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.

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Match Analysis

A League 2020/21: Melbourne City vs Macarthur FC – tactical analysis

Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney

Date & Time: 20 June, 4.05pm

Round No: A-League Semi-Final 2

Attendance: 2283

Melbourne City defeated Macarthur FC 2-0 to make it to the A-League Grand Final for a second consecutive time. It was really good to see youngsters like Stefan Colakovski and Marco Tilio step up and fire City into the Grand Final. City’s remarkable win was sealed by these young guns before the hour mark in the absence of Jamie Maclaren, Curtis Good and Connor Metcalfe.

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


Melbourne City: 1-4-3-3                        Macarthur FC: 1-4-2-3-1

Manager: Patrick Kisnorbo                   Manager: Ante Milicic

City set up in their usual 1-4-3-3 formation in which Andrew Nabbout made way for Nathaniel Atkinson as the right winger.

While Macarthur also lined up in their preferred 1-4-2-3-1 formation and made three changes. Loic Puyo replaced Moudi Najjar, Benat Etxebarria replace James Meredith and Matt Derbyshire led the attack, replacing Michael Ruhs.

Melbourne City’s build-up & attacking play vs Macarthur’s pressing & defensive organisation

Melbourne city used a positional front five versus a four-man defensive line of Macarthur. Macarthur used a four-man defensive line to cover the full width of the field which meant they would conceded more space in the wide channels or the wingers and midfielders had to work harder to cover the gaps by shuffling across.

All players were given different levels of freedom in this structure. The CBs and the lone central defensive midfielder had a fixed position. While the full backs, wingers and attacking midfielders were given the permission to rotate, keeping the shape of a wide triangle on both flanks, provided all these three spaces were always filled. The occupation of these spaces helped in the progression of ball into the middle and final third smoothly and with because of poor positioning of the opposition, it led to easy penetration.

As the players within the triangle were free to rotate, each of them occupied a space more regularly than the others. Marco Tillio (23) and Nathaniel Atkinson (13) were the wide wingers, Scott Galloway (2) and Scott Jamieson (3) operated as inverted fullbacks and Florin Berenguer (10) and Adrian Luna (20) played more as  high “10s” in the half spaces. City favoured the left flank more to perform this wide rotation as 48% of the attacks came from that flank while only 35% of the attacks came from the opposite flank.

City players were always positioned well and ready to do damage throughout the width of the field, as they always looked to attack the spaces left open by the opposition. For the larger proportion of the game, City were attempting to score against a deep and packed defence.

Macarthur pressed in a mid to high block 4-2-3-1 structure. As City looked to play through the flanks to progress into the final third, Macarthur would shift across to overload the flank, forcing City to go back or go long. The Macarthur defensive midfielders (29 & 4) used their shadow to cover the attacking midfielders (20 & 10) of City. Often, Puyo (10) joined the press with Matt Derbyshire (27) to stop the switch of play and used his shadow to cover Aiden O’Neill (8).

Macarthur overloaded the flank pretty well (by shuffling across) through which the attack would be initiated by City but this would also mean City players were left unmarked on the opposite flank, giving an opportunity to switch the play to the underloaded side. City started switching the ball more, which forced Macarthur to sit back rather than pressing high and shuffling from side to side.

City exploited the space between the opposition’s defensive midfielders well. Luna and Berenguer’s movement caused problems for Macarthur in the midfield and would create space for Colakovski to drop in to receive the ball which would force the opposition’s centre-backs to make a decision of whether to step up and press or leave the gap behind open. After realising that the opposing centre-backs were not dropping, Colakovski would stay up high to create space for Luna to drag the opposition midfielder around and receive the ball facing forward.

Macarthur’s build-up & attacking play vs Melbourne City’s pressing & defensive organisation

Ante Milicic deployed a 3-4-2-1 structure while building up from the back because a structure with a back three provides a lot more angles and passing lanes, which increases the variety in which they could build up from the back. Their aim was to achieve numerical superiority in the first phase of play.

Macarthur’s build-up play was slow and patient as they looked to facilitate safe progression from the back. There were usually 7-8 players involved in the build-up play which made it very difficult for opposition to press with equal numbers thus, City had to commit a lot of players high up the pitch to press them.

Franjic (7) would tuck in on the left side next to the centre backs to form a back three. Benat and Martis operated as the double pivot in front of the three centre backs with a staggered positioning while Tommy Oar and Jake McGing provided the width acting as wingbacks. Puyo and M’Mombwa played as inside forwards in between the lines just behind Derbyshire, who led the attack for Macarthur.

To aid in the build-up play, Federici (1) would often step up and position himself next to Susnjar to form a back four. They used Federici as a sweeper keeper to keep the ball moving as he was the free player in the defensive third. This created an overload against City’s first line of press, making it easier to pass the ball forward. It helped in stretching City’s first line of press. Due to width in build-up play, it became harder for City to cover the ground horizontally and increased the distance between the opposition players while pressing. Thus, City could not be compact anymore and passing lanes for Macarthur started to open up.The method of progression they will use depends on the decisions made by the opposition.

In this way the wingbacks were able to pin the City’s full backs by being extremely high and wide due to which Franjic and Milligan enjoyed time and space while in possession. Thus, 70% of the attacks for Macarthur came from the flanks.

City defended in a mid-block 4-4-2 shape, waiting for the opposition on the edge of the middle third. Luna joined the press with Colakovski, positioning centrally to cut off any progression through the centre. Tillio and Atkinson operated in the half-spaces to stop the wide play and were ready to press the opposition if the first line of press was beaten. The aim was always to block the central areas and force Macarthur to play wide. Whenever it happened, City would shuffle across and press aggressively to force a mistake from the opposition.

If Macarthur were able to progress the ball, then City would retreat into a lower block, keeping defensive compactness both horizontally and vertically. City players would be at a very short distance to each other, reducing passing lanes, which gave more opportunities to press the ball carrier aggressively. They applied a space-oriented man-marking scheme which meant that they kept the compactness and players would pressure the opponents if they entered their zone with the ball.

City’s defensive transition vs Macarthur’s offensive transition

During transition from attacking to defending phase, City would look to press on the ball with one or two players while the rest of the team would move into a man-marking scheme to close down any access point the ball carrier might have. City has players who are excellent in challenging for the ball hence they forced the opposition to commit a mistake.

Macarthur always looked for the long escape pass to Derbyshire when they were transitioning from defence to offence. Derbyshire acts as the focal point of attack for Macarthur to control the ball and bring others into play.  Macarthur usually attacked with 3-4 players and the others would step up to condense the space behind them.

City’s offensive transition vs Macarthur’s defensive transition

City were lightning quick on offensive transitions and they got both the goals as a reward for it. They always looked to play the first pass out of pressure to Colakovski, Tillio, Atkinson or Luna who would make runs in behind the opposition’s defence line as they tried to create space for the others to join the attack. City took advantage of the spaces generated in between Macarthur’s defensive structure and looked for verticality. Macarthur always looked to counter press aggressively for a few seconds with one or two players in defensive transitions and the defenders would start dropping off which left big gaps in midfield.

To counter that City attacked with 4-6 players and at a quick pace as they looked to move the ball forward and diagonally. Sometimes they also tried to combine play with short passes in midfield to drag the opposition players in and then play a long pass out to one of the forwards.

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Match Analysis Team Analysis

A-League 2020/21: Sydney FC – tactical analysis vs Western United

Venue: Mars Stadium, Ballarat

Date & Time: 15 May, 2.35pm

Round No.: 21

Sydney FC dominated and created plenty of chances throughout the whole match against United in the Hyundai A-League. It remained 0-0 till the half-time break although they took 16 shots on goal to United’s two, but the opposition goal-keeper Ryan Scott kept them in the game by pulling off several top-quality saves.

In this tactical analysis, I will analyze Sydney FC’s build-up and attacking play tactics in the first half against Western United.


Western United: 1-3-4-2-1                   Sydney FC: 1-4-2-2-2

Manager: Mark Rudan                       Manager: Steve Corica

Western United lined up in a 1-3-4-2-1 formation in which Brendan Hamill and Iker Guarrotxena made their way into the starting line-up. In possession, United set up in a 1-3-4-2-1 structure. Tomislav Uskok operated as a single pivot in front of the three centre-backs. Dylan Pierias and Connor Pain played as wingbacks providing the width for United. Victor Sanchez, Alessandro Diamanti, Guarrotxena and Uskok played in a 4-men diamond midfield while Lachlan Wales played as a single striker up top. While being out of possession, United defended in a mid-block 4-4-2 or 5-4-1 structure depending on the number of players Sydney used in their build-up play.

Sydney FC lined up in a 4-2-2-2 formation in which Luke Brattan and Trent Buhagiar made their way into the starting line-up. In possession, Sydney set up in a 1-3-1-4-2 structure while without the ball they defended in a 1-4-4-2 structure with the wide midfielders tucked in, forming a narrow 1-4-2-2-2 shape.

Sydney FC’s build-up & attacking play

The Sky Blues like to play out from the back and maintain a very narrow structure while in possession, hence keeping 55.8% possession. Their 4-2-2-2 shape is very fluid and changes according to the opposition. It helps all players to play different roles comfortably. This shape in possession increases the number of combination plays in the centre due to the high number of players operating in between the lines. Sydney adopts a very slow and patient build-up play and spends most of their time in the middle third. To get into the final third they like to penetrate through the central lanes by quick combination play or through long balls hit over the top of the opposition full back into the wide channels.

Rotations in defence

Sydney moved the ball around in defence between the two centre-backs, Ryan McGowan and Alex Wilkinson with the two men in front of them, Luke Brattan and Anthony Caceres, before finding the right angles to progress the ball further up the field.

Brattan or Caceres would often drop in between or next to the centre-backs, to form a back three when building up from the back while the other would remain in front as a single pivot which would also allow the fullbacks to push higher and provide the width. This would allow Brattan or Caceres to receive the ball facing forward. The width provided by the fullbacks’ forces opposition to decide on whether – 1. To leave the fullbacks free on each side and cover the middle, 2. To cover space horizontally and leave the central passing lanes open to the players operating in between the lines, that is when Sydney decides on how to progress the ball into the final third.

United found it difficult to press Sydney high up the pitch because the opposition always had numbers around the ball, providing passing options. The Sky Blues always had a numerical superiority in their defensive and middle third, which helped them in progressing the ball forward easily. Thus, United sat back in a compact defensive block and hit the opposition on the counter with the help of their veteran playmaker Diamanti.

Direct Play

Sydney also adopts a direct playing style approach, which means moving the ball forward at a quick pace. Because of a compact structure while defending they were able to recover a lot of balls via their midfielders which would cause in many chances for an offensive transition through direct play. It proved quite effective for them as they have two strikers who can be a direct outlet for the defenders and midfielders. The transition via direct passes allows strikers to receive the ball into the feet, in behind the opposition defence or hold up play to allow others to join the attack, which gives them a big advantage over their opposition.

Whenever United tried to press high, Sydney would switch to direct play, allowing them to gain territory over the opposition and also relieve pressure by finding the strikers immediately. Thus, it would act as a trigger for others to move up the pitch and join the attack to overload in the final third. United always left their 3 centre-backs at the back and Sydney would keep their two strikers and Barbarouses along with them to keep the opposition back line engaged. Hence, Sydney created plenty of opportunities because of the amount of space behind United’s defence.

Playing in between the lines

Sydney has a very narrow approach in attack which is complimented by the structure the operate in. The biggest advantage of this approach is the presence of players in between the lines which makes it really hard for the opposition to defend against. The Sky Blues like to overload the midfield which gives their playmakers passing options and help the team in progressing forward from the middle to final third frequently augmented by their combination play in between the lines. They also like to deliver crosses to create chances from the wide areas as well when they cannot penetrate through the middle.

The Sky Blues were up against a resolute Western United defence who tried to block Sydney’s central progression and force them towards the wide areas. Sydney was not afraid to commit men forward. The Sky Blues possess players like Ninkovic and Barbarouses who are capable of playing in between the lines. The constant movement of drifting in and out from these players and their link-up play with Bobo and Buhagiar helped in disorganizing the opposition.

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