Isuzu UTE A-League R12 Talking Points: Tactical tweak that’s created new A-Leagues assist king

Catch all the goals from an action-packed Unite Round in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

These are the key talking points from Round 12 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Unite Round had it all in Sydney – plenty of goals, a pair of hat-tricks and drama over the weekend.

There was a hat-trick in a six-goal shoot-out between Macarthur FC and Western United, while a treble from a Japanese star led Adelaide United past Sydney FC.

A showdown between the two in-form teams ended all square, the Distance Derby was pure chaos and Brisbane Roar scored a 90th-minute penalty to end a four-game skid as Western Sydney Wanderers earned a big win.

These are the key talking points from Round 12 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

SUNDAY RECAP: A wild Distance Derby, late drama & an upset while a Matilda makes herself a her

Why Aloisi believes Western are playing their best football of his tenure

Western United remain bottom of the league after surrendering a late lead in their 3-3 draw with Macarthur FC on Friday night, but coach John Aloisi believes his side are playing as well as they ever have in his tenure.

Aloisi’s charges showed plenty of fight in the draw with the Bulls at CommBank Stadium, but were unable to turn their good football into a victory, which has been the story of their season so far, having dropped eight points from winning positions in the last month alone.

Had they held onto those points, they would be nine points outside the top six after 12 rounds, instead they remain one point behind second-last Perth Glory on the ladder and trail sixth-placed Melbourne City by 11 points.

MATCH REPORT: Hat-trick from Bulls star salvages point for Macarthur in six-goal thriller against Western United

Despite the lack of results, Aloisi still believes his side are playing at an extremely high level. In fact, he thinks it’s the best he’s seen in his two-and-a-half season as head coach, which included winning the 2022 Isuzu UTE A-League Championship.

“It hasn’t turned yet, but we’re still working on it. If I felt the players were losing belief, then I would have seen it,” he said in his post-game press conference.

“Not only today but last week in training, and I haven’t seen that at all. They still believe, they still keep fighting, they still keep on working on improving and that’s all I can ask for from the group.

“I’m still so confident that we’re going to get the wins, and then hopefully, once we start getting those wins, when we’re not performing so well, we get the wins like other teams are getting against us.

“So that’s the the belief we have and we just keep trying to play the football that we’ve been playing because our football’s been excellent, like really good.

“The results haven’t been there, but it’s the best we’ve played since I’ve been here. We’ve had two poor performances out of 12 games, but we’re not winning the game.

“We have to try and make sure that we improve in those little details that we spoke about earlier, and that’s the second goal, not making mistakes in those areas. We can’t afford to make mistakes in those areas, [given] the way that we’re going at the moment.”

City coach explains eyebrow-raising substitution as service blamed for star’s quiet night

Down 1-0 and chasing the game, it’s not often a coach would look to withdraw the most prolific goalscorer in Isuzu UTE A-League history.

But that’s precisely what occurred at CommBank Stadium on Friday night, as Melbourne City head coach Aurelio Vidmar brought 18-year-old Max Caputo off the bench to replace Jamie Maclaren in the 72nd minute of his side’s defeat to Western Sydney Wanderers.

Maclaren had just four touches through his 72 minutes of action in Unite Round; the 30-year-old has won the Isuzu UTE A-League Golden Boot three seasons in a row, and took his league scoring tally to 151 with a hat-trick against Brisbane Roar in Round 10 but on Friday night, his impact was quelled by the resolute and organised Wanderers.

Post-match, both City head coach Vidmar and Wanderers boss Marko Rudan made a point of highlighting Western Sydney’s success in starving service to Maclaren, rather than critiquing the Socceroos spearhead for his limited impact.

“I don’t talk about the Maclaren one,” Rudan said. “Clearly the service wasn’t there – and that’s not just about (Wanderers centre-backs) Alex (Bonetig) and Marcelo – we stopped their service.

“Their crosses, they didn’t play through us, they’ve got that triangle in the middle of the park and we stopped them from actually getting their foot on the ball, playing through us and around us. They’ve got different ways of playing out and we forced them to go long a lot of the time. Again, tactically superb.”

When asked to explain why Caputo was brought on to replace Maclaren against the Wanderers, Vidmar replied: “He wasn’t getting a hell of a lot of ball; that’s a start. And that’s not any fault of his own.

“Then obviously, Marcelo is a big boy, so we thought we’d have a better matchup with Maxy in there. Max is physical and he can play with his back to goal.

“We (had) to try something. We changed, we went to a back three as well and put Andy (Nabbout) up front with Max, again just to see if we could change the game. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t good enough to do that tonight.

“We weren’t penetrating enough anyway so we thought by having Andy and Max through the middle we could get a few earlier crosses.

“Max had an opportunity he headed over the bar. But again, the service into our front three tonight was pretty poor.”

Veart credits unsung hero as Reds tactical tweak pays dividends

Hiroshi Ibusuki may have stolen the show at Allianz Stadium but Adelaide head coach Carl Veart believes teammate Ben Halloran deserves just as much praise for the role he performed in their stunning 4-3 win over Sydney FC.

Playing off Ibusuki in a second striker role, Halloran shone for the Reds, assisting two of his strike partner’s goals but also covered plenty of ground whilst performing his defensive duties.

“I thought he was outstanding, especially in that first half,” said Veart. “Hiroshi got the goals but Benny was the one that was doing the work to allow us to get into those dangerous areas and his pressing was very good as well.

“Ben was a little bit inconsistent earlier in the season but the last couple of weeks he’s been outstanding for us.”

To top things off, Halloran now sits on top of the Isuzu UTE A-League assist chart with seven contributions to his name and there’s no doubt that his strike partner in crime has been the main beneficiary.

MATCH REPORT: Hat-trick Hiro fires Adelaide to stunning 4-3 win over Sydney FC

Ibusuki’s hat-trick against Sydney moves him into joint-second in the race for the Golden Boot with seven goals for the season and his coach says it’s no coincidence that his best form has come after their recent tactical tweak, which now sees the Reds deploy to centre forwards.

“Since we’ve changed to the two up front I think he’s been outstanding,” said Veart when asked about his Japanese striker’s recent resurgence.

“The last month of his football, the goals he’s getting, his link-up play – he’s been a leading light for us.

Veart continued: “Hiroshi is a very good professional, works extremely hard and he gives you everything. You know earlier in the year when he wasn’t at his best he’d been carrying a few little injuries that he’s prepared to play through and he’s now pretty much at full fitness, he’s been outstanding.”

When you add the electric Nestory Irankunda and the technical brilliance of Zac Clough to the mix, Adelaide look like they have their mojo back.

The question now for Carl Veart is whether or not he can find a formula that successfully blends their attacking prowess with some much needed defensive rigidity given they now haven’t kept a clean sheet since round two, shipping 23 goals in that time.

Popovic outlines what needs to happen in order for Arzani to flourish

Daniel Arzani’s first half performance against Central Coast Mariners provided the clearest indication yet that he’s on the right path to finally realising his full potential.

At times, the 25-year-old was unplayable at Allianz Stadium, oozing confidence as he drifted past defenders, weaving his way out of tight spaces using his full repertoire of skills and tricks.

Forcing the first save of the game from Danny Vukovic, Arzani combined well with the likes of Zinedine Machach and Chris Ikonimidis before cooly slotting home what looked to be the winner from the spot before the Mariners bagged their late equaliser.

“I thought he was very good and very disciplined you know, he’s improving that part of his game,” said Popovic when analysing Arzani’s performance.

“He really should have, I believe, scored to make it 2-0, that’s an area he needs to be more decisive in, in front of goal… but you can see his game is improving.

“With and without the ball he’s a very intelligent young man, tactically getting better.”

However there is a problem and it concerns his physical condition. Despite starting 11 of Victory’s 12 matches this season Arzani is still yet to complete 90 minutes and was withdrawn in the 69th minute due to a bout of cramp.

MATCH REPORT: Late equaliser bags a point for Mariners & prevents Victory from going five points clear

“The more he plays I guess he’ll get stronger,” said Popovic.

“He doesn’t miss any training and he doesn’t cramp at training… and we train with intensity. I believe it’s more than just the body.”

Arzani has certainly endured his fair share of injuries since leaving Melbourne City back in 2018 but Popovic believes it’s now time for his highly-rated winger to push through the psychological barrier that is holding him back.

“He’ll get better the more he plays, it’s the anxiety of playing,” said Popovic. “It’s maybe you know wanting, putting stress on yourself to make everything perfect. Once he plays more regularly he maybe will relax a bit more.

“With the training and the mental side I think we can get him to play longer.”

Initially suffering a devastating Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury with Celtic in 2018, Arzani’s career has been stunted by a series of setbacks and bad loans while his return to Australia was then punctuated with injuries and tactical issues at Macarthur FC.

But now Arzani is seemingly finding his form under Tony Popovic despite many initially believing he may struggle under a coach who would push him harder than he’s maybe been pushed before.

“He’s a pleasure to coach every day because if you saw our training he’s right at it, every single day,” revealed Popovic.

“When was the last time he played maybe 11 games out of 12 that he’s started? I don’t think he ever has. When he was 17, 18 going to the national team he was a player coming on, he’s never been a starter.

“So this is new for him. He’s growing and we want to help him keep growing and doing well and helping Melbourne Victory.”

Defensive woes continue to haunt Stajcic and Perth

Perth Glory boss Alen Stajcic concedes this side will continue to lose matches this season unless they fix up their leaking defence.

After taking an early lead against Wellington Phoenix his side fought back twice in order to restore parity at CommBank Stadium only to let the lead slip late-on as they succumbed to their eighth loss of the season.

“It’s hurt us all year,” said a dejected Stajcic when assessing his side’s performance in their 4-3 loss to Wellington. “Because we’ve been in virtually every game this year, I don’t think there’s been one game where I’ve walked away going ‘we couldn’t have got something that day’ but we have to get over that hump to start getting results.”

Stajcic was without injured duo Mark Beevers and Darryl Lachman for the Unite Round clash with the ‘Nix and while they certainly would have added experience to his side, there’s no guarantees they would have stopped the flow of goals.

After 12 games Glory now have the joint-worst defence in the league alongside last-placed Western United, a side Stajcic believes his team share a few similarities with when it comes to them being punished for their errors.

“We do have to improve in those key areas,” continued Stajcic. “It’s not totally poor from us and to be honest Western United are in a similar boat.

“They’ve had so many good games this year and the league is so tight but both teams are just failing in those key moments and ending up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

“We’ve got those things to address, they’re not easy, but there’s no magic wand either.”

With defensive injuries, no new signings on the horizon and back-to-back away fixtures with Western Sydney Wanderers and Macarthur to come it’s looking like it’s going to be a long few weeks for Alen Stajcic and the Glory.

However the head coach believes his side has shown more than enough this season to suggest they’ll be a force to be reckoned with once they fix their leaky defence.

The eight words that should excite Roar fans

Ben Cahn has a message for Brisbane Roar fans and the rest of the Isuzu UTE A-League after snapping their four-game losing streak: “We’re here to do something special this season”.

It has been a season of ups and downs for Roar following an encouraging start to 2023-24.

Ross Aloisi arrived and transformed Brisbane, leading them to the Australia Cup final and the top half of the league standings.

MATCH REPORT: Son of a gun inspires late turnaround as two-goal star ends Roar’s four-game skid

But he departed to reunite with Kevin Muscat in China last month and in the first game without him saw the Roar humbled 8-1 by three-time reigning premiers Melbourne City on December 21.

In the space of a week, the Roar went through their third coaching change as they turned to highly rated coach Cahn to take over from interim boss Luciano Trani.

Brisbane put an end to the turbulence on Sunday night, using a 90th-minute penalty to rally past Newcastle Jets 3-2 at Allianz Stadium.

The Roar are eighth in the standings but only a point outside the top six and fourth-placed Central Coast Mariners.

“We’re here to compete at the top end this season,” Cahn told reporters after celebrating his first victory as a senior head coach in the A-League.

“We’re not here just to see the season out and move on.

“We’re here to do something special this season.”

Cahn also made clear of his desire to recruit further in the January transfer window, having already brought in Olyroos midfielder Keegan Jelacic on loan from Gent and Ryan Lethlean via Melbourne Victory.

Jelacic represents a huge coup for the Roar following his exploits for Perth Glory, which led to Belgian giants Gent prising him from Western Australia ahead of the 2023-24 campaign.

Cahn spoke about how the 21-year-old attacker will solve a particular problem for Brisbane, who did not muster a shot or an attempt on target in the first half against the Jets.

“He is an exceptional ball carrier. He is a great athlete,” he said. “He will add that dynamism we lacked in the first half.

“Good forward runs. He is not a player you want to play against defensively because he asks a lot of questions.

“He will give us a new dimension and some added dynamics to how we want to play.

“You could see in the first half we found it hard to create but bringing players like Keegan in will allow us to try to be more unpredictable and open up teams a little bit more.”