Melbourne Victory’s superiority showed as they ended Wellington Phoenix’s A-League finals hopes, defeating them 3-1 in a scrappy affair in the A-League’s first elimination final this season.
The match was hyped up before because of the three draws shared between the teams during the home and away season, however, when it counted, Kevin Muscat’s side pulled off an important win.
Phoenix manager Mark Rudan now leaves the Wellington as he prepares for his rumoured move to the newly introduced Western United next season. As for Victory, the win now sets up a tasty clash in the semi-finals as they meet their state rivals Sydney FC at Jubilee Oval next Sunday night.
Here are three tactical observations from Melbourne Victory vs Wellington Phoenix…
Phoenix’s physicality fizzes out of control
Finals football is completely different to anything else, as passion sometimes gets the best, and most aggressive, out of the players. No different on Friday night, with a total of 42 fouls, 6 yellow cards and a red - the bookings all for Phoenix players.
It was exactly that aggressiveness that proved their undoing.
Wellington’s defenders were very afraid of Ola Toivonen and Elvis Kamsoba - the latter somewhat of a surprise start - having too much time on the ball in the fear that they will get beyond them.
The trio of Michal Kopczynski, Andrew Durante and Steven Taylor all opted to concede fouls in seemingly harmless areas rather than risk danger further down the line.
However, Keisuke Honda’s set-pieces are not to be scoffed at, and he duly punished his opponents for giving away so many fouls. The opening goal came from a delightful dipped ball from the Japanese legend and was finished with an outstanding header from Georg Niedermeier with his back to goal.
Wellington had their fair share of free-kicks too but with Singh starting on the bench, they never had a player of that quality from dead-ball plays to truly hurt Victory.
The constant fouls were always going to risk conceding a goal with the deliveries of Honda and a number of aerial threats from Victory.
Phoenix took that risk and it didn’t pay off.
Rudan gets his tactics right
In the first-half especially, Wellington were the better team, and Victory's goal on the brink of half-time was a kick in the teeth, going completely against the run of play.
As the formations show, from a tactical perspective, Rudan was almost spot on. The defensively minded Ryan Lowry would handle Elvis Kamsoba’s bursts forward, while Liberato Cacace would have space on the other side to exploit Victory’s lack-of-width on that flank.
The departing manager said much the same following the game in his post-match press conference.
"All three shots we conceded were mistakes," Rudan said.
"Give credit to Melbourne Victory, but I'm proud of our performance today. I thought we performed admirably."
Max Burgess was preferred over Sarpreet Singh, somewhat understandable given their current form. However, once Singh came on in the second-half that was when Phoenix really got the ball rolling and his pass was what set-up the New Zealand side’s only goal.
However, the goal should’ve almost certainly come far sooner; Krishna’s first half was outstanding as he dropped deep to get space but almost timed runs to perfection to threaten getting behind the defence.
Lowry, not much of a finisher, missed a gaping net after he was set-up by Williams mid-way through the first half and he was left to rue that miss as the team could not find a goal until far too late.
Mandi Sosa’s mistake was something out of Rudan’s control as he put in a weak pass to his backline which Toivonen leaped on before setting up Barbarouses for the second.
The individual superiority of Melbourne’s team was enough to see them through on this occasion, but their lack of width, especially if they opt for the injured James Troisi instead of Kamsoba, next week could be a crucial mistake.
Victory drop deep and counter
Once they had a two-goal advantage, as is classic Muscat, he was happy for his team to sit deep and counter. Phoenix, chasing an equaliser, threw more and more players forward to grab a goal.
It played right into Victory’s hands as upon winning the ball, the defenders would launch the ball to Ola Toivonen to spring a counter.
It took a few times before they finally took their chance, with Toivonen exquisitely chipping the ball over Filip Kurto from a tight angle to put the game to bed.
Victory lack fluidity going forward but sometimes their individual superiority in the key positions is enough. If they find a lead, they are far more disciplined defensively and are one of the toughest teams to break down.
Looking forward to next week, Steve Corica will be eager for his team to take the lead quickly so they can play against a more open Victory side rather than face trouble breaking down their structured defence.
Shabab Hossain is an up-and-coming young football journalist. You can view his blog here.