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Confederations Cup: Australia brace for post-Tim Cahill era, but Socceroos need only a few tweaks

June 23, 2017 12:35 AM
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Plenty of eyes have been drawn to the back of Australia's steadily building side — a shift in formation and shipping nine goals in three games will probably do that.

But perhaps the other end is now of more concern to Ange Postecoglou as he pushes ahead with his three-at-the-back revolution. The post-Tim Cahill era seems to have arrived and, just as we all feared, the Socceroos may not be able to fill that hole easily.

Cahill has long been a convenient get out clause for the Socceroos, even as many of his other powers have waned his knack for scoring for Australia has mostly stayed strong. Think of the World Cup goals, the Asian Cup goals, the qualifying goals — whenever we have needed him, Cahill has been there.

But as his legs grow older and his minutes on the pitch become fewer, Australia rapidly needs to find another way to score.

It's a problem that Postecoglou is trying to fix with this shift in formation. If recent evidence is anything to go by, the back three is not doing anything revolutionary for Australia defensively, but it theoretically could lead to good things in attack.

Australia's strength now is in midfield, namely Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic who are the players entrusted with driving the Socceroos forward offensively. Having a back three and an extra holding midfielder — either Mile Jedinak or Mark Milligan — allows the pair the freedom to go forward as they please.

Rogic in particular has been spending most of his time in advanced positions, and has slotted two wonderful goals in his last three games. He's turning into a fine player, and with Mooy buzzing around behind him should be part of a long-term midfield partnership for the Socceroos.

So those two are locked in, where else can the goals come from? Postecoglou's preferred method, it seems, is to play one striker in this formation and instead load up with midfielders with one of Massimo Luongo, Robbie Kruse or Jackson Irvine joining the fold.

That's four central midfielders all operating in more or less the same space. It makes the Socceroos awfully narrow, and puts a lot of pressure on both the lone striker and the wing-backs to do the heavy lifting in the final third.

That lone striker is Tomi Juric, who has been in scoring form but more from his own opportunism than any stand-out attacking play. He is preferred to the likes of Jamie Maclaren for his ability to hold the ball up with size and strength, which at the same time makes him relatively immobile.

And then there's the wing-backs. Mat Leckie, learning the position on one side, and a rotating troop of players on the left. The latest player to get a crack there, Alex Gersbach, looks the most promising of the lot which also has featured Brad Smith and Aziz Behich.

But there is so much pressure on those two to create the width for Australia, while also having to keep an eye on their defensive responsibilities. With the four midfielders and one target man striker in the centre, the attacking flanks stay largely bare.

Australia had plenty of the ball against Cameroon, but very little of it in the attacking third, or even in the attacking half.

Partner Juric with Maclaren at the expense of that third attacking midfield role. Let Maclaren stretch the defence, as he does so well, with runs in behind and into the channel.

Get some width through his runs, and give the likes of Rogic and Mooy a target to hit with some well-timed through balls. They have the ability to thread those passes, but it's largely going to waste with a static striker and a sea of bodies in their immediate vicinity.

Juric can still play the same role as a focal point, but will no longer have two defenders on his back at all times. The wing-backs can still get up and down as they normally would, but they might have somebody in an advanced position to work with, rather than having to look backwards whenever they get forward.

Postecoglou should be congratulated for taking risks with his team in recent months, and he knows full well there is plenty of improvement still required if the Socceroos are to compete at the 2018 World Cup, or even qualify for it.

But among the many things this Socceroos team needs, attacking spark is right at the top. A bit of variety, a bolt of energy or a sprinkling of magic is needed to turn what is a functional Australian team into a damaging one.


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