One of the most anticipated games of the A-league is the Sydney derby. In this season, these two teams, Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC have met three times. Western Sydney Wanderers have won two of the three fixtures and one being a stalemate. On matchday 24, the two teams met at the Bankwest stadium, with the result being 1-1.
Sydney FC was in the first position on the table with 47 points and seven points clear from second positioned Melbourne City. A win would have extended the lead. WSW, on the other hand, was in the eighth position on the table with 25 points, a win would have put them in the sixth position. This tactical analysis will look into the tactics used by both teams and provide analysis of the stalemated game.
Sydney FC lined up in the usual 4-4-2. This formation has been used by Steve Corica throughout the season with very little changes. Andrew Redmayne was between the sticks. A back-four line consisted of Rhyan Grant, Ryan McGowan, Alex Wilkinson, and Joel King. The midfield was formed by Luke Bratton and Paulo Retre with the wide midfield players Alexander Baumjohann and Milos Ninkovic. The forward two were Kosta Barberouses and Adam Le Fondre.
Western Sydney Wanderers lined up in 3-4-3 similar to how Dortmund currently line up. The previous coach of the Wanderers, Markus Babbel was sacked in January, and Jean-Paul de Marigny was declared as the caretaker. Under Marigny, the Wanderers have lined up in 3-4-3 frequently. The back three of Matthew Jurman, Dylan McGowan, and Patrick Ziegler in front of goal-keeper Daniel Lopar. Daniel Georgievski, Jordan O’ Doherty, Keanu Baccus, and Tate Russell formed the midfield line. The front three were Mitchell Duke, Kwame Yeboah, and Simon Cox.
Midfield domination by Sydney FC
Sydney FC’s wide midfielders, Ninkovic and Baumjohann, tucked into central areas, opening up the wide areas to the full-backs. So, the midfield consisted of four players of Sydney FC, Ninkovic, Baumjohann, Retre, and Bratton against two midfielders of WSW, Baccus and O’ Doherty. Baccus marked Ninkovic most of the time and O’ Doherty marked Baumjohann. To block the progress through the middle, the Wanderers had to eliminate the numerical superiority in the midfield. Hence one of the forwards of WSW, Yeboah man-marked Retre with another forward, Cox or Duke would position himself in between the centre-back and CDM, Bratton.
In the above image, Cox is moving to press the centre-back while covering the CDM, Bratton.
Here is another instance, where Cox, marked in red, is positioned between Bratton and centre-back. This situation often puts the player in a dilemma.
The ball in the above situation was passed to the other centre-back, Cox decided to press, and Bratton came into the half-space to receive the pass and continued the build-up. To avoid this situation, the forwards line would then sit back to defend in a compact formation of 5-2-3.
Baumjohann would make cut-in runs, which posed WSW a lot of problems. As in this case, he dribbled from the right flank to the central area. The midfielders of WSW to defend, got out from their position which created a space for Ninkovic to occupy.
Baumjohann soon picked out the pass and made a run into the final third. As can be observed the WSW players, in red marker, are out of position and Baumjohann, in green marker, is into the final third. This pass moving on resulted in the ball finding the net and giving the table-toppers the lead. From the attack map of Sydney FC, it is inferred that most attacks came from the centre and with maximum danger level.
This shows the impact of Ninkovic, Baumjohann, Bratton, and Retre on the midfield during the attack phase. They created a quadrilateral in the midfield and dominated the centre of the pitch.
Defending and counter-attack strategy of WSW
WSW defended in a 3-4-3 formation. The full-backs defended up the pitch, pressuring the opposition full-backs. This would create gaps in the half-spaces. These gaps were exploited by Sydney FC. The forwards would occupy these spaces and stretch the defensive line even more.
WSW full-back, Georgievski marked in red, is retreating. But Grant makes an overlapping run for a through-pass played by Bratton into the half-space. Though he collected the pass, the attack could not find the back of the net. On the left flank also Le Fondre has occupied the half-space with Russell still retreating to the backline.
WSW to counter this began to use the respective full-back when the ball would be on the respective flank. Meaning that when the ball would be on the right flank, the right full-back Russell would press while left full-back, Georgievski, would sit back to make a back-four line and vice versa. We can see this in the following instance.
The left full-back, Russell, in red is pressing high as the ball is with the opposition’s left full-back, while Georgievski on the far side, marked in red, is trailing back to keep a back-four line.
Another interesting thing is the counter-attack strategy that was used by the Wanderers. Whenever Sydney FC won a throw-in, the Wanderers’ players would man-mark every player near the throw-in and press intensely to win the ball back.
Here, Sydney FC players tried to play the ball to Ninkovic in the midfield, who was taking the run. It was intercepted, and a counter-attack started, which ended with Baccus just floating the ball across the post. Again here, the WSW players press intensely while the Sydney FC players try to get out of the throw-in situation.
After the corners were cleared by Sydney FC also, WSW players pressed high to gain the ball and start a counter-attack. The pressing intensity of the wanderers was 9.1 to 17.9 of Sydney FC, similar to the strategy used by Liverpool in the EPL.
Attack of the Wanderers
Sydney FC defended in a 4-4-2 formation. It also changed to 4-3-3 at times, with Baumjohann joining the front line to press. Sydney FC forwards would mark the midfielders of WSW, to create pressure on the centre-backs, the wide midfielders, Ninkovic and Baumjohann would step forward out of their position as shown.
This created gaps for the full-backs of WSW to occupy and exploit. Also, it left the backline of Sydney FC exposed. This attacking strategy was used by the Wanderers initially. The ball would be passed on to the flanks, then from the flanks, the full-backs would play inside towards the centre. Usually, one of the forward players would be occupying this space. For example, the instance after the image shown above.
Georgievski, marked in red, passes inside towards Cox who has come down the pitch to collect the ball. Georgievski runs forward to further occupy the space on the wings. Every attack intended to get the ball in the middle of the pitch to one of the three forwards. For this to be possible, the forwards always occupied the space in between the lines.
To prevent this stretching and exposing of the backline, Baumjohann constantly marked Georgievski. This is seen in the image below.
Baumjohann, marked in red, has gone deep down the pitch to keep marking Georgievski (in green), who was a constant threat to the backline as can be inferred from the attack map of the Wanderers. Out of the 54 attacks that WSW made, 24 were made from the left flank where Georgievski operated. Though the xG was less, it proved significant in the attacking phase. Also, notice three forward players of the Wanderers have occupied the space in between the lines.
In the second half, Georgievski was used as a ploy. As Baumjohann was constantly marking him, he moved further into his half to attract Baumjohann out of the position.
As Baumjohann is out of position, Duke (circled) has occupied the space on the wings and is stretching the defence line. There is a gap opening up in the half-space. The search for the goal intensified for the Wanderers in the second half, the cross rates went up. The goal scored was a ricochet off the feet of Yeboah. Cross produced by substitute Bruce Kamau, was not cleared properly and fell to the feet of Cox, who was standing a little deep towards his goal. He took the shot ricocheted off the feet of Yeboah and the Wanderers equalised.
Both the teams had roundabout same possession of the ball, with Wanderers enjoying 52% of the possession. The Wanderers also registered 20 shots as compared to the eight shots of Sydney FC. All in all a very tactical match with a struggle between both teams to control the centre. Sydney FC extended its lead over the top of the table to eight points and Western Sydney Wanderers remained at the eighth position on the table after the derby stalemate.