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  • Writer's pictureChristian Marchetti

A-League Men: Understanding the erratic nature of Adelaide United's recent displays

Ross Aloisi earned the three points his reinvigorated Brisbane Roar side granted him on Sunday, as the former Adelaide United assistant coach comfortably did a number on his old side at Coopers Stadium. While Aloisi enjoyed his homecoming, former coaching counterpart Carl Veart had little response to a rejuvenated second-half performance by the Roar. He was again left pondering another outing where his side displayed the varying extremes plaguing their performances.

A frustrated Isaias (centre) during the second half of Adelaide United's 2-0 A-League Men defeat to the Brisbane Roar. (Ben Blaess/BDb.media)


As their dramatic collapse to Macarthur in Round 6 A-League Men action played out, a concerning theme was starting to become evident surrounding Carl Veart's 2023/24 Adelaide United side. Though Veart's charges left many onlookers in awe at the season's outset, recent weeks have highlighted extreme inconsistencies. At their best, Adelaide looks untouchable; at their worst, hopeless.


Heading into Sunday afternoon's encounter against Ross Aloisi's Brisbane, a response from the Reds was imperative following the astonishing surrender at Campbelltown Stadium and only one win in their previous four outings.


A decent first-half display saw Adelaide play better than their opponents throughout the opening 20 minutes or so, creating enough opportunities without truly testing Brisbane goalkeeper Macklin Freke. Within ten minutes to start the second period, the script had astonishingly flipped again, as Veart's side had, again, inexplicably wilted, this time allowing the Roar to race into a 2-0 lead through goals from Jez Lofthouse and midfield talisman Jay O'Shea.


In Adelaide's three defeats this season, they have conceded within the first ten minutes, either from the outset or at the second half's commencement. Beyond slow starts to halves, the Reds are developing a knack for showing their best and worst over 90 minutes, sometimes even 45 minutes.

So, what are the reasons behind such erratic performances? There are several, with the main discussion point surrounding personnel, whether sudden changes to Veart's lineup or senior players failing to display consistent form.

Carl Veart's side have now won only one of their last five A-League Men fixtures. (Ben Blaess/BDb.media)


From a personnel standpoint, Adelaide United made a few changes against the Roar that likely impacted the on-pitch chemistry of the side. Ben Warland and Lachie Barr featured as a defensive pairing for the first time this season, whilst Luke Duzel came in for young Jonny Yull, who was likely rested after starting the first six games of the new campaign.


Duzel's role was perplexing, given that most of his Reds career has been played in the number six role usually occupied by Spanish veteran Isaias. Duzel looked decent as a number eight, but playing him in a new position was probably not ideal for the player.


Further, Duzel had seemingly started to find his feet in the lone six role within Veart's system of late, particularly after steadying the ship in the midfield area after Isaias' lacklustre first half against Macarthur. What may have been more frustrating for the youngster and Reds fans here was seeing the Spaniard again have more or less no impact on proceedings against Brisbane.


Isaias was nowhere to be seen throughout his 77 minutes on Sunday, failing to involve himself in possession and being overrun on the other side of the ball. His sudden dip in performances reflects the team's erratic nature, with the 36-year-old looking like his best self in the season's early rounds before suddenly reverting to his average displays from 2022/23 in recent games.


Veart needs his senior leaders to display consistency should his side achieve something of note this season, and when one of the more influential ones is not at the races, it spells problems for the Reds midfield.


Another senior player who has been missing of late, after a decent start to the season, is captain Ryan Kitto, who had a torrid afternoon defending, or at least attempting to defend, a rapid Nikola Mileusnic. Time and time again, Mileusnic's pace was too much to handle for Adelaide's left side, whether in transition or when Brisbane looked to utilise the winger through combinations, breaching the dangerous areas that Kitto and co should have better covered.


The sight of Mileusnic bolting down Brisbane's right side and scoring or delivering for a teammate was the path towards an opener for the Roar, and that is exactly how they took the lead in the 48th minute. Kitto was again nowhere to be seen as Mileusnic had ample time and space to find Lofthouse at the top of the box (an area Isaias should have been protecting), who found the back of the net via a deflection.


Kitto's performance was extremely poor, and it's not the first time this season, or throughout his Adelaide career, that his defensive displays at left-back have come under heavy scrutiny. Fundamentally, he is a winger by trade, and the ongoing experiment of utilising him as a makeshift left-back is not a viable long-term solution for this side.

Veart admitted post-match that Kitto "hasn't had the best of games the last few weeks, and he's putting a lot of pressure on himself." In the 77th minute, Veart hauled his left-back off to reintroduce Javi Lopez to the first-team fray, meaning young Giuseppe Bovalina was shifted to the left-back role. It may have been a one-off, but such a move could offer a possible solution to the Kitto problem.


However, we are talking about Veart's captain, the man required to lead his teammates onto the pitch every week, and one they seemingly want to do so. Unfortunately, this season, Kitto's leadership will need to be two-pronged, with his output at left-back complimenting his voice on and off the pitch.

Adelaide United left-back Ryan Kitto had a torrid time defending Roar winger Nikola Mileusnic on Sunday. (Ben Blaess/BDb.media)


Elsewhere, Nestory Irankunda displayed the other extreme to his game, with the winger completely nullified by Brisbane at the weekend. Aloisi seemingly warned his midfield about being overzealous in joining attacking sequences. It meant the O'Shea, Taras Gomulka, and Joe Caletti trio was well-positioned off the ball to recover and prevent any dangerous transition moments from Adelaide, an area of the game Veart's side thrives at executing.


The one player who thrives most in these transition moments is undoubtedly Irankunda. But when this part of the game is taken away, the winger tends to struggle more, with his usual electrifying displays replaced by a figure frustrated about not having any genuine influence on proceedings. Again, although far more understandable for a 17-year-old, there is this manifestation of an erratic, two extremes notion continuing to cripple Adelaide.


Like Irankunda, Zach Clough has been sensational for most of the 2023/24 season thus far. But he followed an excellent outing against Macarthur with a largely anonymous display against Brisbane. In fairness, the attacking midfielder looked dangerous in the first half on Sunday. But even he suffered from the erratic issue, suddenly missing and failing to affect the game in advanced areas after the interval.


Veart's use, or lack thereof, of fellow Englishman Ryan Tunnicliffe has also followed an irregular pattern, with the midfielder seemingly going from impact sub to possible starter before suddenly being unused at the weekend, so much so that young Ethan Alagich was brought on ahead of him for his first minutes of the season.

But not everything about Adelaide's recent defeats has been erratic, and some players have consistently displayed their best form. Bovalina has taken to the A-League Men like a duck to water. Despite only being 19 years old, he is always willing to push forward in possession and arrive into advanced areas. He has crucially displayed no signs of fear at this level.


In goal, Joe Gauci has looked as commanding as ever, and without his presence on Sunday, the margin of defeat could have been far more dire for the Reds. Aloisi even said post-game that his side "should have been easy four goals up", yet Gauci's supreme work in one-on-one scenarios particularly thwarted Mileusnic from further haunting his old club at Coopers. Even in victories, such as the 3-1 success over Western United in Ballarat, Gauci has been immense, becoming the model for consistency his more experienced counterparts need to follow.

 

READ MORE ADELAIDE UNITED CONTENT ON FPF

Adelaide United goalkeeper Joe Gauci continued his excellent season against Brisbane, making six saves. (Ben Blaess/BDb.media)


For the moment, that is a young duo who are providing the output Veart would expect from them. So, it begs the question as to why the squad's more senior members cannot follow suit.


“You’re always going to have little bumps along the road, but it’s important that we keep believing in ourselves," Veart said post-match when asked about the erratic nature of his side's performances lately.


“The boys have got to make sure that they keep working hard and stick together, and that’s what we’ll keep doing.”


Belief from young players will likely not be enough to achieve the expectations Veart has set out for his squad. What Adelaide needs right now, which might take them from Finals Series hopefuls to a possible championship contender, are calming senior influences who can step up when it matters. Some might say they have these players, yet they must show greater consistency moving forward.


It is good to perform when your young teammates ride their developmental waves, leaving opponents in disarray. But when the chips are down, you need to be the ace in the hole.

Without harping on about it too much again, it's fundamentally the player they had in Socceroo, Craig Goodwin. When reflecting on the first 20 minutes on Sunday, Goodwin perhaps takes one of the many decent openings Adelaide created throughout the early stages by being a senior player who always delivers when the opportunity arises, setting the tone for a winning performance, even in the event his teammates are not at the races.


On their day, Adelaide United are a good side and still might be one that can ruffle feathers regarding a top-two or top-four finish come season's end, such is the open nature of the competition at the moment. But more consistent output across the board, as we saw from the collective across their first two games, coupled with less unexplained mediocrity per the previous two defeats, may take this side from young, exciting, and naive to steadfast, mature, and resilient.


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