How smart Sydney FC are with their press against a 3-5-2 will be key in Sunday's Grand Final against Perth Glory.
Former A-League coach and Fox Sports analyst Scott Miller believes this will be one of the defining elements of a fascinating tactical battle on Sunday at Optus Stadium.
This season, the Euro/Aussie quartet of Diego Castro, Chris Ikonomidis, Joel Chianese and Andy Keogh have helped Perth Glory score almost 60 goals in 28 games in the league and finals.
But, as Miller explains, Sydney FC is the one side capable of absorbing Glory’s creative element while hitting on the break via the prolific Adam Le Fondre.
A fascinating tactical battle awaits, says Miller a UEFA ‘A’ and AFC Pro diploma coach.
“I like that it’s two teams playing two different systems," he tells FTBL. “And, oddly, if there is a team to do it against Perth, it’s Sydney FC.
“There’ll be an extra number in midfield. That back three affords Glory an extra man in midfield so how do Sydney drop off and compress the space to limit the pockets of space for the likes of Chianese, Ikonomidis, and Castro?
"They’ll have to do that. Any time you play a high press against that 3-5-2, you’re in trouble. Because the space in the midfield opens up.
“So I see Sydney dropping off to that mid third and condensing it as they did against Victory [in the semi final], and hitting on the counter from that mid third.
“If they press high, I don’t see much joy," he warned. "I see Perth’s quality cutting them to pieces.
"So Sydney is going to have to make sure they cope with that, but in transition, Le Fondre’s speed is going to be crucial.
“Perth has been outstanding, but there’s something concrete at Sydney FC this year. They’ve been pretty consistent all year. After the four to six rounds it’s been stable and consistent.
“Some managers come in and change things too quickly. Corica has just stabilised the side. And I feel Corica plays a system that’s less physically taxing on certain players.
"And it suits the personnel. The old 4-4-2 is easy to play."
He added: “Another key will be individual quality and stopping that. That’s a broad view but the likes of Castro for Glory will be crucial.
"So how Sydney FC structurally set up to deny him space in the pockets will be key."
“The expectations on Perth are only going to be intensified by playing the final at home.
“Although I believe this will give them great confidence, the style in which Sydney plays, with such discipline and experience, I see it really causing problems for Perth.
“The key will be the defensive structure from Sydney. No doubt Steve Corica has tactically prepared his team to eliminate the key threats of Perth in that final third.
“We’ve seen in twice this year when Sydney FC played Glory, by condensing the mid third and limiting space for the creative midfielders it can stop Perth’s threat," he said.
As a qualified fitness coach, having worked his way up in Fulham’s set up from the academy to the first team fitness coach to a dual role of fitness/assistant coach in the English Premier League, Miller has been impressed with the Tony Popovic-led regime in Perth.
“Fitness will always remain the true foundation to any team, the greater the capacity for work, the more likely you can outwork the opponent in and out of possession," said Miller.
“As for the influence Tony has instilled, I’ve not witnessed it in person, however essentially he’s implemented a culture of hard work, self-discipline, and measurement, something for me that is a given at the elite level.
“It’s one thing having your team fit, however, the most intelligent head coaches are the ones who can balance the physical capacity with player availability, and that’s where your training prescription and load management is a key component.
“Tony has ensured his players remain accountable via his methods, and that creates a certain mindset amongst the players and is a key driver in the player application.”
Miller was based in West London with Fulham for 10 years.
He then worked briefly in the Socceroos set up in late 2013 before becoming head coach at Newcastle Jets aged just 33 (where he was sacked in 2016 after one season following an ownership change).
The Victorian then became an assistant coach in Denmark at Aalborg in 2016-2017. Miller has in recent times returned home to Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula.
He’s now coaching local NPL 2 side Langwarrin and has set up an elite academy called Identity Pro.
“My experience at the elite level has shown me the importance of players preparing and training with specificity, however unfortunately not all players have access to the elite standards of coaching, sports science, sports medicine, and psychology,” he told FTBL at the site’s launch.
“Numerous aspects within the player pathway provide the player the greatest opportunity of becoming a professional, and it was that view that became the inspiration behind Identity Pro.
“I wanted to make elite services available to the emerging talent in Australia.
“To create the modern player, we need to treat them like one, and provide the modern approach to player development and that can only be provided by key people who have been exposed to the elite world of football.”