• Matt Olsen

Passive styles reign supreme for Western and the Bulls

This Christmas, Macarthur and Western United, the A-League Men's top two, have proven that off-field issues and amassed criticisms mean very little to establishing on-field supremacy.


The question remains of how they have found themselves playing so well and if they can keep their place atop the Australian first tier.


This most recent weekend has, in truth, witnessed two of the more lacklustre winning performances that either side could have put up.


Western only registered one shot on target against Adelaide, and Newcastle near-comprehensively defeated Macarthur in the first half last Sunday.


Whilst Western had harnessed a ruthlessness to their game, making such stats a reality, it was Macarthur's win that appeared the more impressive.


Eighteen minutes in, with the more threatening chances going Newcastle's way, Filip Kurto fouled Valentino Yuel in a dangerous area.


He got himself sent off, meaning Tommy Oar was taken off and Nick Suman called upon between the sticks.

It wasn't long after that Newcastle continued their way forward and scored from a dead ball.


They kept their intensity going and finished the half strongly to lead proceedings at the break safely.


The only frustration for Arthur Papas would've been that his side hadn't put the Bulls away already, with their final ball lacking at times.


But Macarthur, in their safe and structured style, slowly changed the tide of the game, at the very least ensuring a bit more on offer upfront.


Macarthur showed more intent to press higher despite having a man less in the second half, particularly suffocating the Jets in wide areas.


When the goal did come, through Daniel De Silva, Newcastle had been deterred from keeping their intensity, and before you knew it, the Bulls had found a way through again.


This time a De Silva free-kick set up James Meredith for a polished header across Jack Duncan.


The veteran once again proved his worth in the box, as he had done during his time in Perth.

Macarthur celebrate another win, placing them atop the A-League Men ladder at Christmas. (Getty images)


The argument can be encouraged that Newcastle had their heads down and Macarthur ran away under the circumstances.


But it speaks more to the ability of this squad to find a way to win, particularly a man down and considerably outplayed in the first half.


This team was numerically depleted but structurally sound and balanced, and one that knew what was required and answered accordingly.


Milicic set his side up in a 4-3-2 to congest central areas as much as possible in response to the red card.


But after the opening goal, they needed a change, so De Silva operated slightly higher in a 4-2-1-2, with the intention most likely to apply more pressure on the Newcastle pivot of O'Doherty and Grozos.


They were dictating the tempo at will.


Grozos' rotations with Dane Ingham were particularly head-scratching for Milicic.


Often the youngster became a false fullback and covered for the free-roaming Ingham, who could move into the right half-space or make forward runs in behind the Bulls defence.


It's no surprise then, under similar circumstances, that by keeping this style of play in the future, the team have personified success.


However, the roots of the success with specified regard to the apparent turmoil in the camp off-season are still in question.


Has the recruitment been solid enough to weave through the cracks? Was everything resolved before we realised it?


The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.


The defensive solidity of Macarthur is one particular high note.


But when compared with a team that has solely played out 1-0 results since the league campaign began, something has to be spared for the unsuspecting nature of Western United under John Aloisi.

Aloisi congratulates the Western squad after another 1-0 win against Adelaide. (Getty Images)


Many did not pick Western as a team to bear fruits of the labour, and one that, to be fair, hasn't played attractive or inspiring football.


No, the actual cause of United's win against Adelaide came down to the right ball at the right moment for the right man.


That man last Friday was Connor Pain.


Similarly to how the affair against Melbourne City ended, it was Dylan Wenzel-Halls on that occasion.


This team is honestly too hard to analyse with any bewilderment.


For the most part, Western have been failing to register chances in the final third.


They have, however, had enough quality on the ball either playing out or through midfield.


Quality and pacy attackers like Pain or Wenzel-Halls have penetrated with threatening runs and turned routine plays in the final third.


But this dynamism only occurs if Western can put the attack in itself together when the opposition isn't going at 100%.


Look at the goals against Perth, City, and Adelaide.


The Perth winner was delivered in by Pain at full speed, cutting across and somehow beating Brad Jones at his near post to tee up Wenzel-Halls.


For the most part, it was a calculated play but one that required the right balance of luck and reward.


There have been deeper reasons behind the minimal attacking success, though.


Against Perth and Adelaide, the relationship between Pain and Alessandro Diamanti was solid.


In the build-up, Pain and Diamanti often rotated roles.


Pain became a makeshift number 10 whilst Diamanti operated on the left touchline.


Perth operated with a sole number six against Western in Luke Bodnar, so perhaps the intention behind the Pain/Diamanti rotation was to confuse the youngster with varied movements.


In the second half of that encounter, Pain would tuck inside with Diamanti to create 2v1 situations in the central area against Bodnar and expose him in that fashion.


With Perth not responding by changing their 4-1-4-1 system, space was readily available for the pair in midfield.


The duo's movement led to the lucky Wenzel-Halls strike mentioned above.

Meanwhile, Adelaide had to contend with Diamanti again hugging the left touchline whilst Pain moved into the left half-space and looked to make forward runs.


On that occasion, there was more emphasis on overloading the left-hand side.


But against Melbourne City, this idea of picking the right moment manifested itself again.


Diamanti played in Wenzel-Halls well enough that the young forward had enough time and space to pick the bottom corner with a drilled effort.


That space and overall ball movement can owe itself to the game being only nine minutes old.


City was still finding their feet, but Western pounced ruthlessly.


Western's winner against Adelaide also came from a similar situation.


The Reds played the better nearing halftime before Pain fancied himself with a curling effort.


Western has had their measure on delicately balancing their time to strike.


To Aloisi's credit, the strategy is paying off in droves.


So ultimately, all things considered, is the verdict that we have a certified top two?


No way.


The perceived strengths on paper give way too much to be answered for by these two sides.


Though the verdict does conclude, stats don't lie.


Aloisi's tactics and Macarthur's structure may not stand the test of 26 weeks of football.


We'll then know what it takes to be a champion outfit in Australian football if they don't.