Written by Michael Safro (@safrossydney)
Sydney FC board the Thursday flight to Adelaide to face a resurgent United at Coopers Stadium, a place where the Sky Blues have found points hard to come by.
Sydney were excellent at Allianz Stadium last Friday night and, but for some ordinary Filip Holosko finishing, would have had a 5-0 win over the hapless Jets. Which raises its own question – were we that good or were they that bad?
Adelaide United will be a tougher proposition at home, especially with their big names making a return from injury. They will still miss Osama Malik and Iacopo La Rocca but have regained Eugene Galekovic in recent weeks, his presence a major factor in stemming the flow of goals the Reds leaked early in the season. John Hall will be a fine keeper one day but Galekovic remains the best in the country.
Meanwhile, Marcelo Carrusca, the Argentinian with magic in his boots and the ability to turn gusts of wind into free kicks, is back to his best, with one website naming him in their A-League team of the week following his club’s first league win of the season, the 1-0 home defeat of fellow strugglers Perth Glory.
Unlike Glory, however, who were expected to struggle following the turmoil of last season, Adelaide United were among the competition favourites. That is until former coach Josep Gombau hopped a flight to New York and replacement Guillermo Amor found results hard to come by following an injury crisis.
With United’s squad almost back to full fitness, they will feel it’s their time to climb back up the table and pressure will be on Amor do deliver. The Reds, for all their much-vaunted passing game, are as hardnosed as they come and in Sanchez, McGowan, Carrusca, Cirio and Isaias they have players capable of doing whatever it takes to get a result, as evidenced in the awful anti-football they served up at Allianz Stadium back in April.
Back at camp Sky Blue and much depends on how Graham Arnold replaces injured skipper and talisman Alex Brosque, last week’s best on the park. Brosque has been elusive, at times dropping deep and moving between the lines with some class to exploit opposition weaknesses, while his pace has proved an asset in getting past defenders.
Last week Arnie discarded centre forward Shane Smeltz in favour of a more fluid attacking formation, with Holosko moving centrally and using his pace and movement to great effect, but no one was more instrumental in setting up attacks than Brosque. So who replaces the injured skipper?
Arnie has options, and Smeltz could make a return in a less familiar #10 role, though young George Blackwood could be a dark horse instead. However, given that the formation and extra pace worked a treat last week, perhaps the better option could be moving Olyroo Andrew Hoole into Brosque’s central creative role behind the Slovak marquee attacker.
If that’s what transpires, a recall could be on the cards for either of the forgotten men, Chris Naumoff and Robert Stambolziev. Arnie could also bring Brandon O’Neill back in from the cold and move Mikael Tavares into a more attacking role, in which many believe he plays his best football.
On the subject of which, what on Earth has happened to O’Neill? Among the Sky Blues’ best early in the season, the West Australian has been dumped without noticeable loss of form. Was there an unpublicised injury? An attitude problem? Or is Arnie simply doing his best to ensure that he loses as few players to January Olyroo selection as possible?
Meanwhile, Sydney FC’s defence has been its strength this season, conceding less than a goal a game. Sydney’s transition from attack to defence is superb, quickly closing down space and getting 11 men behind the ball but last week the Sky Blues also showed signs of improved transition from defence to attack as Arnie seeks to transplant a premiership-winning attacking game over the top of his side’s defensive bloody-mindedness.
Both sides push their fullbacks forward, which can leave space to exploit and is something for speed merchants Holosko and Hoole from which to profit. Often, however, the strategy is to pull the opposition wide, giving extra space for creative central attackers to do their stuff.
With the boycott seemingly over, Reds fans will, once again, create an intimidating atmosphere for visiting sides at Coopers Stadium. However, this is just the kind of game that a club with premiership aspirations needs to win and Sydney FC have the players, coach and formation to make it happen.
And wouldn’t it be great if Holosko scores the winning goal?