Sydney will not win. Much improvement has been made under Arnold but there’s still plenty to be made.
That being said, fans should expect a closely fought contest between two of league’s better sides. I’m expecting a tight victory in favour of our Sky Blues.
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