In their biggest game of the season, Melbourne Victory extraordinarily collapsed 6-1 to Sydney FC in their A-League semi-final, marking one of the worst days in their club history.
The match had ominous beginnings as Lawrence Thomas spilled a corner delivery which was deflected off Sydney’s Aaron Calver, and Victory never bounce backed with mistakes marring their performance.
Sydney on the other hand will be celebrating long into the night after setting up a date with Perth Glory in the grand final next Sunday.
Here are three tactical observations from the Big Blue semi-final…
Victory’s players capitulate
Victory’s strong point is meant to be that their players are individually the most skilled in the league, capable of turning a game on their best days.
However, last night’s match was one where every man probably played their worst ever game and watched on as Sydney took advantage of their lacklustre performances.
Thomas’ mistake was one of many. Georg Niedermeier carelessly conceded a penalty and the team went collectively missing for the second goal where they poorly defended a cross. By half-time, they were already 3-0 down and the game was all but lost. There was barely any time for the likes of Ola Toivonen and Keisuke Honda to make their mark.
There is plenty of work to be done from the ground up as Victory manager Kevin Muscat has struggled to find the right back four which hasn’t helped their defensive resolve. He has experimented with countless defensive partnerships.
This has been partly borne out of necessity, but Muscat should have found a stable line-up far sooner which would give them some familiarity going into the finals.
The famed 4-4-2 diamond approach might be able to regularly get his best players on the park but without some attacking full-backs to provide width, it was destined to fail.
Muscat’s failure of a season – one where they were humiliated in the finals, came third in the league with the highest budget and picked up only one point from five matches in the Asian Champions League – will undoubtedly raise questions about his tenure.
After this semi-final performance, it’s hard to argue that he is still the right man for the job.
Sydney FC take advantage but unimpressive
This might take some shine away from Sydney fans celebrating their win over their eternal rivals, but truth be told, the Sky Blues were not that good.
They were gifted the game and they did not have to do much to take advantage. For most of the first half after taking the lead they were poor in possession, hopelessly launching balls into Adam Le Fondre.
Only after Victory was down by three goals did Sydney start fully taking control as their opponents were forced to open up to get back into the game.
However, if things were a bit more equal for longer in the game, it’s hard to say that their strategy would’ve worked out as well as it did.
The one shining light, as he has been all season, is Rhyan Grant, who is a staple for Steve Corica’s strategy as he provides so much attacking threat while remaining defensively solid on the right flank.
Le Fondre once again showed his clinical finishing, putting the Victory defence to the sword with his two goals, but he won’t have it that easy against Glory next week.
Perth will not be quaking in their boots
Tony Popovic was present tonight to watch the semi-final, and although he witnessed a 6-1 drubbing, he will not be the slightest bit worried about his opponents.
Sydney made the most of Victory’s mistakes but there was little initiative from themselves, so as long as Glory remain as good as they have all season long, they will be just fine.
Popovic will need to be wary of Grant’s runs and he will be figuring out what he can do to contain the Socceroo.
Corica on the other hand will have plenty of work to do as there are so many threats for Perth that he will need to tightrope the fine line between looking to only counter his excellent opponents and still retaining the style which got them this far.
This is the final test for Perth in a journey where they have been clearly the best team all season long, if they do what they do best, they will win their first A-League championship.