Brisbane Roar returned to form with a crushing 3-1 win over Perth Glory at the weekend - but how did Roar do it and what went wrong for Glory? We break it down...
It might sound obvious to suggest that the first goal in football is incredibly important, but it’s a truism widely accepted but not widely acknowledged. This weekend alone, all five A-League fixtures were won by the side that scored first, while a study into the 2012 European Championships showed that 76% of games were won by the scorers of the first goal.
The point seems rather obvious - if you take the lead, you’re statistically more likely to win that game, but it’s a particularly pertinent point when analysing Brisbane Roar this season. Context and timing of goals can significantly change the pattern of a match, particularly in a game of defence v attack. Friday night’s game against Perth was an excellent demonstration of this, illustrative of the general pattern of Roar games this season.
Brisbane dominate possession. That has been the hallmark of their play since Ange Postecoglou took over in the spring of 2009, the current Socceroos manager installing the foundation of a - in A-League terms - revolutionary tactical system, centred around the 4-3-3 formation, short passing from back to front and the monopolisation of the ball.
After a brief dip last season under Rado Vidosic, Mike Mulvey has returned Brisbane to their roots - only Adelaide come close to Brisbane’s possession statistics, which makes next Sunday’s clash between those two sides especially enticing, because Josep Gombau will urge his side to take Brisbane on at their own game.
The rest of the competition, however, make concessions, often adopting a more defensive approach against Brisbane to deny them space in the final third. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it does lead to tedium, with the majority of Roar games being based around their never-ending control of the ball, and attempts to break down a massed defence.
Therefore, there was little surprise when Kenny Lowe adopted the same approach on Friday night, keeping with the 4-2-3-1 formation he’s preferred since taking over from Alistair Edwards but asking his side to sit very deep, looking to soak up pressure and then attack directly on the counter-attack. After looking promising early on with long, hopeful balls over the top towards Sidnei - and the Brazilian should have done better with his finish when one-on-one with Michael Theo inside the third minute - the game’s pattern was established: Brisbane working the ball forward methodically, but struggling to play around the mass of bodies in front of them.
In fairness, Brisbane did look promising in three particular aspects. Firstly, their left-sided combination looked constantly dangerous - Shane Stefanutto moving forward on the overlap, Thomas Broich drifting inside from the left, and Matt McKay darting forward into pockets of space to link up with the German. The two continually played little triangles around Perth midfielders to create space, with Rostyn Griffiths twice cautioned and finally booked for three scything fouls that cynically attempted to break up Brisbane’s probing passing.
Secondly, Brisbane had a goal threat in the form of Dimitri Petratos on the right-hand side, who benefited from Ivan Franjic providing width on the outside from full-back and so was able to move into narrow positions inside the penalty area. He came close with a sweeping shot that swerved just wide of the far post, and failed to anticipate a fine low ball across the face of goal that would have been an easy tap-in.
Finally, Besart Berisha’s movement dragged William Gallas out of position, the central defender often found a few metres ahead of Perth’s defensive line in what was presumably an attempt to prevent the striker from turning on the ball towards goal - and in fairness, Berisha was quiet, with Gallas doing well not to be exposed for his obvious lack of pace and acceleration.
With Brisbane’s multiple angles of attack, however, Perth always felt vulnerable to the ongoing waves of pressure and momentum, and although the goal came from the atypical (for Brisbane) source of a header off a set-piece, it was reflective of Brisbane’s superiority - but more importantly, gave the home side freedom to play.
Perth immediately had to become more proactive and positive without the ball - encouraged, too, by Lowe’s double change to introduce extra attackers - and that in turn played into Brisbane’s hands. They could now attack more directly, had more space to drive into while in possession, and could string together quick, forward passing moves, practically tripling their shots tally after the goal.
Petratos got in behind from a quick counter but fluffed his shot, while later, Broich played Berisha in behind having been free to receive a diagonal ball wide on the left with lots of space to attack. Later, Berisha lead the counter-attack for the third goal, driving the ball forward into the penalty box and eventually seeing it fall to Broich for a fine curled finish.
By contrast, Brisbane’s previous two games showed how them conceding the first goal can have the opposite effect. With Adam Taggart and Orlando Engelaar giving Newcastle Jets and Melbourne Heart a respective lead in both encounters against Brisbane, it gives the opposition the ability to sit back even more, and prolong Brisbane’s challenge - both matches ended in 1-0 defeats.
There is really no better side than Brisbane in the competition equipped to breaking down a massed defence, reflective of the respect afforded to them by opposition coaches, but their struggles against these defensive tactics in recent weeks - and the fact Perth came under even more defensive pressure when playing more positively on Friday night, because of how much stronger Brisbane looked attacking open spaces - vindicate that approach.