How might Macarthur line up next season?
Ante Milicic and Macarthur have been nothing short of busy in the A-League's off-season so far, already making a host of impressive signings in preparation for next season.
Daniel De Silva, Craig Noone, Tomi Uskok, Tomi Juric and Ulises Davila have joined the club from other A-League sides.
It is an impressive list of names that have A-League proven quality, and it begs the question of how Milicic might look to fit all of them into his plans next season.
Option A: 4-2-3-1
This system was Milicic's preferred at the start of the 2020-21 season.
However, unlike last season, he will be without the ball-playing capabilities of Beñat Etxebarria alongside Denis Genreau.
However, this system might be convenient for games away from home or when the Bulls have less of the ball.
Playing Uskok in a pivot next to Genreau might be beneficial in preventing opponents from finding space between the lines.
Uskok showed at Western United that he could break up play in midfield adequately, even if his distribution lacks at times.
However, Milicic might see the 30-year-old as a Mark Milligan replacement at centre-back instead.
That might mean that he ventures into the market again for another deep-lying playmaker to replace Beñat and use Uskok as a centre-back next to Aleksandar Susnjar.
This change would also make more sense given the 47-year-old didn't seem to favour Aleksandar Jovanović last season.
The 31-year-old made just thirteen appearances in 2020-21.
It seems unlikely he would become a starter by Macarthur not finding a Beñat replacement.
The Bulls could still make defensive signings, but they look very well-suited to hurting any other side in the final third.
The system above would allow all four offensive signings of De Silva, Noone, Juric and Davila to thrive in natural roles.
Juric would be tasked with being the lone target man attempting to link up with the attacking trio behind him and hold the ball up as he has done for most of his career.
Mexican Davila will support Juric just as he did Tomer Hemed last season and Gary Hopper the season before as a natural number ten.
Davila would play centrally and De Silva off the left-hand side because the Aussie is far more suited to a role coming inside from the touchline.
That's what he did under Alen Stajcic at the Mariners last season, often bringing the ball inside from a wide area when his side won the ball back.
Davila could always play off the right side to facilitate De Silva through the middle, and that's something Macarthur could rotate throughout the game anyway.
They can be flexible because Noone could play on either side as a natural winger.
The Englishman might not have as quick or agile a striker centrally to link up with as he did with Jamie Maclaren last season.
However, Juric will still try to bring him in to play, and the four attackers might share the goal-scoring burden around more as a result.
This formation seems the most obvious and natural one for getting the most out of the new signings.
Option B: 3-4-3
The 3-4-3 turned out to be the system Macarthur ended up settling on for most of last season.
Option A above is more suited to the new signings.
In contrast, the 3-4-3 and Option B doesn't suit all the new acquisitions, but it is one that Milicic prefers.
Therefore, he might try and squeeze his new signings into this system instead of changing it for them.
The system above should suit that front three very well.
Juric, as always, regardless of formation, will be tasked with bringing the likes of De Silva and Davila into play.
But in a 3-4-3, both creative midfielders can play as natural number tens.
They will have starting positions a lot higher and closer to the target man.
Furthermore, if one gets injured, Charles M'Mombwa proved that he is more than capable of slotting into one of those positions last season.
Although this would get the most out of De Silva, Davila, and potentially M'Mombwa, it makes it more difficult to see where Noone would fit.
Noone is very much your traditional winger.
More often than not, he'll either drive to the byline and cross it in or cut inside and unleash a strike on his left.
Therefore, given how much he prefers to play in wide areas, it seems unlikely Milicic would convert him into a number ten and use him there.
That leaves a role as one of the wing-backs as the most suitable for the ex-Cardiff City man.
We've seen many wingers in the modern game be converted to wing-backs/fullbacks and vice-versa.
If Milicic can work on Noone's defensive side of the game, then that role could be his, but Lachlan Rose at this stage is more suitable and impressed at times there last season.
We've also put Tommy Oar on the other side as opposed to James Meredith.
Macarthur likes to have the ball and use width, and Oar's more natural attacking traits make him a more suitable option there.
The Bulls often have the majority of the ball.
Still, Milcic's selections, particularly in this formation, could depend on the opponent.
If they're playing at home and know they'll have the vast majority of possession, then Milicic might choose a more offensive lineup and play Noone as a wing-back on the right.
However, that would be self-destruction if he was to try that against Melbourne City or Sydney FC, for example.
The other area of the pitch for debate again is the midfield pivot, although it might make more sense to use Uskok as a number six in this system.
As we touched on earlier, he played in midfield often under Mark Rudan at Western United.
It was often in the double pivot of a 3-4-3.
That would make him an ideal partner for Genreau in midfield, who, in my opinion, is one of the first names on the teamsheet.
But Uskok also played in the centre of a back three at Western, meaning Milicic could use him there as he did Milligan last season.
Milligan was often the defender who would help Macarthur build out from the back, whilst Susnjar and McGing would split wide to allow the wing-backs to push forward.
The now-retired Milligan would also push into midfield when Macarthur had the ball in the opposition half and create a pivot next to Beñat.
This tactical move, in turn, helped create a midfield overload and also allowed Genreau to find spaces further forward.
But as I said above, although Uskok might get into the correct positions, I don't think he is good enough on the ball to execute in possession.
Option C: 4-4-2
I don't think Milicic will look into this formation.
Still, this system might get the best out of both De Silva and Davila in terms of tactical familiarity.
De Silva often played off the left of a flat four in midfield in Alen Stajcic's Mariners side last season.
Davila was the link between midfield and attack for the Pheonix in Ufuk Talay's 4-4-2 system for two seasons.
As we mentioned above, Davila played off a big target man in those two seasons, which he will be doing again with Juric.
He would do that anyway in the 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3.
Still, in the 4-4-2, the Mexican will understand what to do out of possession given his previous familiarity with it.
Last season, the Pheonix often kept a very rigid and disciplined 4-4-2 shape, with Davila creating the front two with Hemed tasked with preventing the opposing centre-backs from playing incisive passes into midfield.
For De Silva, it will be a case of preventing the opposing right-back from finding space in Macarthur's half.
This defensive work was something he did very well at the Mariners last season.
However, Stajcic often wanted his two wingers to track back so far that often the Mariners created a back six out of possession.
Stajcic is more of a pragmatic manager, whilst Milicic wants his teams to be on the front foot and be in a position to attack once possession is won back.
Therefore, I don't think De Silva or Noone on the other side would be asked to track back that far.
If anything, either Genreau or Uskok, in this system, would have to go across and help out the fullbacks.
The danger in a 4-4-2 is if the opposing fullbacks push forward so high that Meredith or McGing, in this case, become consistently isolated in 2v1 scenarios.
Covering across as a midfielder is therefore imperative, and that's something Uskok could do very well.
That is more for when the opposition is building in possession, and you'll notice that this 4-4-2 is more for games when Macarthur might have less of the ball.
All of the systems shown above could be intertwined anyway.
Macarthur might build out from the back in the 4-2-3-1, but when possession is lost, revert into a 4-4-2, for example.
Whatever system Milicic ends up going with, he has many dangerous attacking threats at his disposal, and they have to be prioritised.
The Bulls lack of cutting edge in front of goals is what cost them from going further than the semi-finals last season.
With top scorer Matt Derbyshire also having left the club, the void needs to be filled by someone, and Milicic has no excuse but to get more of a tune in the final third out of this side now.