Queensland Roar 1 New Zealand Knights 1The Perth press have the knives out for Steve McMahon apparently, and reflecting on how poorly he has coached Perth -- and he has done a bad job -- led me to thinking about Bleiberg and the Roar. Why are the Roar doing so poorly? Clearly, the Knights are rubbish because they have not attracted quality players to their roster: their star striker played for Exeter recently, and aged Conference-level players are not going to pose many problems for the more competent defenders in the A-League (and indeed Devine posed no problems for the Roar). They looked a desperately bad side, hoping just not to get beaten, unable to do anything with the space the Roar often allowed them -- particularly in the case of Brockie, who was given acres by Queensland's refusal to play a back four with a left-back, despite having a very good one, and yet could do absolutely nothing with it at any point (Queensland simply let him have the ball and waited for him to fuck up, a tactic that worked very well).
Bleiberg persevered with a 343, which should have been a good formation against the Knights. Mark Caravella and they have nothing in midfield; the wingers should have been able to push up and make five up front when the Roar had the ball. But the four sat too far back, a line in front of the defence. They were far too static. Many times, a defender would practically beg the midfield to make a run, only to see everyone stand and wait for the ball. Receive the ball when you're tightly marked and you have nowhere to go but back to the defence. You don't have space to do anything. Time and again, Murdocca, McKay and Richter received the ball and just knocked it back to whoever had given it to them or simply lost it straight away. When they do find space, they try a miracle ball through the middle. I don't think I saw even once a pass from Murdocca to Richter, and certainly not into the space behind the full back. We have the fastest guy in the league and he never has a pass into space. Only when Carro came on did anyone show any willingness to move in midfield. Poor Osvaldo! He must be thinking he's playing in a different game to everyone else. He constantly found space, begging for the ball, but his clueless teammates all too often did not spot him.
Surely this is a coaching matter? Bleiberg can see the same things I can, and he has time to study the video afterwards. But none of Queensland's problems are fixed. He perseveres with Brosque, yet again ineffective up front -- it was telling that the one time Brosque received the ball in space on the left-hand side, he put in a fantastic cross, which Brownlie converted. That was about the only time Brownlie made a useful run. He simply never made himself a convincing target. When Simpson came on to replace him, he once more showed the other strikers how to be a nuisance, moving into space, losing his marker, picking up the ball facing goal and using it intelligently. Brosque's ability is squandered, because he is forever receiving the ball with his back to goal, never in space. If he's going to play up front, Bleiberg must show him videos of Despotovski or, better, Henry, and explain how those players are finding space and giving themselves the chance to create and score goals.
Bleiberg does have the problem of lacking a decent striker, but he's not using his resources intelligently. Okay, he's dropped Baird, and rightly so, but Brownlie is no better. He has better touch, but he's not creative, and doesn't look to use the width that the formation has created. As I say, he makes the same run, flat across the line, every time, and you don't have to be a great defender to keep him marked. Indeed, Brownlie is looking to be marked. He is trying to receive the ball in front of his defender, never to one side, never into space. This would be effective if the midfield were sprinting up the pitch, looking to thrust into the box, but they are not. They are all standing twenty yards away watching him hold it up. Murdocca in particular needs to examine his game. In Bleiberg's formation, with Seo screening the back three, he needs to be playing his football in the opponent's half, as Carro did, not picking up the ball square from Seo. Who are you going to pass to, Massimo? If you look out wide, you are forcing the wingers to come back into your half too.
It's time to make changes. I've suggested previously what they should be and I hope Bleiberg wakes up and sees that it's pointless to persevere with the brand of football the Roar are currently playing. A flat back four is essential. It's no use playing 343 and expecting the two wide men to play as wingbacks -- 523 is a useless formation for football for reasons that surely Bleiberg must understand, they're plain enough. Too many times the back three has been exposed. Simpson (the other one) looks solid enough and Buess is the best leftback in the league, on his showings recently, although far from attacking. Playing with four at the back would allow adequate cover for Gibson (who didn't play against the Knights) when he goes forward (with little effect, although he's not hopeless on the ball) or when he makes a mistake, as he sometimes does, because of overconfidence. In midfield, the Roar are screaming out for Seo to play his football further up the pitch. He's very effective when he gets forward and you wonder why he doesn't do it more -- again, you have to think Bleiberg has told him to sit back; if Bleiberg isn't, he needs to tell him to get forward more; if he has, and Seo is ignoring him, he needs to put him on the bench until he learns who's boss. Carro is probably best bet for the other central midfielder. He was impressive against the Knights, turning the game around in the second half, when the Roar, dire in the first half, showed signs of promise. He tries things that don't work, but some of his work is excellent. The first match I saw, he was very good, but he had a couple of less good matches and Bleiberg seems to have lost faith in him. I think he needs another chance on the showing last Thursday. He should be training with Seo, working on an understanding. Get them doing 2 on 2s on the training pitch, and play them together in practice matches and six-a-sides until they know where each other is with their eyes closed. Richter should be on the right, no question. He should benefit from Carro's football, because Carro is always looking to play a player into space. That's partly why so much of his work doesn't bear fruit. He's passing to where the Roar's midfielders should be, and they're not there. So why hasn't Bleiberg made videos of Carro, and shown them to players such as McKay and Murdocca and said Look, this is where the ball is going, you need to make this and this run to get it? Richter needs to at least be shown the video of the last match, and shown how he could benefit from an understanding of Carro's game. He needs to be told to look for the pass into space, because with his pace, he should be burning past opposing fullbacks, not finding himself stuck with a left midfielder on his arse. Brosque needs to be on the left. He simply isn't a striker. He isn't convinced himself that he is one. Again, he needs to expect the ball into space. Facing goal, he's one of the most talented players in the league, the Roar's jewel. It doesn't always come off for him, but he does have the ability. Given a free role, starting on the left but allowed to roam, he will shine. Played as a target man, he's criminally wasted. He's not a functional, just do the simple thing player but it's okay to have one or two in a side who aren't. McKay has been starting on the left but he's useless. He's less rubbish in the middle, but he is pointless on the left: he never takes a player on and he is the least constructive player I think I've ever seen. I've watched Beazer Homes League wingers who knew more about the way to goal than McKay.
So who should play up front? I think Simpson #2 has to be given a start. He's lively, big and strong, and a neat passer. He works hard and puts himself about in a way that Brownlie just doesn't. I'd like to see Dilevski given a chance too. He's a curious player, because he seems quite intelligent and doesn't generally waste the ball, but doesn't really excite. He's fairly sharp though, and that counts for a lot. Baird, above all else, lacks sharpness. He's too slow to act, which means he is always under too much pressure and never quite has as good a chance as he might. His touch is poor too, and Dilevski's is far better. Up front is without question where Queensland lack. There's no one I've seen who is going to belt the goals in week in, week out. But a reasonably sharp player is going to get a few chances at least, and from what I've seen, Dilevski at least knows where the goal is and has a neat technique, striking the ball pretty cleanly. Worth trying. If he's doing nothing after a half or so, there's a bench full of useless strikers to replace him with. The alternative is to play Richter up front, but I think his poor first touch and woeful shooting would incline you not to. If you did, you could try Murdocca on the right. Dilevski has played on the right a few times, but I don't think he's effective there. He does a lot better on the left. He's two-footed but he favours his left.
Against the Knights, the Roar's best player was Buess, impressively solid and impassable at the back. The TV commentators criticised his distribution, but I think they must have been confusing him with someone else, because he passed it unerringly to McKay, who saw a lot of the ball and did nothing with it. If you think it's an indictment on the Roar that their best player against the worst side in the league was a defender, you're damned right.
The officials were, as is customary, useless. The referee had a poor game, with several wrong decisions and a penchant for pointless lectures when he should have been booking players. The Knights were the dirtiest team I've seen, dirtier even than Melbourne, but it's to be expected that they will scrap for it, so I think that one shouldn't be too hard on them for that. Caravella looked a seriously good player, as he has done throughout the season.