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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

Western Sydney Wanderers gained two things out of Saturday night's 1-1 draw with Brisbane Roar. First, the Wanderers did enough to claim second position in the A-League heading into the final round of the regular season. That spot - and the week's rest that comes with it - could very well decide the championship with no team having ever lifted the toilet seat after finishing third or lower in the standings.

Secondly, Tony Popovic's men showed once again that they can compete with the newly-crowned premiers. Western Sydney's record against Brisbane is impressive with four wins, two draws and a loss in seven matches. That historical advantage could tip the tactical and psychological balance in the Wanderers' favour if the two teams meet in the playoffs.

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. Western Sydney will be the third team to be reviewed.

Wanderers overrun Brisbane early

Western Sydney started their Round 26 encounter against Brisbane with plenty of intensity and had the premiers back-pedalling for the majority of the opening half hour. The Wanderers were at their high-pressing best, keeping the Roar pinned in their own half for long periods. Brisbane's inability to get their passing game going was exemplified by Thomas Broich. The German playmaker spent the majority of the first half dropping ever deeper in search of the ball.

Broich finished the game having received the ball 84 times and having attempted 35 passes in the forward third. In the first half, most of the 45 passes he received were around the half-way line and very few were in the forward third but after half-time, when the Roar started to shake off Western Sydney's shackles, Broich received just six of 39 passes in his team's defensive half. In terms of passes in the forward third, the 33-year-old completed eight of 14 in the first half and 17 of 21 in the second.

As has been discussed on Tactical Triangles before, Brisbane do not fare well when forced to shoot from long range. The Wanderers are ideally suited to mimic the way Newcastle Jets have triumphed over the Roar this season. Popovic's side are fanatical about protecting their penalty area and have allowed the second-lowest number of shots this season and the least amount of shots on target.

In the opening half hour at Pirtek Stadium, Brisbane took just three shots with only one from inside the box, which was brilliantly saved by Ante Covic. Unfortunately for the Wanderers, they were unable to maintain their strong start (see below), while the home team also failed to capitalise on their own opportunities.



1st Half

Opening 30 mins

BR shots

-          In the box

-          On target










BR goals




WSW interceptions




WSW ball recoveries




WSW tackles (successful)

24 (22)

12 (11)

9 (8)

Juric is Western Sydney's main threat

At the end of last season, Western Sydney appeared to have the best attacking midfield trio in the A-League but they lacked a top-quality centre forward to add some cutting edge. Out went Dino Kresinger and in came Tomi Juric. While Juric has been impressive, Youssouf Hersi, Shinji Ono and Mark Bridge have failed to match their exploits from last season (see below).
























The struggles of Hersi, Ono and Bridge are underlined by the number of goals scored in each of Western Sydney's two seasons. Last season, the Wanderers finished the 27 rounds before finals with 41 goals. With a game left in 2013-14, they have scored just 31.

If anything, this makes Juric even more important. The Wanderers have the worst shot conversion in the A-League at 10.2 per cent (31 goals from 304 shots). Juric is not only Western Sydney's most lethal player in front of goal but also their most effective. The 22-year-old has a shot conversion rate of 22.22 percent (eight goals from 36 shots). Due to some injuries and Popovic's rotation policy, Juric has played 17 games in the A-League this season but has started only nine.

Juric is better at holding up the ball, linking with his team-mates and attacking on his own than Popovic's other main centre forward option - Brendon Santalab. The imposing youngster will be crucial in the finals.

Popovic's aerial conundrum

Western Sydney have arguably the most physically imposing squad in the A-League. With the likes of Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Matthew Spiranovic, Iacopo La Rocca and Juric at their disposal, it seems bizarre the Wanderers do not score more often from headers. Popovic's team have attempted more crosses than any other team this season (654), which is almost 100 more than second-placed Melbourne Heart, but have only scored twice from headers.

Topor-Stanley broke through for his first goal of the season in Round 25 against Central Coast Mariners but the central defender wasted a huge opportunity early in the first half versus Brisbane, inexplicably heading a corner over the bar from the edge of the six-yard box.

The Wanderers' aerial strength is generally clear to see up the other end as they have conceded just one headed goal this season. But Popovic may not be entirely happy with the way his team have been defending over the past month or so. Brisbane's goal on Saturday continued a worrying trend for Western Sydney of conceding after failing to properly clear a cross. Spiranovic's header from Matt McKay's cross was directed to the top of the box - a prime shooting position - and although Dimitri Petratos' shot was blocked, Liam Miller followed up to score.

Topor-Stanley and Jerome Polenz made similar errors in the Wanderers' 3-1 loss to Ulsan in the AFC Champions League at the end of February, while in last month's Sydney derby goalkeeper Ante Covic missed a free-kick completely after coming off his line, which allowed the Sky Blues to equalise. If Western Sydney are to reach the A-League grand final and go one better than last season, they must eliminate those aerial errors.

Looking Ahead

Western Sydney can wrap up second spot with a win away to Melbourne Heart on Saturday afternoon. The Parramatta-based club have never lost to Heart and have returned to New South Wales victorious on their previous two trips to face the red and whites in Melbourne.

If the Wanderers finish second, they will not have to play in the opening week of the finals, which will be particularly helpful as they are set to take on Ulsan in South Korea on the Tuesday. With one of the best defences in the league - they have the most clean sheets this season with 10 - Western Sydney will be tough to beat in the A-League finals and if they can give Juric enough opportunities, the Wanderers have a striker who could lead them to the championship. Popovic's men have been much more inconsistent than in their maiden campaign but it will mean little if they can hit a run of form at the right time and pick up the top prize they narrowly missed out on last year.


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