Cornthwaite’s Corner: Round 2

Sunday’s game against Wellington felt like I was watching a movie I’d seen before. Adelaide dominated the opening half an hour but they didn’t know how to reward themselves for all their dominance. In the end, a last-gasp equaliser rescued a point. An all-too familiar tale.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was an excellent performance to start the new season. A long road trip to New Zealand and a few key players missing from the starting eleven could have given the Reds plenty of excuses, but they weren’t looking for any.

In the opening 25 minutes, the visitors absolutely dominated the Phoenix. Back home after a long absence, you would have expected them to pile pressure on and come out all guns blazing. It wasn’t until the 21st minute that the Nix gave the starved fans at the Cake Tin a taste of exciting attacking football. Up until then, United hadn’t allowed it.

Isaías tackles Wellington’s Bozhidar Kraev at Sky Stadium in Round 1.

Carl Veart’s men were averaging close to 80 per cent possession and when they did turn it over, the press was swift. Louis D’Arrigo and Isaías gave the Nix midfield no chance to turn and face forward. They were constantly pressing, and Wellington’s key players couldn’t get a sniff of the ball.

In the wide areas, Ben Halloran and Ryan Kitto were fluid and first to everything, getting plenty of the ball in dangerous positions, and Javi López and Harry Van der Saag were on the front foot, effortlessly transitioning from attack to defence.

The frustrating part was the lack of opportunities created from all that dominance and then, in the 25th minute, Brazilian midfielder, Yan Sasse, was sent off on debut for his “tackle” on Javi López. The Spaniard was lucky he wasn’t seriously injured in the collision, but seriously, López is still the most underrated player in the Isuzu UTE A-League. He very rarely makes a bad decision with or without the ball, he’s almost impossible to disposes, and I can’t remember a time when an attacker has beaten him. Nobody gets past him – ever.

In my opinion, he is one of the best full-backs this league has ever seen.

Javi López pushing forward with the ball against Wellington.

The red card changed the game for Adelaide’s two centre backs. When Oskar Zawada and Kosta Barbarouses were the two up top, the Reds looked completely in control and more than comfortable. When Sasse was sent off and Barbarouses dropped back into the midfield, they were left with just the big number nine to take care of. But with Adelaide getting more possession in its attacking third, Lachlan Barr and Alexandar Popović were left isolated and with more space to patrol. Popović was caught out chasing once in the first half and both looked vulnerable at times in the second. In fact, Zawada should have given the home side the lead much earlier when he got the better of the pair and struck it straight at Joe Gauci.

I know from experience it’s not easy playing against ten men and when the lone striker has nothing to lose, he grows in confidence. He tried things he wouldn’t usually, and that can be unpredictable. All the pressure is on you to stop them, and they’re playing with complete freedom. That’s when you and your partner need to work together even more to close their space, not let them get in behind, and not let them get their tails up. One in front and one behind – it’s 2-v-1.

In the first half, Adelaide repeatedly looked to get the ball into the box but failed to create a chance of real quality, a theme that continued in the second. Zach Clough had a half chance very early from a cut back and D’Arrigo did really well to get a strike away in a tight area, which was well saved by Oliver Sail. It was probably the best chance of the first half.

Zach Clough came close to converting from distance with a long-range strike against Wellington Phoenix.

When I asked the question last week: ‘Where is the improvement going to come from?’ during The Round Table podcast, I focused on the individual and, as a whole, Adelaide didn’t have any passengers on the weekend, but they still couldn’t find their way through when presented with an obstacle they’ve seen many times before. They have to learn to punish the opposition when they have the upper hand. In football, at some point the opponent will find a way to have a period of dominance.

Sometimes you need to do something different just to create the actual opportunity you’re looking for. Players could have looked to cut the ball back on more than one occasion. George Blackwood received a ball in the second half on one of the few occasions it was pulled back but was quickly closed down. One of the wingers could have looked to cut inside and take on the striker, particularly when Kitto and Halloran swapped sides, and it doesn’t hurt for someone to take a strike from long range every now and then. Clough tried late on and had Sail stretching. Even if it’s just to keep the defence on their toes, ask a different question and you might get a different picture to play to.

Last week I also wrote that Barbarouses and Ben Waine would add plenty of attack. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The pair combined to put the home side in front, but like we have seen so many times before, you can’t rule the Reds out. It’s part of the fabric of this team, it’s all they know, and the never-say-die attitude will take them a long way this season. You don’t want to have to rely on it all the time though.

Seeing Craig Goodwin make a cameo, even just as a conditioning exercise, was encouraging. A massive step in the right direction.

Craig Goodwin made a successful return to competitive football against Wellington Phoenix after recovering from injury that plagued him throughout pre-season.

Next up, another away trip, this time to Sydney to face the Australia Cup winners, Macarthur FC.

They came into the season on a massive high after beating Sydney United to claim their first ever trophy and I was expecting big things, but I have to say I was disappointed with their performance against Brisbane Roar, particularly their first 45 minutes. They didn’t quite look like they were on the same wave length and failed to really fire. They opted to start Anthony Carter up front and Jerry Skotadis at the base of midfield, which gave a completely different balance to the side. It didn’t work.

I expect them to revert to Kearyn Baccus as the holding midfielder and Lachlan Rose as the striker. This will give them far more control in the midfield and more energy up top.

The Bulls play with two attacking midfielders who roam between the lines. Ulises Dávila and Danny De Silva weren’t at their best on the weekend, but like many of the Macarthur frontline, they possess moments of magic, meaning they’re never really out of the game.

Hiroshi Ibusuki will return from a one-game suspension to face Macarthur, the side he scored a clinical header against at Coopers Stadium in Round 23 last season.

Let’s also not forget former Red, Al Hassan Toure, and Daniel Arzani. Toure was a star in the pre-season and looks to have gotten his body right. Arzani didn’t have a great game against the Roar and was subbed out after 60 minutes and will be looking to bounce back. The latter didn’t offer a lot defensively, so Adelaide should make him work back and defend as much as they can. It’ll use up vital energy and makes it much harder for him to get forward and receive the ball in dangerous areas. Don’t be afraid to get physical with him and try and get under his skin early.

One area Adelaide must look to exploit is Macarthur’s habit of getting lopsided. At times, in possession, their midfield will be all on one side of the field in close proximity to the ball carrier. The back four tends to get very narrow with the opposite full back coming all the way inside, leaving a paddock to utilise. While this allows them to create an overload in attack, it also creates space. When the Bulls lose the ball, they’ll look to immediately press and win it back quickly. If Adelaide can get through the press and switch the play, there’ll be plenty of room to carry the ball forward and advance into the opposition’s front third.

An area that was really strong on the weekend was their two central defenders. They defended the air and set pieces with authority and ate up any balls into the penalty box. Hiroshi Ibusuki will be back in contention for the Reds to add more competition for the towering Jonathan Aspropotamitis and Tomislav Uskok.

Hopefully United learnt something from the Wellington game. They had 40 crosses on the weekend and I can’t remember any headers that came close to troubling the keeper. Someone must make a sacrificial run to create space for someone else, or change the angle of the cross. Sometimes from the byline and other times from deeper to whip it in behind the Bulls’ defence.

Debutant, Musa Toure, takes on two Wellington Phoenix defenders as he tries to put the ball into the box.

All in all, it was a positive first up performance on Sunday, if not a frustrating one. If Adelaide want to be the real deal this season, that was a game they just had to win. 20 shots on goal, but just six on target – they have to improve the quality of chances they create. Utter dominance from the start and playing against ten men for 65 minutes, it was two points dropped and they almost ended up with nothing. In the end they only had themselves to blame.

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