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Review: Sydney FC Poor in the Wet against Brisbane

In their worst display of the season, Sydney FC went down 1-3 to Brisbane Roar on Saturday night to record back-to-back losses for the first time in thirteen months.

Going into the match, media talk centred on one thing – would Arnie employ the same defensive tactics that worked against the Western Sydney Wanderers and, largely, Melbourne Victory, when hosting the Roar?

Most fans have no problem with whatever style of football the coach chooses to adopt, as long as their side gets the three points. But perhaps what Arnie is asking of his players is a little too much.

A fortnight or so back, I raised the question – will the real Sydney FC please stand up?

At any level of the game, drastically changing playing styles from one match to another is physically and mentally demanding as players suddenly become unsure of their role in the cauldron of a professional football match. This was very much the story at a wet Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.

The Sky Blues went into the contest looking to attack from the off and the players, after weeks of defensive tactics, appeared lost. The hosts made the type of fundamental errors that they have not made all season, their passing game particularly falling to pieces as the Sky Blues turned over possession, especially late in the contest, and lacked sharpness in front of goal.

Perhaps major tactical changes are too difficult for players to cope with week in, week out. They aren’t robots and what works fine on the training ground does not always translate into successful matchday performance. Given Sydney is likely to adopt the defensive tactics that worked so well for Adelaide United in 2008 and Wanderers in 2014 in their upcoming Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign, could Arnie just stick with the same tactics in the A-League as well?

The four day turnaround certainly played a part in Sydney’s capitulation – every team that played midweek recorded losses on the weekend – but that cannot be held as an excuse by a side about to embark on an arduous ACL campaign in which long flights and three – much less four – day turnarounds will become the norm.

Are Sydney ready for that kind of challenge?

Arnie made a number of changes to the starting lineup, Seb Ryall the unlucky loser in the reshuffle prompted by the return of Alex Gersbach. As predicted, Dimitrijevic made way for Olyroo Brandon O’Neill, Matt Simon was given the night off as George Blackwood received another start while Andrew Hoole replaced Chris Naumoff on the left of the attack.

The changes made sense – it is a squad game after all and Sydney’s depth is at an all-time high.

Unfortunately, the changes just did not work out. Hoole, for all his industry and attacking intent, is completely devoid of confidence in front of goal, going to water when presented with the kind of scoring chances that he puts away easily in training. On Saturday night, Hoole was the place good attacks came to die.

In an old-fashioned 4-4-2 system, where a winger gets to the by-line to deliver a cross and occasionally makes a run into the penalty area, Hoole would work a treat. But in a 4-3-3, the wide attackers are expected to score goals and the 22 year old just isn’t that kind of player.

The mooted Hoole swap for David Carney? Right now, I’d take it in a heartbeat. Although Simon and Naumoff’s omissions could have had something to do with it as well.

The other winger, Filip Holosko, was serviceable but a marquee attacker needs to be more than that and Holosko isn’t measuring up to his near-million dollar salary. Milos Ninkovic, on the other hand, wearing the Sydney FC captain’s armband for the first time, was superb, turning his markers inside out and involved in most of Sydney’s best moments.

Behind him, Mikael Tavares played, arguably, his finest game for the club. Unfortunately, his midfield partner Brandon O’Neill was found wanting, uncharacteristically giving the ball away and failing to track Matt McKay on the back post for the Socceroo’s header in the 67th minute.

Jacques Faty was among the best on the park for the Sky Blues, though Arnie’s reluctance to hand him the armband underlines that he has yet to attain unequivocal redemption. His defensive partner, Matt Jurman, on the other hand, appeared mentally off his game and his marking and positioning left a lot to be desired.

Rhyan Grant was decent but, once again, turned over possession far too often, while Gersbach excelled, setting up chances and hitting an excellent free kick that led to Sydney’s equaliser. Not a bad way for the 18 year old to sign off and begin his European adventure.

More on that in coming days.

Hoole’s popular substitution by Ali Abbas backfired as the Iraqi parked himself out wide in Gersbach’s position, neutering the departing leftback’s attacking game and offering little as an alternative, while Vedran Janjetovic excelled between the sticks.

The Sky Blues had a good period in the first twenty minutes of the second half, creating chances, scoring their equalising goal and, with the crowd behind them, pushing for victory. However, McKay’s header took the wind out of Sydney FC’s sails and within a minute or two, the hosts’ passing game went to pieces. It was not a pretty sight, nor was that of the hungrier Roar winning key tackles and most “second balls”.

How will the coaching staff prepare their squad for the upcoming “six pointer” in Adelaide?

Whatever they do, things need to turn around this Friday night. A couple of good results will see Sydney back challenging for top spot. A couple of bad ones and the Sky Blues will leave themselves a mountain to climb in their quest for the title.

Which Sydney FC will stand up on Friday night?