Confusion reigned supreme when Adelaide United posted their lineup on Wednesday evening.
With Kusini Yengi out with injury, Mohammed Toure out with COVID-19 and George Blackwood on the bench, Adelaide featured an innovative lineup in their FFA Cup match against Melbourne Victory.
Over the last few seasons, sides in the A-League Men have deployed a strikerless system with a false nine.
No side, however, has stuck to that fluid philosophy.
We have seen sides in the A-League Men deploy a singular false nine to mixed effect over the last two seasons, with no side sticking to that fluid philosophy.
However, Carl Veart’s side struck the innovative chord that others hadn’t dared in previous years, lining up in a double false striker system – in what was a 4-4-2 on paper.
Stefan Mauk and Joe Caletti were tasked with dropping deeper from Melbourne Victory’s defensive line as false strikers, with Craig Goodwin and Josh Cavallo occupying the right and left touchline respectively.
While on paper Louis D’Arrigo and Juande started as the two deeper midfielders, D’Arrigo would often move forwards centrally, in line with the aforementioned Mauk and Caletti.
In theory, the tactic was clever, as Melbourne Victory’s 4-2-4 press leaves space for the two midfielders to be dragged wide or unable to block the halfspaces, and overloading the midfield area with a player centrally and in either halfspace made sense.
However, the players looked increasingly uncomfortable as the game progressed, and the majority of Melbourne Victory’s chances came from misplaced passes due to a poor build-up structure for Adelaide, as the two centre backs and Juande were outnumbered by their opponents’ front line, forcing the fullbacks to come deeper in an attempt to progress the ball.
In the 70th minute, the introduction of George Blackwood saw the more familiar 4-2-3-1 come into play for Adelaide, while they eventually succumbed to defeat following a penalty from Francesco Margiotta in the 79th minute.
With Adelaide losing an FFA Cup match for the first time in 1507 days, COVID infused head coach Carl Veart decided with his coaching staff for a switch back to 4-2-3-1 for the oncoming league fixture, once again against Melbourne Victory.
Adelaide once again struggled in their build-up play, with attacking midfielder/shadow striker Stefan Mauk too often looking to stretch his opponents’ defence with runs in behind rather than presenting for a pass in between the lines.
This, combined with Isaias’ consistently poor decision making and the fullbacks’ inability to progress the ball meant that, once again, Adelaide played right into Melbourne Victory’s press.
In the 54th minute, Adelaide once again reverted to their strikerless system, which only manifested their problems in the build-up on a higher scale.
There was a subtle change in the build-up – with Isaias back in the side Adelaide switched from a 2-1 build-up to a 2-2 or 3-1, while the box midfield was reminiscent of a tactic deployed by the Socceroos in the early stages of their third-round qualifying for the World Cup.
The system exemplified players’ weak traits within the squad without showing their strengths, with the majority of the team – at some point over the two games – being put in positions where they looked awkward or uncomfortable.
Jacob Tratt – for all his physical and defensive strengths – is not a comfortable progresser of the ball, particularly when passing in between the lines.
This meant that right-back Javi Lopez was consistently having to come deeper to offer, which was where Melbourne Victory would set a pressing trap.
Lopez offering for the ball compressed the space in which Adelaide had to play, while the photo below shows the inadequacies of their build-up play after the right-back received the ball.
A key philosophy when building from the back is having one player extra in relation to the opposition frontline/press for a passing option, which Adelaide clearly don’t.
Meanwhile, left-back Josh Cavallo is most likely in line a vertical line with winger Craig Goodwin (the camera angle makes it impossible to see) and should be looking to tuck in to form a back three or come inside into midfield, to provide an option centrally and pull the Melbourne Victory press back.
The pressure on Juande only leaves a low probability switch on his weaker foot to Cavallo – which would likely be intercepted due to his body positioning drawing a lack of power, or for a pass back to Tratt, which is what occurred.
Tratt once again cleared the ball forwards.
To improve, Adelaide could look to move towards a 3-2-3-2 or 3-2-5 build-up structure.
One fullback could invert into midfield with the other forming a three in the backline, taking the pressure off Tratt to progress the ball.
Bernardo Olivera could be moved as one of the two false nines where he may excel – he isn’t a winger that can stretch play vertically with ease.
This could also open up an avenue for Craig Goodwin to move to the right flank, and for Ryan Kitto to become a winger with Josh Cavallo in his place as a fullback – Cavallo can also play in midfield and would therefore be comfortable playing inverted.
Goodwin struggles when receiving his ball back to goal but could alternate with Bernardo (with Kitto and the other false nine doing the same on the other side) to drift wide to pick up possession when need be – the key facet is the spacing out of the lines and having someone always keeping the width.
Goodwin (like Bernardo and Cavallo) is uncomfortable when being asked to stretch play with runs in behind as a wider winger, but on the right, he will have more chance to drop in and assist build-up with his long-range passing and short combination play.
Bernardo can supply the verticality when Goodwin drops in, and the two of them would make a fantastic combination on the right.
Bernardo’s biggest strength is being able to run at defenders in a one versus one, and the right side would become strong with his ability to peel wide and dribble at defences combining with Goodwin’s technique on crosses and shots from outside the box.
On the right, it would be slightly more freestyle with Goodwin, Bernardo and Javi Lopez all interchanging in a triangle to allow the three to play to their strengths.
Meanwhile, in Kitto, Adelaide has a dynamic winger who can stretch the defence verticality while maintaining his width, and with Cavallo coming inside and underlapping, and that can present a more rigid attacking option, as Mauk remains slightly more central.
Meanwhile, dropping Isaias for one of Joe Caletti or Louis D’Arrigo would also be sensible.
They could occupy the role in the three-man midfield attacking midfield, flanked by the two false nines on either side.
Caletti looked awkward as one of the two false strikers – he remains conservative in his passing and prefers a more central role.
Caletti could be a bounce player in the centre of the pitch, looking to keep the tempo high with short sharp passes and confuse the defence with his vertical movement up and down to assist with build-up play.
He could also utilise his ball-winning abilities for counter-pressing situations, from which Adelaide could profit on double transition moments.
Adelaide’s double false nine system spells an innovative idea from Carl Veart, and in theory was clever with the reds looking to overload Melbourne Victory’s double pivot in their 4-2-4 press.
However, the system didn’t suit the capabilities of their squad and showed their weaknesses rather than their strengths.
They failed to stick to the non-negotiable principles in build-up and were lucky to not quite face the wrath of consequences, with Melbourne Victory failing to capitalise on the opportunities presented by Adelaide over the two games.
It remains an exciting prospect, but needs adjustments should Adelaide look to contend for finals this season.
Image Supplied: Adelaide United