Match Analysis

A League Grand Final 2020/21: Melbourne City vs Sydney FC – tactical analysis

Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne

Date & Time: 27 June, 5.05pm

Round No: A-League Grand Final

Attendance: 14,017

Melbourne City won their first ever A-League Championship after coming from behind to beat Sydney FC 3-1 in front of the home crowd. Both teams were without some of their best players who were away on international duty and it proved to be a great chance for youngsters like Marko Tilio, Stefan Colakovski, Nathaniel Atkinson, Joel King and Paulo Retre to make a mark. City came out really strong at home with character and attitude as they’ve shown throughout the season and were straight into its full throttle.

Sydney managed to open the scoring in the 21st minute and City equalized just after two minutes. From the 35th minute, Sydney was one man down as Luke Brattan was red carded, which turned the game into City’s favour.

This article is a tactical analysis of the game between Melbourne City and Sydney FC. I have analyzed the tactics that were used by both teams.


Melbourne City: 1-4-3-3 | Sydney FC: 1-4-2-2-2

Manager: Patrick Kisnorbo|Manager: Steve Corica

Patrick Kisnorbo set up his team in their usual 1-4-3-3 formation and made no changes from last match to the starting line-up. While Steve Corica also stuck to his usual formation 1-4-2-2-2 and made no changes to the starting line-up from the previous match.

Sydney out of possession vs City in possession 

This was a game of the league’s best attack (Melbourne City) vs best defence (Sydney FC). It was good to see both teams sticking to their playing style and do what they do best.

Sydney set up in a mid-block 4-2-2-2 shape while defending
in which the attacking midfielders Barbarouses and Baumjohann would tuck inside. They have conceded the least amount of goals (27 goals in 28 matches) in the whole season. Sydney is not a high pressing team as they like to stay on the edge of the middle third and allow the opposition to come out with the ball. They are ranked third-last on the number of pressures applied in the opponent’s half (15 per match at a success rate of 40%) which is below the league average (17 per match).

Sydney kept a compact mid-block structure, not allowing City to play through the middle. The strikers Bobo and Le Fondre would position centrally, cutting off any passes through the centre. Attacking midfielders, Barbarouses and Baumjohann would position themselves in the half-spaces blocking the passes out wide and would be ready to press if the centre-backs dribble with the ball forward.

Whenever City was able to progress the ball, Sydney retreated into a compact low-block. Hence, they were able to maintain their defensive compactness both horizontally and vertically. When in a low block, Sydney used a space-oriented man coverage (hybrid of zone and man marking) and if City were able to enter the coverage zone with the ball, they would quickly try to press the ball carrier. Sydney tried to force City to play wide and when this happened, the whole team would shuffle across to not allow the opposition to play through the wings.

Melbourne City looked to build-up play from the back in a
2-3-5 shape. In this tactical structure, Tilio and Atkinson were instructed to stay very wide, hugging the sideline which would pull the opposition fullbacks Retre and King out of the positions and created a bigger space in the half-spaces between Sydney’s centre-backs and full-backs. Thus, Luna and Berenguer could operate in those half-spaces and create a positional front five versus a four-man defensive line of Sydney.

When Luna and Berenguer moved up into the half-spaces, which
would leave big gaps in midfield and to cover them, Jamieson and Galloway would play as inverted fullbacks.

Initially, City found it a bit difficult as Sydney pressed with Bobo and Le Fondre against their two centre-backs. So, Galloway started operating a bit deep with the two centre-backs to create a back three which created a numerical superiority against the first line of press. Thus, Baumjohann had to follow Galloway and press higher. As you can see in the below picture,  a lot of space started opening up between Warland and King.

Thus, City’s build-up play shape switched to a 3-2-5 where in Jamieson also started playing more centrally. Then Atkinson started to operate more centrally to exploit that space between Warland and King which allowed more space for Galloway on the right flank to overlap and create a 2 v 1 against King as Baumjohann could not keep up with Galloway’s movement and speed.

The above video shows you an instance when Galloway made an overlapping run to provide a passing option to Atkinson due to which King got caught in two minds of whether to close down Atkinson or stop the pass out wide. The same instance shows you that Baumjohann was not able to keep up with Galloway and allowed him to run free.

As you can see in the below picture, City created triangles in the wide areas which involved a full-back, winger and attacking midfielder, trying to open the compact defensive block of Sydney.

All three players rotated amongst themselves and made sure all three spaces were always filled. The rotations in the wide areas helped in the progression of the ball smoothly into the middle and final third because of the poor defensive attributes of Sydney’s attacking midfielders, which led to easy penetration.

Watch the above video to get a glimpse of how City’s players rotate in the wide areas and how because of their movement they could drag all Sydney midfielders out wide to the flank which created a big gap in the centre.

Sydney in possession vs City out of possession

Melbourne City defended in a mid-block 4-2-4 shape. The wingers Atkinson and Tilio operated in the half-spaces and used their shadow to cover the Sydney full-backs. Luna joined Colakovski to lead the first line of press, positioned themselves centrally to stop Sydney to progress through the centre and force the opposition to play wide.

In possession, Sydney used a 3-1-4-2 shape in which Caceres or Brattan would drop in next to the centre-backs to form a back three, while the other would be present in front of the back three as a single pivot. The formation of a back three created more passing options for the defenders. King and Retre operated high and wide, providing the width. Barbarouses and Baumjohann were given the license to free roam and drift wide. Bobo and Le Fondre operated between the City full-backs and centre-backs, which kept them both engaged. Thus, City full-backs could not press King and Retre out wide.

Watch the above video and see how the movement of Barbarouses (drifting in from the toucline) allowed Sydney to play through City’s narrow defensive block.

Red card to Brattan

It seemed to be an interesting tactical battle until it was 1-1 and then Brattan received a second yellow card in the 35th minute, which meant that Sydney will be a man down for the remainder of the contest.

Steve Corica replaced Bobo with Van Der Saag. Retre moved into midfield with Caceres and Van Der Saag took Retre’s position. Sydney had to change their shape to a 4-2-3, it became harder for them to maintain a compact defensive block because City’s rotations in midfield and movement of midfielders in between the lines. So, City dominated the play comfortably and played through Sydney’s low defensive block easily.

Created using: InStat Australia |

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Once Video Analyzer Pro by Once Sport |

2 replies on “A League Grand Final 2020/21: Melbourne City vs Sydney FC – tactical analysis”

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