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Tactical Triangles - analysis exploring on-field strategy in the A-League. Each piece includes three points, just like the passing triangles that are key to beautiful football

One third of the way through this season and no one seemed to believe Adelaide United would make the A-League finals. With just one win on the board and having lost five of their previous seven games, the Reds were unconvincing to say the least.

Fast forward to this weekend - the final round of the season - and Adelaide are secure in the top six, while they still have a shot at finishing in the all-important second position. Reds head coach Josep Gombau has turned his team into the most dangerous attacking team in the A-League, while their slick passing style has won many admirers.

In the lead-up to the finals, Tactical Triangles will take a look at each club that secures a top-six spot to analyse their title chances. The tactical trends, key players and weak links will be put under the microscope ahead of the most important weeks of the domestic calendar. Adelaide will be the fourth team to be reviewed.

Gombau's outburst galvanises Adelaide

The arrival of Gombau, with his links to Barcelona and commitment to possession-based football, was one of the big stories in the lead-up to the 2013-14 A-League season. But after nine rounds, Gombau - with a win percentage of just 11.11 percent in the opening third of the season - looked to be more of a charlatan than the second-coming of Pep Guardiola.

The Reds' season seemed to turn after Gombau was caught on camera lashing out at an Adelaide-based journalist. Rightly or wrongly, many football managers have tried to use a media outburst to turn their team's form around. The Reds won their next match and avoided defeat in seven straight games. They have not lost at home since.

Friday night's trip to Newcastle Jets will complete the latter two thirds of the season for Adelaide. In the 17 games since Gombau's outburst, Adelaide have won nine times and suffered three defeats for a win percentage of 52.94 percent. The Reds have scored 1.94 goals per game, well up on their rate of 1.33 per match in the first third of the campaign. Whether Gombau meant it or not, the Spaniard's angry tirade seemingly inspired his players to commit to his philosophy.

Heart expose the Reds' poor discipline

Adelaide's 2-2 draw with Melbourne Heart last week was a very feisty encounter. Tarek Elrich was sent off in the first half for a head-butt on Heart's Aziz Behich, while referee Ben Williams awarded two penalties to the visitors from Melbourne, plus he dished out a total of 11 yellow cards, well up on his average of 4.9 per match.

Heart got stuck into the Reds, particularly in the first half, and really knocked Gombau's men off their game. Adelaide have the worst discipline record in the A-League having conceded 410 fouls this season, receiving 65 yellow cards and four reds. Their rival clubs have targeted this over the past month, perhaps in the theory that Adelaide's Latino cadre of Isaias, Marcelo Carrusca, Sergio Cirio, Fabio Ferreira and Jeronimo Neumann may not be willing to get involved in a midfield battle, while they have also hoped the Reds might snap and be reduced to 10 men.

Adelaide have been fouled, on average, 16.23 times per game this season. In their past five matches, their opponents have surpassed that average and conceded more fouls than the Reds (see below).

 

Fouls won by Adelaide

Fouls conceded by Adelaide

Rd 22 vs Roar

22

13

Rd 23 vs Wanderers

17

13

Rd 24 vs Sydney

19

12

Rd 25 vs Phoenix

29

22

Rd 26 vs Heart

17

16


It is particularly interesting to compare Wellington Phoenix's stats in terms of fouls against in their Round 21 encounter, which Adelaide won 5-1. In that game, the Reds conceded 20 fouls and won 12. When the New Zealand-based club got more physical four weeks later, they stifled Adelaide, who only won 1-0 thanks to a penalty from Carrusca. But crucially, Heart showed last week that it is not enough to simply get in the Reds' faces. Rival clubs must also hit Adelaide where it hurts them most.

Adelaide average 237.88 passes per half this season with an accuracy rate of 82.6 percent. In the first half versus Heart, which ended 2-1 in favour of the visitors, Gombau's men attempted just 166 passes and completed only 75.9 percent. Meanwhile, Heart played 185 passes at 77.84 percent. Although Heart's physicality and Elrich's red card definitely ruffled Adelaide's feathers, it would not have meant much if the visitors had not had more of the ball. In the second half, Adelaide got backfootball formations on top in the passing stats and looked far more comfortable.

Adelaide's midfield lynchpin

Adelaide have scored 45 goals this season - more than any other team - and their proactive possession-based football can be a joy to watch. But if the Reds go on to lift the A-League's championship trophy this season, one man, who has yet to score a goal or register an assist, will no doubt be the first to be praised by Gombau.

Isaias, Gombau's preferred holding midfielder, has held Adelaide together at both ends of the pitch this season (see the Reds' regular starting line-up above). The 27-year-old Spaniard leads Adelaide for passes attempted (1594), passes in the opposition's half (822), fouls conceded (46) and interceptions (60 - level with Elrich). The first two figures show how important Isaias is to Gombau's passing philosophy, as the diminutive midfielder tirelessly links his team-mates together with smart passes. The latter stats underline how he breaks up opposition attacks - vitally important when his more attacking teammates lose possession.

Isaias has also played more minutes than any other Adelaide outfield player (2203) - second only to Reds captain and goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic (2340).

Looking Ahead

Gombau and his men will need results to go their way in the final round of the regular season if they are to finish second. If Adelaide defeat the Jets in Newcastle, they will need both Western Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners to be denied victory by Heart and Brisbane Roar respectively.

But even if they do not finish second, the Reds will be formidable in the finals. They are likely to finish in the top four, meaning they would host a final in the opening week and their home record since Gombau's outburst will make any opposition coach wary. Adelaide's goal-scoring ability and the form of Carrusca (three goals and three assists in his past seven games) should give Reds fans plenty of confidence.

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