Matildas Analysis: Beyond the Five Goal Dream

A 5-0 win is always a cause for celebration. Against a Vietnam side who played with numbers in defence and choked areas of the park, putting any amount of goals away is an encouraging sign. There were a couple new ideas on the park tonight, along with some old ones rearing their head. So let’s talk about them and look beyond the scoreline.

 

Cooking with Gas

There’s little doubt when both Steph Catley and Ellie Carpenter are on the field, fit and playing as fullbacks, the Matildas are at their best. On the defensive front, Catley is as solid as they come, while Carpenter’s pace rectifies most faults. However it’s in attack where both truly thrive and provide a massive missing puzzle piece the success of this Matildas side relies on. 

Both love creating width, demanding play be spread out as they run tight on the line of play and outside the focus of most defenses. Not only do both open space and provide extra numbers in attack, they can cross the ball like no other. Like, cross the ball in a way that Sunday roast dinner leaves one drooling. Both produced assists, Carpenter first for Sam Kerr in the opening ten minutes, Catley later for a Emily Van Egmond near post header. 

Every quality side needs a go to route to goal, the default for the Matildas has become crosses, especially those from our fullbacks. It paid off against Vietnam, with the numbers in the box often causing enough movement and chaos for each cross put into the area to look dangerous. 

Equally as promising, and in direct correlation to these crosses, was the ability to recycle opportunities and runs. That’s where the goals were created. Those moments where the Matildas showed patience is when they looked their best in attack. Against a team who sit deep, organised and allowed their opposition to hold large spells of possession, the first idea won’t always work. It’s that second or third opportunity from that particular phase of play that separates the average from the world class sides. The Matildas showed some promising glimpses of this world class quality.

 

Burnt Biscuits.. Again

There was a hint of someone pressing repeat, with the game plan against Vietnam often feeling like something from last year. Insofar as often the only plan the Matildas looked for was hitting the flanks, to then put a cross in for a centre forward, usually Sam Kerr. That was game plan A, B and C during last year’s World Cup. At times the one route to goal returned. Especially the first half, with a slight improvement in the second.

Don’t get me wrong, this route to goal can be successful. It’s been shown time and again to be. However, it’s predictable. Particularly against sides who have quality centre backs who will deal with crosses consistently with ease and little confusion. 

The major reason this plan left whifs of disappointment was the signs of changed times during earlier qualifiers in Sydney. There the ball was played to feet, more passes through the centre, with the flanks an option, but not the sole intention. With both Emily Van Egmond and Kyah Simon playing as 10’s, the ball should have hit their feet far more often than it did. The moments where that did occur created some beautiful passages of play.

Look, with this match, Vietnam deserves credit. They defended that area of the park very well. However, sloppy passing was the culprit in many cases for the Matildas lack of success in playing through the centre. That needs tidying up.

A couple other niggly issues this game shone a light on were offsides and still a wobbly defence, despite the clean sheet. 

The offsides could be a mixture of things. One is the forward expecting the ball early, the supplier hesitating on the pass. The other is being lazy and not checking the run. A mixture of both were evident for the Matildas. A bucket load of possession and chances means the offsides weren’t a game changer. However, when chances are few and far apart, so many offsides will be an achilles heel.

When an opposition team counter against the Matildas there’s anything but a sense of calm right now. The amount of times defenders fell over themselves during these instances show it’s not just fans who aren’t feeling it. Whether it’s communication, lack of attention or something else, it’s an area that will require some time on the training field and sorting.

 

Take it with a Pinch of Salt

The midfield experiment of no number eight box-to-box midfielder and Tameka Yallop, a talented naturally attacking player, at defensive midfield is a hard sell.

Firstly, why no love for the hard working number eights. It was clear from kick off, Van Egmond and Simon were number tens and they were to attack. This meant a fresh faced defensive midfielder in Yallop had little midfield support. The reality meant Yallop didn’t have the horizontal pass available when on the ball in that six role. 

There’s a reason box to box midfielders are prized assets. They do a lot of the leg work in connecting defence to attack with ease. We can’t be distracted by the shiny number tens and hard nosed defensive midfielders to forget this vital cog in a midfield three.

While the formation put Yallop up against it from the start, the natural tendencies of the Roar midfielder aren’t exactly a thrilling fit to her given position against Vietnam. She was unable to find the spaces to provide the simple pass for the centre backs, while also not covering the gaps of the roving Alanna Kennedy. 

As an option to shake up play and stop the sometimes endless cycle of the centre backs and mids passing to each other under a tight press, Yallop is a viable option. Against China, where this happened, she opened up play in ways that just weren’t happening prior. However, in a match where the Matildas should be dictating play from that position, not facing even a hint of a high press, Yallop isn’t nearly as suited. This is an Olympic qualifier, not training.

 

One Final Treat

It just has to be said, the young Vietnamese teenager Ngan Thi Van Su has some brilliant potential. An outlet her nation looked for down their left flank in the first half, she was a delight to watch. A player to keep tabs on and will be wonderful to watch develop further. Also wouldn’t be mad if a W-League side attempt to sign her at some point in the near future.

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