Breakdown: The Big Squeeze - when possession kings clash

Often, the most fascinating tactical battles aren’t the clear clashes of style, because when two opponents have different approaches to the game the overall pattern is predictable.

When a possession based side comes up against a counter-attacking team, for example, like Melbourne Victory against Western Sydney Wanderers, the immediate clash is obvious, and although the manner of the home side’s victory was out of left field, the actual tactical conflict was as expected.

When two sides that share the same philosophy meet, however, it’s not entirely clear who can impose their game. Adelaide United against Brisbane Roar was a direct confrontation between two sides keen to hoard possession.

The tactical battle is all about who can implement their style more effectively. But whereas a counter-attacking team naturally balances out a team looking to control the ball, two teams actively wanting to dominate possession can only have one winner.

Past battles between these two sides have been intriguing. Last year, when Adelaide were at the peak of their passing, they met the Roar away from home and dominated possession. That was because Mike Mulvey took a more cautious approach, asked his side to stay fairly compact, and focused more on direct, quick attacking. It wasn’t a total sacrifice of their qualities, but rather a pragmatic bent to their usual game, and worked a treat – Besart Berisha scored twice in a comfortable Roar win.

In this Round One fixture, Mulvey was more aggressive.

Brisbane sat very high up the pitch at goal-kicks, looking to stop Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic from playing out from the back. It was very successful, too - he was forced into far more longer passes than usual and Adelaide struggled to build up possession from the back.

The Roar, though, were having problems of their own. Adelaide stuck tight in midfield, with James Jeggo doing a fine job on Liam Miller, and the front three pressured relentlessly to ensure no Brisbane player had time on the ball. Bruce Djite’s role without the ball was particularly fascinating. He was asked to stick very tight to Luke Brattan, with the hope of nullifying the usual metronomic presence of Brisbane’s #6.

However, the diminutive midfielder responded very cleverly to this man-marking, pushing high up the pitch and dragging Djite away from his natural zones. That created space in deep positions for Matt McKay and Liam Miller to drop into, and help Brisbane work the ball forward.

However, because Adelaide’s marking in midfield was so tight, neither of these players could get time on the ball. The Roar struggled throughout to work the ball forward from deep positions. Brisbane’s trouble in playing out from the back was encapsulated by Matt McKay’s poor pass, under pressure from Pablo Sanchez, which led to Djite’s equaliser - a fitting microcosm of what Adelaide had done well.

Brattan may have nullified one element of the press, but it was a testament to Adelaide’s cohesion in closing down high up the pitch that they remained successful in their approach, thus being able to nullify Brisbane’s usual approach, impose their own style, win the tactical battle and, most importantly, the match.

(Result Roar 1 – 2 Adelaide).

Tim Palmer writes extensively on A-League tactics at