top of page
  • Writer's pictureChristian Marchetti

Analysis: Where did it go wrong for Adelaide United against Sydney FC?

Adelaide United would have been wary of a new manager bounce from Ufuk Talay's Sydney FC in last night's A-League Men Round 4 fixture. What they seemingly were unprepared for and became completely bamboozled by was a rampant Sky Blues outfit that taught them a lesson on their home turf. Front Page Football looks closely at where it all went wrong for Carl Veart's side in the heavy 5-1 defeat.

Adelaide United suffered their first defeat of the season in embarrassing fashion last night. (Courtney Pedlar)

Adelaide United entered their clash against Sydney FC amidst a promising start to the season, albeit somewhat halted by an unconvincing 1-1 draw in the Original Rivalry last week. Melbourne Victory were the better team at AAMI Park and should have taken all three points against Carl Veart's side.

Another litmus test loomed in Round 4 as Sydney FC, fresh off parting ways with two-time championship-winning manager Steve Corica, travelled to Adelaide eager to right the wrongs of three consecutive defeats to start the 2023/24 season. The clash posed as a crucial one for both sides for differing reasons. It was an opportunity for Sydney to bounce back, for Adelaide to prove their hot start was genuine, and for various preseason opinions of their season outcomes to be rethought.

What transpired was an outcome not many would have seen coming. Ufuk Talay's side dazzled from the get-go in his first game at the helm. Sydney piled on four goals without reply in a dominant first half before Brazilian striker Fabio Gomes added the fifth mere seconds into the second period. Adelaide's only resistance to the onslaught came through a Zach Clough penalty, which proved little consolation.

As mentioned above, the first half saw Sydney race out to a 4-0 lead, and this period of the game is where it was lost for the Reds. One could even argue it was lost after 15 minutes.

Only three minutes in, the Sky Blues were up and running; Joe Lolley allowed ample space to cut inside onto his left foot and find the top right corner with a thumping finish. The significant defensive issue from an Adelaide standpoint was their inability to prevent Sydney's wingers from coming inside, a trait well-known to most teams around the league. Manager Carl Veart was asked about this problem post-game.

"I think everyone in the league knows that Sydney's wingers want to come in and shoot on their stronger foot. We know that, and the players know that as well, and it's just a mistake, and we got punished," he said.

This aspect of Sydney's identity likely featured high on the scouting report when Adelaide prepared for their opponent during the week. But for whatever reason, even with Veart's admission, his team were aware of it; they did not show any willingness to prevent Lolley in the first half, Robert Mak more so in the second, from cutting inside and doing what they do best.

Another fundamental issue was the inability of Adelaide's midfield to screen their backline, which saw them primarily undone in this aspect on two of the first-half goals.

In the lead-up to the first goal, Gomes brought a long ball down for Jaiden Kucharski to run onto. With no Reds midfielders in sight, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jonny Yull, and Clough caught higher up the pitch, a 4v4 situation emerged, which Sydney exploited clinically.

Just past the 30-minute mark, no midfield protection was offered again as Gomes usurped Alex Popovic in an aerial duel to bring the ball to the ground (a persistent theme during the first half) and then slipped a well-timed through ball in behind for Kucharski to finish past Joe Gauci.

Adelaide was incredibly vulnerable from long, direct balls into Gomes, with the Brazilian proving too much to handle. But it may have been easier to deal with had the Reds midfield offered any protection to their backline and stayed tighter to it, with no red shirts in sight to pick up second balls.

Whether aerial balls in open play or from set-pieces, Adelaide failed to cope time and time again. You could probably count on one hand the number of times the Reds made the first contact with a corner or free-kick in the first half.

Sydney's second goal highlighted Adelaide's reactivity in such situations, Hiroshi Ibusuki keeping Lolley onside at a corner, and a failure to clear the ball promptly meant it dropped to the Englishman to smash home from close range.

But the most concerning element of the performance from a tactical perspective for Veart will be his side's inability to solve a rejuvenated Sydney press, with the Sky Blues completely halting Adelaide's ability to build out from the back.

Simply put, this aspect of the performance, undoubtedly in the first half, was a disaster for Adelaide. They could not get out of their half, with Sydney's swarming press, particularly in the midfield area, blindsiding Veart's side. There was even a short spell in the first period where the Reds could not string two successive passes together.

Talay's pressing structure was implemented perfectly, and a conclusion that emerged from this game is that Adelaide may be too over-reliant on playing around their opponents. That is, drawing the press centrally to utilise their fullbacks, or wingers, to escape the first line and build attacks from there. Adelaide struggles when their fullbacks and wide players are not suitable outlets at goal kicks, as they weren't last night.

Ryan Tunnicliffe replaced Isaias in Adelaide United's starting lineup but had little influence over proceedings. (Courtney Pedlar)

Veart tried to amend the issue by altering his 4-3-3 structure to become more of a 3-2-5 in the second half, where Giuseppe Bovalina and Ryan Kitto both pushed much higher, the two wingers dropped deeper, and the six (Luke Duzel in the second half) dropped in between the two centre-backs. With Sydney implementing an aggressive press, the idea here was to seemingly draw their opponents onto a back three and then utilise the wingers to bypass it with more direct, penetrating passes.

The change made some difference, but the ultimate caveat here is it was enforced when Adelaide was already four goals down. The game was over as a contest. It could offer Veart a future solution, as pushing his fullbacks significantly higher helped create more 2v1 situations against Sydney's fullbacks.

Nonetheless, such was the lack of composure on display from the Reds throughout; they still relied heavily on transition opportunities in the second half, particularly by using Musa Toure’s speed, and lacked a structured build-up. Veart seemed frustrated at his team's inability to react to the game state.

"We were second to everything, very naive the way we played, and we got punished. We made far too many mistakes, and we just didn't recognise what was happening in the game."

Veart was asked to explain what he meant by his side being "naive", and he responded by alluding to Sydney's press, again perhaps perplexed by the lack of reaction his side showed to a situation most in the crowd and watching from home could see was causing a myriad of problems.

"Everyone could see that they were pushing a lot of numbers forward to put us under pressure," he said.

Adelaide had little resistance to the constant pressure. It led to various occasions where possession was lost early in the build-up phase, with Sydney springing quick transition opportunities and having ample time and space to shoot on goal, particularly around the penalty area. In his post-game press conference, Talay explained how Sydney squeezed the pitch with their press.

"We know that Adelaide are very good in open spaces, especially at home, and they like to play obviously a high tempo game and a high transition game; I think it suits them quite well," he said.

"So that's why we tried to squeeze our backline as much as we could and keep it compact in between so Brattsy (Luke Brattan) and Cas (Anthony Caceres) could cover the ground a lot better, and I think in the first half, even at the goal kicks, there was quite a few moments that we won the ball up high and then played in their half."

In the lead-up to Kucharski's second, Adelaide again coughed up possession, with one intricate pass behind their disjointed defensive structure all that was required to set the youngster up 1v1 with Gauci; the finish itself a tremendous one.



Such situations emerge from a lack of counter cover in possession, meaning Adelaide was not appropriately set up behind the ball when they did have it, making them vulnerable in transition. Furthermore, Veart's approach of allowing his wingers to 'cheat' out of possession by enabling them to stay high and have less defensive responsibility may need to be reviewed.

It's a bit different when an experienced Craig Goodwin is playing and knows when he has to track back defensively. Bernardo, in particular last night, rarely engaged in his defensive responsibilities, allowing young Zac De Jesus to overlap Lolley repeatedly with no resistance. This problem also manifests when Nestory Irankunda features, with Melbourne Victory finding much joy down Adelaide's right side last week.

This aspect also points to a consistent issue likely to plague this Adelaide side throughout the 2023/24 campaign, as greater youthfulness leads to more tactical naivety, the same naivety Veart himself referenced. This naivety could primarily rear its ugly head out of possession.

The Reds youngsters have the enthusiasm to press all game. However, a more experienced side like Sydney caught them chasing the ball disjointedly, thus wasting their energy and discombobulating Veart's pressing structure.

On other occasions, the approach off the ball was too passive. It was staggering how often Sydney could breach the Reds' backline through predictable one-twos around the box or in wide areas; Adelaide acted as mannequins akin to a passing drill at training.

Whether out of possession, playing out from the back, or any of a plethora of other issues, Veart's side served up a performance far from the standards they set in the opening three rounds.

One could even argue Adelaide was an ideal opponent for a Sydney side under a new manager. The meeting of a host of experienced players looking to prove critics wrong with a youthful side still fundamentally in a developmental phase usually only goes one way. This time, it went the way of Sydney in spectacular fashion.

Reducing the Reds' display to being bamboozled on one specific night is valid. But other sides around the league will now undoubtedly take note of the mechanisms Talay used and follow suit. The question moving forward is how Veart responds to the obstacles thrown at his side during games and whether the young charges can react accordingly.

Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the A-Leagues!


bottom of page