It's time for Carl Veart to release the handbrake on Adelaide United's midfield
They say that a team reflects its leadership, and this saying has rung true at Manton Street for years. Think back to Josep Gombau's flamboyant, Spanish-influenced entertainers, Marco Kurz's stubborn, never say die battlers, and even Gertjan Verbeek's hot and cold, moody outfit. Carl Veart's Reds are continuing the theme of an Adelaide United side being the mirror image of its manager.
Adelaide United Head Coach Carl Veart in training with assistant coaches Eugene Galekovic and Airton Andrioli. (Jordan Trombetta)
Safe, sometimes even to a fault, would be an apt description of Veart's team. The Reds have found it hard to create consistent top-level chances despite winning the last two games at home against two of the league's cellar dwellers. They have also looked vulnerable when trying to close out games, and it all starts in the midfield.
By all accounts, Veart is a superb man-manager, a coach that his players adore, and the proof is in the pudding. The Reds have made coming back from challenging situations to salvage results a regular occurrence, a sure sign of a side that wants to work for its coach.
The internal question Veart and his staff should be asking is why their side keeps digging those holes for itself. Are they capable of continuing to resurrect performances in the final fifteen minutes? Why is that product not consistent or present earlier in the match?
It may be hard to believe, but fans can predict a United performance way before kick-off. It's at the selection table where Veart persists with the double pivot of Isaias and Juande in his midfield.
On paper, it sounds like a great combination. After all, the two Spaniards' A-League Men résumés speak for themselves. But it has not been a fruitful partnership for the Reds.
A match's story is told through the midfield. United's story has been very predictable. They fall behind early and salvage points, 19 of them so far, to be precise, late in the encounter. What happens late in games, and why do the Reds find a spark in the period?
Substitutions are made, ineffective systems are overhauled, and the dice are rolled for one last desperate time.
Veart's side did not need to produce late heroics to down Perth Glory and the Brisbane Roar. But enough was seen to suggest the Reds need to add a few more strings to their bow to make their presence felt in finals football.
Isaias and Junade are both suitable anchors for Adelaide United's midfield, but can they co-exist effectively? (Adelaide United FC and Juande)
Heads were turned when Veart abandoned the Spanish double pivot for the Perth game. Instead, he fielded Isaias as the lone anchor alongside more attacking threats of Josh Cavallo and Lachlan Brook. Meanwhile, Bernardo occupied the latter's usual spot on the right-wing.
Perth is not a great team, but United's performance in the first half was a breath of fresh air for their fans. The Reds only scored once but could have doubled or even tripled their lead in that period.
Onlookers were again caught out when Veart inexplicably subbed Brook off at halftime for Juande, reverting to a more conservative midfield. Post-match, he stated that the new lineup "did not quite work out" and felt that bringing on Juande would improve United's "control on the game and positional play."
The judgement may have some merit depending on what Veart expected. But it is important to remember that it was the first time that the midfield trio of Isaias, Cavallo, and Brook started a game together. To get used to their roles and each other, Veart must back them over a long period throughout the season, not 45 minutes in the last few matches.
Despite not conceding, United's industrious first half vanished in the second. The Glory even found the back of the net, with the goal, fortunately, ruled out from a Reds perspective. You could argue they still did need late heroics to seal the win, with Nestory Irankunda icing the game with a superb effort in stoppage time.
Against the Roar last week, Veart restored Juande to the starting lineup alongside Isaias and George Blackwood, with Brook moving to the wing, and Bernardo, a goal scorer against Perth, relegated to the bench.
It was disappointing to see Bernardo missing out. But an encouraging point was seeing Isaias and Juande produce their best performance as a duo this season against a harmless Roar side.
Once again, though, despite United's immense control of the encounter, the two goals that decided the game came from a set-piece and a Brisbane calamity.
United fans must commend their team's confidence and maturity to get the job done in two potential banana skins at home, but finals football is different.
The league's top sides will not make it easy for the Reds. If Veart's men are to leave a mark on the 2021/22 A-League Men finals series, they must be proactive and eager to attack opponents through multiple routes.
Being one dimensional and bombarding the opposition with crosses may work on occasion. But teams like Western United have made it a regular occurrence to nullify such a cross-heavy game. The last time Western faced Adelaide, the Reds effectively self-inflicted a defeat. It will be interesting to see how next week's rematch pans out.
Should a team need to change its tactics, the first point to address is likely the midfield. Isaias and Juande are fantastic players. But playing them together has contributed to the Reds being predictable and requiring late drama and a tactical free-for-all to win games.
With finals football around the corner, Veart would be wise to give minutes to more adventurous and offensive midfield combinations. They will need a group that can be entrusted to take on a game when needed.
A pairing of two highly accomplished A-League Men defensive midfielders may feel secure. But opposing teams feel comfortable playing against it.
The Spanish double-pivot may successfully nullify lesser opponents. However, it is far from ideal when a game, or a big final, needs to be attacked, and there is no suitable backup plan.
To read more about the struggles Adelaide United have encountered with their midfield this season, click here.