Breaking down the Matildas squad: Defenders galore, strapped in midfield

Angie Beard is back in the Matildas squad, as Tony Gustavsson searches for defensive answers. Picture: Matildas

The Matildas are back on home soil! How flipping exciting is that. If you’re in Sydney I hope you were lucky enough to secure a ticket. For those of us interstate, let’s enjoy having yet another match in our timezone. And the match being on prime time, free to air on Saturday night.

The Obvious

Emily van Egmond and Kyra Cooney-Cross make up half of the “out-and-out” midfielders. Pictures: Matildas

Let’s start with the obvious… Where have all the midfielders gone?

Ok that’s a little hyperbole, but the team sheet the Matildas have presented have only four “out and out” midfielders. 

Emily van Egmond, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Clare Wheeler and Tameka Yallop.

In addition Yallop has been playing the flying fullback role and has thrived. While Wheeler only has a handful of minutes for the Matildas, though perhaps this is a sign of confidence in the classy midfielder. 

On the other side both Kyah Simon and Alanna Kennedy can play roles in midfield.

Still it’s threadbare in this position.

Truth be told, with a 23 player squad and the couple of injuries we have in midfield with Elise Kellond-Knight and Chloe Logarzo, I don’t hate that we’ve brought in reinforcements elsewhere.

Defenders everywhere

Courtney Nevin can bring something to the centre of defence, and at fullback.

The biggest numbers bolster is in defence, a position every Matildas fan would firmly agree needs addressing.

Ellie Carpenter’s return is a point of celebration. Our best player over the past 18 months was sorely missed against Ireland. The usual suspects in Kennedy, Clare Polkinghorne and Steph Catley are all available.

Angela Beard’s return brings reinforcements at left back that I can’t remember having in a long, long time, meaning Catley will have the ability to form part of a back three and we don’t need to sacrifice Yallop to such a defensive role. Or heck, we just have the option on whether to do so.

Similarly Emma Checker still in and around the squad provides an option at centre back, again that’s been missing. I’m not totally convinced Checker has the pace to play international football, but her experience and calm head were noticeable in a positive spell against Ireland.

Injury has hampered Karly Roestbakken’s time under Tony Gustavsson so far, so it’s encouraging she’s made a prompt return after returning to the field for her club this week. 

A trio of youngsters will have the opportunity to keep knocking at the door in Charlotte Grant, Courtney Nevin and Jamilla Rankin. All three bring something slightly different. Again all able to play in those wide positions where there’s been little cover for Carpenter or Catley.

Setting up the defence

Can Clare Polkinghorne be the Matildas anchor at the back?

I’m going to throw out something contentious for the matches against Brazil. With so many defenders in camp, we can’t start Kennedy and Polkinghorne both as centre backs in a back three.

A back three has shown positives and looks very much the way forward for the Matildas heading into 2023. However Gustavsson was correct in the early Olympic matches to separate our long standing centre back partnership. For whatever reason, they just don’t work well together in a 3-4-3 system. Based on recent form, I’m unconvinced they would be strong enough in a back 4 against decent opposition.

So with that, who is part of the back three? 

It’s a balancing act. If a player like Checker or Nevin are thrown in there, the pace of Carpenter or Catley is very much needed. This would best work with a left footer and right footer combination. Checker/Catley, Nevin/Carpenter with Polkinghorne or Kennedy playing in the centre.

I’m struggling to see a way to have a back three without at least one of Catley or Carpenter needed. As I’ve stated, Polkinghorne and Kennedy shouldn’t start there together. Add in either Checker and Nevin probably are best kept apart due to lack of international experience but more importantly pace, and combinations are thin despite so many defenders available.

Karly Roestbakken is back in action after a stint on the sidelines with injury.

The other wild card would be throwing Roestbakken as centre back. She’s shown the composure necessary in the past to play there, but her ability to bomb down the flanks is an asset that prompts a similar conversation as Carpenter. Do you sacrifice attacking threat for defensive solidity?

Missing in action

Talking about depth, Jenna McCormick’s absence again is very much felt. If that’s a decision based on form, we must cross our fingers that she can rediscover her form from a couple years ago.

More surprisingly for me is Beattie Goad burst onto our screens in a very tough match. Played out of her skin as a fullback and would’ve been pretty close to player of the match after being put in a tough spot against Germany. Since she’s not been in the squad. 

I know Goad is a midfielder. But still, I wanna see her back with the Matildas. Maybe there’s another reason she’s been out, like injury. But either way I want to know what’s happening to her.

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