A-League review: Robbie Kruse gets Melbourne Victory back on track, Sydney FC ruthlessly efficient again
It's Monday, so here's the good, bad and ugly from Round 8 in the A-League.
Column A or Column B?
Marco Kurz's side didn't dominate the game over the course of 90 minutes but, in contrast to other games this season, were notably able to claim early momentum and capitalise. In the first-half -- when Victory had to -- the home side were able to create chances at AAMI Park, and it was borne of Kruse's constant movement around the ball, acting as a pressure valve for his teammates.
Unable to start before Friday due to injury, take Kruse's goal, for example. It wasn't simply the fact the 31-year-old scored the eventual winner, but between Ola Toivonen receiving the ball with his back to goal and Kruse putting the ball in the back of the net, the latter has made the Perth defence scramble with three separate instances of penetrative movement.
On the other hand, last year's minor premiers are suddenly bottom of the A-League ladder two months into the season. Since the last international break of the 2018-19 season, Tony Popovic's side only have a 33 percent win record. In the majority of those games, both last season and this term, Perth had the ball but they were not dictating the terms of the match. It's really that simple, and there were numerous examples on Friday that showed why. Watch this space. There's a lot of it, really.
Sydney FC's momentary adjustment
As touched upon this season, Sydney FC do not have to play particularly well over 90 minutes to obtain three points in the A-League. It showed again in their 2-0 victory over Western United in Geelong on Sunday. Coming up against a United side that need the ball, there was a sense the reigning champions were going to defend and counter, even before news of Milos Ninkovic's unavailability surfaced. The fact last season's Joe Marston medallist didn't play only made it a formality. Until Ryan McGowan's treatment for a bloodied nose during the first half, Western United dictated the terms of the match.
How Mark Rudan's side tried to deny space for Anthony Caceres and Alexander Baumjohann froze Sydney's phases of possession, when they did have longer spells. Yet, Sydney are the reigning champions for a reason. Both Adam Le Fondre's opener from a dead ball on 27 minutes and response after it underpinned why.
To their credit, Steve Corica's side showed resolve and determination, while they are also good enough to capitalise on moments. The transitional phase tends to ease Sydney's approach to risk off the ball and Le Fondre's second on the stroke of half-time was a contrast to what preceded. Arguably what followed, too. Kosta Barbarouses -- at least in the build-up to the second goal -- made the necessary counter-move to Western United's initial defensive approach. Dario Jertec didn't make the second defensive effort to cover Baumjohann, and it was suddenly game over before the second half even started.
Same same, but very different
Neither Daniel De Silva and Dylan Wenzel-Halls are imposing figures physically. Both have a relatively high technical aptitude for the A-League and can impact the collective's attacking phases with their movement. Despite evident similarities on the surface, though, they are very much unalike as players. There was a passage in Brisbane Roar's 2-0 win over the Central Coast Mariners on Saturday that helped highlight this.
In the 60th minute, De Silva is in a one-on-one situation close to goal. He tries some stepovers and nothing comes of the move, with Brisbane regaining possession. In the very next action, Wenzel-Halls is able to get past Jack Clisby with a drop of his shoulder in a one-on-one situation, before assisting Roy O'Donovan for the Roar's opener.
Hypnotic he might be with the ball in tight, but De Silva does not have a quick first step. Meanwhile, Wenzel-Halls is much more rapid in that respect. That one difference means they cannot be utilised in the same way. Wenzel-Halls could run at defenders in isolation from wide positions, and was a vast improvement on Jake McGing on the right flank. Conversely, on one side of Matt Simon and with a midfield of Giancarlo Gallifuoco, Gianni Stensness and Kim Eun-sun, De Silva was a black hole for Mariners possession to die in.
Newcastle and realisation
Goalkeeper Daniel Lopar had a fine game in goal for Western Sydney on Saturday, in spite of the Wanderers' 2-0 loss to Newcastle. His quick responses to quell immediate danger, with only him separating Newcastle and the goal, made for some textbook keeping. However much that says of the Wanderers' poor performance collectively -- again -- it says just as much about Newcastle's inability to realise movements. Something of concern irrespective of the three points gained, it is an emerging pattern for the Jets. They simply need to finish chances.
Against Western Sydney, and in other games against Adelaide, Western United and Central Coast, the Jets had significant opportunities one-on-one with the keeper. Either to put the team in a winning position or consolidate it. Even late in their 4-1 loss to Sydney FC, Jason Hoffman had two particular chances. Fittingly, Dimi Petratos' sealer came from a two-on-one scenario with Lopar, after a brilliant run behind the defensive line from Angus Thurgate.
Goals do change games, and although the likes of Steven Ugarkovic and Ben Kantarovski can penetrate from midfield, it all means little if Newcastle can't capitalise on those opportunities. Still, at least in comparison to the Wanderers over the course of the season thus far, the Jets do create. They at least look more capable of sustaining positive results.
Adelaide United director of football, Bruce Djite, was quick to make his displeasure known to #SokkahTwitter on Sunday, following the Reds' 2-1 loss to Wellington Phoenix at Coopers Stadium. Ulises Davila's 71st-minute winner for the Phoenix comes from an arguable penalty, but the fact George Blackwood reached out to grab Liberato Cacace made a penalty decision ultimately rational. Then again, Wellington deserved to turn the result around, after being the better team on the whole. Adelaide should not be rueing the referee's whistle, but their own performance.
And then, there's Nikola Mileusnic's opener. Thank goodness his finish, however spectacular it was, did not decide the match. Unlike rule changes on the gather step that have created a vast mass of grey on what constitutes a travel in the NBA, mere laxity from referees has seemingly eliminated the foul throw in football.
A menial observation it may seem, but like the gather step, the lack of calls on foul throws in football as a whole have impacted the pace of the game. Before Mileusnic's goal, Michael Maria's foot was in the air at the point of release, from his quick throw-in. It should not have stood.