The Breakdown: Grand Final tactical preview

Sunday's A-League grand final between Brisbane Roar and Western Sydney Wanderers is first v second, the competition's two most consistent sides, and fittingly, a clash of contrasting styles.

Possession v counter-attack

Last year, Western Sydney averaged the least possession of any A-League side but were the most effective with it. Although they've evolved into a more patient side this season, their counter-attacking threat will shape Sunday's Grand Final into the classic battle of possession v counter-attack.

Mike Mulvey has remained faithful to the original Ange Postecoglou template of 4-3-3, short passing and playing out from the back, and Brisbane's threat here will dictate the overall pattern of the game.

They'll push the full-backs forward and rotate players through midfield to work the attack forward, before moving the ball from side to side to open up opposition defences. The inward drifts of Thomas Broich, recently crowned the Johnny Warren medallist for his outstanding performances this season, will be crucial. His combination with Matt McKay and Shane Stefanutto down Brisbane's left channel is Brisbane's most dangerous zone, making pockets of space from which he can create.

Whether with incisive through-balls in behind for Besart Berisha or cross-field passes to the direct Dimitri Petratos (or, if he does not recover from injury, Henrique) on the opposite side, Broich will be the Roar's major source of creativity and the key man for Tony Popovic's side to close down.


The Wanderers might be primarily reactive attackers, but are contrastingly proactive defensively, often starting matches with intense pressure high up the pitch, preventing the opposition from settling into their rhythm.

Popovic always seems keen to do this particularly against Brisbane - most noticeably in their most recent clash, a 1-1 draw, but also in last year's semi-final, which the Wanderers won 2-0 - presumably to stop them from dictating the pattern of the game with their possession early on.

For the majority of the game, of course, Brisbane will dominate the ball, but in that crucial opening 20 minutes, it's important the Wanderers don't immediately begin to suffer from relentless waves of attacks, and instead look to prevent Roar players from having lots of time on the ball early on.

Once the game settles, the Wanderers will sit slightly deeper, bringing the front two back in front of two banks of four to create a compact block that'll be difficult to play through. The positioning of the front two will be vital in terms of preventing Luke Brattan time on the ball. When the diminutive playmaker is left unoccupied to wander laterally in front of the defence and play positive forward passes, Brisbane feel far more dangerous because the attackers are constantly distributed the ball in the final third.


Last year, the key talking point ahead of a Wanderers v Central Coast Mariners Grand Final was the absence of Youssouf Hersi - a pacy, tricky winger whose presence in the side directly correlated with Wanderers wins. He'll start from the right, receiving passes in the channels and dribbling directly at opposition defenders, either to cross from the by-line or shoot on goal.

He's also supported by the tireless Jerome Polenz, who constantly gets forward from full-back to provide an overlapping threat, crossing on either foot. Having got the better of Josh Rose in last Saturday's semi-final against the Mariners, he'll fancy his chances against Shane Stefanutto here - the individual clash on that side will be a fascinating battle zone.

Hersi's defensive contribution will also be important. Brisbane's triangle down the left is a constant threat and Shannon Cole was required to nullify it in the 1-1 draw back in April. If Hersi doesn't track back and give Polenz protection, the German might be overwhelmed.


While there's little doubt Besart Berisha will start in what will be his final game for the Roar before moving onto Melbourne Victory, Popovic has a difficult choice between Brendon Santalab and Tomi Juric. 

Both physical, powerful strikers, Juric has the edge in terms of pure goals, having scored eight to Santalab's five. However, Santalab has started in most of Western Sydney's recent 'big' games, including the semi-final, where he played an important, intangible role pushing high up on the Mariners' back five, forcing them to sit deeper and opening up space between the lines for the other attackers. He also created the opening goal with a fine low cross for Hersi.

It's an incredibly close call between the two for Popovic, unlike Mulvey, who, barring a major surprise, will use Berisha at the apex of his 4-3-3. There's the growing suspicion, however, the side might be stronger without Berisha and, given the Albanian's penchant for collecting red cards (three this season), there's been plenty of opportunities to observe this.

In his absence, Broich has been used upfront in a false 9 role, where he's excellent drifting to either flank and linking up the play, inviting runners to get in beyond him and allowing Brisbane to play with two direct wingers.

However, what Broich lacks is Berisha's eye for goal. He scored the decisive penalty in Brisbane's last Grand Final against Perth Glory and the lone goal in their 1-0 semi-final win over Melbourne Victory. A player with tremendous determination and insatiable work rate, he'll be keen to see off the Suncorp crowd with a final match-defining, title-winning goal.


Tim Palmer writes extensively on A-League tactics at