CONSERVATIVE FOOTBALL – and Mixed Emotions

Football is a clever game, a lot of what happens on the pitch is due to the ideas and plans crafted off it. With this, I love a tactical battle. It’s as delicious as a triple chocolate and raspberry brownie. 

A team who knows how to play with their backs against the wall, compared to one who takes the time to unpick a shop that is shut, versus a team who are direct and lethal, it’s all a matter of identity and on-field intelligence. 

Conservative football though? Let’s take a look at it.

Round two sent me into a spin because of conservative football. It’s made me consider how we define it and how when to accept it.

The Wanderers hosting the Jets was a match where my popcorn was out, and it was the team who could defend in the box that I found great joy in. Against a lively Western Sydney Wanderers, the Newcastle Jets put on a “how to” display in defending in the penalty area. 

The “scramble” in the box is an art form Brewer and Davies have perfected over the past few seasons. They continue this fine form of denying teams opportunities so close to goal with a new keeper at the helm this season. The duo prove it’s more than their goalie pulling out heart stopping saves.

Newcastle sit deep, they’re aware speed through the centre isn’t their forte. Teams constantly look to expose the side down the wings, the Wanderers looked for the same path. The Jets uncanningly encourage teams to run the ball down the flank, to the line, where defenders are already in the mixer protecting the goal. Through the guts, they have midfielders coming in to take the spare space in the penalty area. Yet the best attribute is the ability of their centre backs to come up with last ditch blocks. 

Last ditch is almost the incorrect phrase, because this is a well trusted option for the side.

With a helping hand of an incorrectly called offside goal for the Jets, their clean sheet was only denied by a controversial penalty. While the method of defending and reliance on dead balls for attack could be looked at as conservative, however in the players and squad they possess in the context of the competition is pure genius. 

The application of this type of football will allow the Jets to remain in touching distance in a league that is notoriously cruel to teams without a strong cohort of international players.

Ok, that’s the good, now for frustrating, rubbish side of conservative football.

City.

Money bags City. The team every commentator continues to push as “the favourite” or “the ones to beat”. For the quality of individual players they have in the squad, the favourite tag should be correct. However watching them makes my heartbreak. 

This weekend against Canberra took the cake. 

Again Melbourne set out with a conservative team. Two defensive midfielders, three centre backs and wing backs.  With a full card starting line up of either international players or ones with considerable Matildas experience, against a Canberra side who have nowhere near the same depth of experience across the park. I know, the writing was on the wall early, but I had hope. The hope of attacking the match however was quickly dashed.

With so many defenders on the park, it allowed Stott to make defender runs for days. This is usually something to be celebrated. However let’s stop short today. Why? Because City had little options outside of Stott’s movement and Carpenter making a driving run down the guts. How are they the only options? 

The trio of midfielders in Kinga, Luik and van Egmond all beg for clever attacking combinations. To not have a set up allowing for players to be running off them, creating defence breaking combinations is puzzling. For this side to sit deep as if they’re the underdogs is absurd. 

Consistently City refuse to play to their strengths of actually having the better quality players. There’s no hunger or guts in their tactics. And it’s tactics. Watch the tackles flying, I’d argue it’s not the players. They want to win it. But the set up and structure they’re in leads to the most boring, unimaginative football possible. 

It’s the type of play I weep at the idea of the Matildas every playing.

A microcosm of the match can be in the last 15 minutes. The scores level, Canberra were the only team looking interested in finding a winner. The reaction from the City bench? Throw on YET ANOTHER defender. How are there no alarm bells ringing at this point? City were holding most of the possession, had very little spark in attack and yet it’s a defender coming onto the park as fresh legs. Madness. Absolute madness.

Fueling frustration at City is a penalty the decider for the Melbourne side to win all three points. Where it was the stinger for Newcastle, City win the roll of the dice to receive a penalty and finish it.

There were two teams this round with clearly conservative tactics. How a side with City’s player resource set out the same way as an international-less Jets is a wonder. With no disrespect to the Jets (I love you guys), Newcastle are not the side City are. City should be dominating matches in ways the Jets can only wish they could. However the Sky Blue outfit continue with their madness of sideways possession. 

One might argue it’s because of the players on the City roster. If this is the problem, then even more so the coaching and scouting staff should fall under scrutiny. City are a club who can pull star power, internationals and Matildas. They should be able to balance their squad with more ease to encourage at least a little more attacking football. 

However is this really the case. Even with the line up against Canberra, push both Carpenter and Catley further up, play them the ball and have players running into the box. All the while push Kinga up to number 8, and have her linking up with van Egmond to create creative havoc in the final third rather than defensive duties as a number six first. Those adjustments in the same line up would make City more attacking focused, AND more entertaining.

I love good conservative football. Conservative football shouldn’t be at the expense of stopping quality players attacking matches and putting teams to the sword when they have that ability.

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