A-League review: Time to sound the alarm bells at Melbourne Victory?
It's Monday, so here's the good, bad and ugly from Round 7 in the A-League.
Toivonen and ceilings
There is a thought exercise that is becoming increasingly relevant with each passing week for Melbourne Victory, especially now as players return from injury. Ola Toivonen's quality in both the creation and realisation of play is undeniable at this level, but the creation of play is nevertheless non-existent for Victory.
Five total shots, despite chasing the game, and second-half introductions at 10 minute intervals -- even that seemed programmed -- for Elvis Kamsoba, Robbie Kruse and Tim Hoogland only seem to reaffirm that reality. Migjen Basha's own goal was a back-breaker, just as an equaliser could have helped build self-belief and momentum, but Toivonen's utilisation in the Victory's 3-1 loss to Adelaide United needs consideration.
It happens at even the highest levels of team sport. When a system or tactical plan is so predicated on one player's abilities, that one player is naturally going to look great. As a result, however, it also tends to paralyse that one player's teammates. The likes of Kamsoba, Kenny Athiu, Andrew Nabbout and Kristijan Dobras have varying degrees of technical ability, but over a number of months, they have all been nullified in the same way. As a consequence, while the individual shines, the collective has a defined ceiling.
What happens now with Kruse will be fascinating. And then, there's the midfield. Pressure mounts on Victory boss Marco Kurz.
Sydney FC are marginally better than what they were last season, and Perth Glory are marginally worse.
At least that's how it looks at the moment, after Sydney FC's 3-1 triumph in Saturday's A-League Grand Final rematch, due to the impact of making different players play the same way as last season. The players Sydney acquired in the offseason are arguably more talented so, as a result, Sky Blues boss Steve Corica and his side are going to be quicker in the process of integration. It all meant Saturday's game was going to be decided by whether Sydney could capitalise in the transition moments they have long thrived on. This time, the early goal came too, thanks to Milos Ninkovic.
Although Diego Castro seemingly allowed him to ghost into the penalty area as the ball leaked out to Adam Le Fondre, Ninkovic's drawing of the foul was masterful. Feeling pressure on his back like a basketball player who can't jump and pump fakes instead, Ninkovic can't burst away with his first touch. The act of sprinting is an ordeal, after all.
So what he does do, while denying a clear path to the ball, is hold Castro up with the slightest of hesitations. Done with the intent to create enough separation, it can also lure the foul, just by the sheer fact the attacker is between the defender and the ball. The Glory players reacted angrily to the ease in which the Sydney star crumpled, but the fact of the matter was a pull of the shirt was clear to see, and the VAR quickly upheld the referee's decision to award a penalty.
WSW and Melbourne City, Column A and Column B
What transpired on Friday in their 3-2 loss to Melbourne City is going to be the pattern for the majority of Western Sydney games this season, outside of significant personnel change. Similarly to games against Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar, both the Wanderers and City struggled to create chances of substance against an embedded defence, with the game generally restricted to the transitional phase or mistakes.
Despite Markus Babbel's obvious objection to Chris Beath's correct penalty decision, to think it decided the match would completely ignore the lack of identifiable plan Western Sydney have with the ball. As highlighted after their Sydney derby win, results have belied the unconvincing nature of performances. After three wins to open the season, three games now without a win looks to be a natural regression. That the past two losses have come from winning positions, after scoring goals from effectively nothing early, solidify that point.
Jamie Maclaren's peel off for Lachlan Wales before scoring the winner was good, though.
Silvera and Durante
In games of football, there is no worse sight than a footballer with fear -- something which then extends to the collective.
In some cases, the overt conservatism borne of fear is counterproductive, because being overly safe can put teams in unnecessarily riskier scenarios and eventually, losing positions. Conservatism is the norm in football, not just the A-League. Central Coast did not play particularly well in their 1-0 win over Western United on Sunday, nor did they abandon caution. In isolation, though, it must be stressed just how refreshing it is to watch a 19-year-old Sam Silvera play in the manner he does.
Talent can alleviate certain caution, and talent is something Silvera certainly has. It also takes a coach to give a player so relatively young such responsibility, in attacking and defensive terms, but the decisions Silvera makes do not contain fear. With Sunday in context, it means he can dart into certain spaces, win free kicks in two-on-one situations, go at defenders instead of waiting for support, and have a cheeky word with the likes of Andrew Durante during a break in play, when the result looked more secure. He doesn't back down and in life let alone football, that's important.
McGing and Pepper in midfield
Brisbane Roar have not been penetrative in possession this season so, against the only winless team in the A-League before this round, deploying Jake McGing and Jacob Pepper in midfield was sticking two middle fingers up to logic. The relationship between defence and attack received little attention from the Roar, and the Phoenix having the higher shot count from less time on the ball on Saturday was ultimately unsurprising.
Take Steven Taylor's opening goal, for example. It was a dead ball, but Wellington even being in that position comes from a breakdown in Roar possession. As a consequence, Ulises Davila is able to spring into transition and a more precise pass for David Ball would have lead to a quality opportunity on goal, anyway. Stefan Mauk's goal at the death coming in a transition situation, after 85 minutes of lethargy in possession, was a cherry on top.