After four rounds of the 2013-14 A-League season, it is clear Josep Gombau's revolution at Adelaide United remains a work in progress. Despite having dominated possession in three of their four games, the Reds have scored just once in their past five halves of football.
Gombau's plan to introduce something resembling tiki-taka at Hindmarsh looked promising up until half-time versus Melbourne Victory in round two but in their past two games, Adelaide rarely troubled both Central Coast and Western Sydney's impressive defensive set-ups. The Wanderers' pressing game also highlighted a weak link in the Reds' possession-based style but some simple personnel changes could see Gombau's men turn their monopoly of the ball into success.
Wanderers relish Adelaide's lack of movement
A front five of Sergio Cirio, Jeronimo Neumann, Fabio Ferreira, Isaias and Marcelo Carrusca saw Adelaide dominate possession but struggle to penetrate the Wanderers' highly-rated back four on Friday night (see starting line-ups right). Over the past fortnight, the Reds have had over 66 percent possession but less than 45 percent territory in their losses to last season's grand finalists, the Mariners and Western Sydney.
Adelaide's main issue against the Wanderers was a lack of movement in the final third. While the likes of Isaias and Carrusca are clever midfielders, they rarely break the lines, while the Reds' fullbacks Michael Zullo and Tarek Elrich did not overlap enough. This allowed the home side's central defensive pair of Michael Beauchamp and Nikolai Topor-Stanley to keep the game in front of them, which suited the physical duo perfectly.
The Reds also played into Beauchamp and Topor-Stanley's hands by crossing the ball too often. With Jeronimo and Cirio both less than 175 centimetres tall, the South Australian club need to be cutting the ball back to the pair of p
|Possession||Passing accuracy||Territory||Accuracy in final third||Crossing accuracy|
In round one, Adelaide scored three goals from in and around the six-yard box, while five of their eight shots versus Perth were inside the penalty area. Against the Wanderers, the lack of penetration meant seven of Adelaide's 13 shots were from outside the box with only one on target.
Lustica into midfield, Malik to drop back
In pre-season, Adelaide claimed an impressive 1-1 draw away to the Wanderers with Steven Lustica standing out as a box-to-box midfielder for the Reds. The absence of Lustica in round four enhanced the visitors' problems in breaking down Western Sydney as the 22-year-old is more inclined to run all day compared to Isaias and Carrusca.
At Brisbane Roar last season, Lustica played at the base of midfield alongside Luke Brattan and provided the energy to get up and down the pitch to complement the latter's impressive passing range. Gombau has already done the same this season with Lustica and Isaias and may need to revisit the idea as it could be a more versatile combination than Osama Malik and the Spanish midfielder. If Lustica is reintroduced to the starting XI, it would also allow Gombau to play Malik in central defence.
Adelaide's central defensive duo of Jon McKain and Nigel Boogaard, plus goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic, were found out at different times at Pirtek Stadium when the Wanderers pressed high up the pitch. Western Sydney would wait for either McKain or Boogaard to pass back to Galekovic and then pounce on the Reds goalkeeper with two attackers rushing the 32-year-old and blocking a return pass to the central defenders. Galekovic would generally choose to punt the ball long, which was ideal for the Wanderers, who won 10 of 13 aerial duels around the halfway line (see left).McKain and Boogaard's long pass accuracy was not any better but Malik, who has completed nine of 12 long passes in the past three games, could provide the Reds with an outlet if deployed in defence. Malik is also a better dribbler than Gombau's central defensive incumbents, which would allow him to get out of tight situations where McKain or Boogaard might just clear the ball.
Juric the missing piece in the Wanderers' puzzle
While Adelaide's lack of penetration would have left Gombau frustrated, Friday night's clash underlined the key difference to Western Sydney this season, which should ensure Tony Popovic's men again challenge for silverware in their second A-League campaign.
Tomi Juric made it three goals in four games this season, scoring twice against his old club in a classic centre forward performance. While the 22-year-old has a very similar build to the Wanderers' lead striker from last season, Dino Kresinger, the similarities stop there as Juric is simply more effective than the departed Croatian.
Juric provides just as much pressure up front as Kresinger did, while the young Australian has already surpassed his predecessor's goal tally from last season. In round one, Juric scored the equaliser as Western Sydney drew 1-1 away to Central Coast, making a late run to volley the ball home at the near post.
As Western Sydney generally play on the break, the Wanderers' lead striker needs to be able to both hold the ball up and potentially attack on their own. In the first half, Juric took a chipped pass on his chest and, rather than wait for support, simply attacked, unleashing a powerful shot Galekovic did well to stop. Juric's equaliser was similar as he received a pass from Mark Bridge, cut inside his marker and then drove the ball home from the edge of the area (see right). Juric's second was a classic centre forward's goal as he outmuscled Elrich at the back post to head home powerfully.Looking ahead
Western Sydney finished round four in second position in the A-League. With a trip to Melbourne to take on the Heart looming and league-leaders Brisbane set to visit Central Coast, Popovic's men could be top of the A-League by the end of round five.
One issue for Popovic is who to play on the right wing if Hersi remains sidelined. Ono was uncharacteristically quiet versus Adelaide, leaving the Wanderers without much creativity. Brendan Santalab's similarities to Bridge - both are more strikers than wingers - left Western Sydney slightly one-dimensional and it could be that Kwabena Appiah-Kubi is a better option on the right when Hersi is unavailable.
Adelaide will host Newcastle Jets on Saturday and Gombau must find a way to break open set defences more often if they are to play in the finals this season. The Jets have kept two clean sheets this season and should give the Reds plenty of practice in that area.