Counter-attacking City show up ‘Roarcelona’

Goal Australia editor Iain Strachan examines where last Saturday night’s ‘desperation derby’ between Roar and City was won and lost.

It was billed as a game neither team could afford to lose – the reigning champions, without a point from three matches, against a club that couldn’t win even when they had David Villa in their team.

In the opening weeks of the season Brisbane Roar fC have refused to temper the all-or-nothing approach that won them the title last season, while City had shown themselves to be pragmatic and adaptable but prone to fatal lapses of concentration. 

John va ‘t Schip’s team dominated possession but struggled to create chances in draws with Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets, before employing a more active pressing style in an attempt to disrupt Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United.

They were ripped apart when their energy levels dropped in the derby and individual mistakes allowed the Reds to triumph in Round 4. They finally got it right to bag all three points in Queensland, albeit with plenty of help from their hapless hosts. 

A team that wants to play out from the back needs a goalkeeper comfortable with the ball at his feet. Brisbane, badly missing the injured Michael Theo, have nothing of the sort in Jamie Young.

The 29-year-old has done his best to adhere to the team’s existing structure, playing just 63.3 percent of his 30 passes long on Saturday, compared with City counterpart Andrew Redmayne (81.3 percent of his 32 passes were long). 

In total, only four of the league’s other nine goalkeepers played fewer long passes, but Young finished with the second worse passing accuracy (46.7 percent) of the 10 shot-stoppers involved in Round 5, despite trying to keep it relatively short. 

At the other end of the scale, Eugene Galekovic’s passing accuracy of 92 percent for Adelaide against Sydney is instructive. 

There are also signs the understudy’s colleagues have learned quickly they can’t rely on him as an option when under pressure in the same they could with four-time championship winner Theo. Retaining and recycling the ball is hard-wired into their DNA as a team and the Roar had 62 percent of possession against City, but Young had just 39 touches. Only three other goalkeepers saw less of the ball last weekend.

Roar fans – and the team’s under-fire defenders – will be counting the days until Theo returns to action.

Ivan Franjic’s departure has been referenced as a reason for the Roar’s woes this season, but some observers have forgotten the Socceroo spent much of the first months of 2013-14 in a roving midfield role. 

Jack Hingert, hauled off at half-time after a nightmare first half against City, exemplified by his spectacularly poor positioning for Mate Dugandzic’s goal, spent plenty of time in defence during the Roar’s title-winning season without such calamities occurring. Has he become a bad player overnight? 

No. Instead, the Roar are missing Franjic’s explosive energy in advanced positions, as well as Liam Miller’s busy, harrying presence.

Shane Stefanutto is certainly struggling as his pace declines, but serious questions must be asked of Jade North and Matt Smith’s positioning for the Dugandzic goal, while Luke Brattan was fatally attracted to the man in possession, stepping forward to find himself completely bypassed when Erik Paartalu released his killer pass.

The high energy pressing of Massimo Murdocca and Aaron Mooy was a key reason City dominated the first 30 minutes of the Melbourne derby. 

When the duo tired and eased off, Victory pounced. Recognising the Roar were steadily getting back into it, John van ‘t Schip acted by withdrawing Paulo Retre, David Williams and Mate Dugandzic and introducing Jacob Melling, James Brown and Marc Marino.

Melling nearly scored as soon as he came on, while Brown proceeded to produce his best performance yet in a City shirt and indeed one of his best in the A-League, showing tremendous focus and determination to close down the Roar backline and track back twice to dispossess Brisbane players. He was also on hand to receive Aaron Mooy’s inch-perfect pass and set up Marino for the settler, snuffing out a potential Roar comeback.

Brisbane go away to bogey side the Newcastle Jets on Friday, a team they lost to three times last season and haven’t beaten since December 2012. 

Expect Phil Stubbins’ side to try and replicate City’s success by keeping their shape, working hard and aiming to launch counterattacks. The key question is, will Mike Mulvey modify his team selection and tactics in the hope of arresting the champions’ woeful form?

Melbourne City have a good chance of making it two wins in succession when they host Central Coast on Sunday evening, with the Mariners in poor form so far in 2014-15. But midfield maestro Aaron Mooy, absent on Socceroos duty, will be sorely missed.