The optimist in me says Adelaide United hasn’t lost. The pessimist says they haven’t won.
The optimist says the Reds clawed back from two goals down against Melbourne City; the pessimist points out they were pegged back by Perth Glory.
All in all, I’m not sure what to make of the United’s first three games of the new season.
There’s no doubt they should have won the games against Perth and Brisbane but were fortunate to escape with a point against City.
Saturday’s Original Rivalry will go some way in solving the issue of whether Adelaide is good, bad or indifferent.
For all the hubbub about the Victory having the edge over United in the head-to-head stakes (they have beaten United 26 times from 55 league encounters; the Reds sit on 19 wins and the remaining 10 matches are draws), the Victory are just not that good when they travel to South Australia.
They have only ever beaten the Reds in Adelaide six times. Maybe there’s some post-traumatic stress involved from that Grand Final, because it feels like so much more.
But the truth is Adelaide has the edge over the Victory in South Australia. The Victory’s winning percentage from 26 league matches in Adelaide? A miserly 23 per cent (for the record: Adelaide’s win percentage in Victoria is 25 per cent).
Last season, Adelaide won all three encounters against its bitter rivals. The only time they have achieved this before was way back in the first season (United’s biggest winning streak against the Victory is four – but that was over multiple seasons).
And while everything statistically suggests a United win, the reality of course, is very different.
Even a cursory fan of this rivalry would know these games are always hard-fought contests and it is rare either team wins by more than a goal.
The Victory have already shown the rest of the league they are a different outfit to the one that fronted up last season.
And while expectations in Victoria is that they return to the finals this season (which they should – comfortably), they are still a team learning to play with each other. Leigh Broxham and Ben Folami were the only players in Victory’s line-up last week, who started the last game of the 2020-21 season.
Therefore, the pressure is on Adelaide to perform at home against its biggest rivals.
Javi López’s brain fade last week – where he was sent off late in the game for dissent – has given Carl Veart a decision to make about his defence.
And while its likely that Jacob Tratt will shift to right-back and Nick Ansell will be given the start against his former employers, the issue will be (as we have explored previously) if defenders take knocks or aren’t playing well and need to be taken off.
United could enter the game with George Timotheou as the only recognised defender on the bench. He can slot into central defence should it be needed, but other options are limited.
Isaias is questionable for the match. He had to come off at half-time last week with a slight knock, so there may also be a need to re-jig the midfield.
Craig Goodwin is, surely, ready to start and Bernardo and Toure’s cameos last week have given the coaching staff much to think about.
But whichever 11 players take the field for Adelaide tomorrow night, the biggest issue for me remains the tactics. Specifically, when Adelaide’s Plan A is failing, the delay in moving to Plan B or even attempting it.
This was most evident in the Melbourne City game, when for long patches United simply tried the same thing repeatedly with no success. Sure, they got a draw that night but when you reflect on the game in totality, the Reds weren’t good for most of the game.
Adelaide’s game-plan relies heavily on getting the ball to its wingers and developing its attacks from there. It rarely varies from that and teams adjust to easily frustrate United.
Tony Popovic is known for his defensive ethos (he was, of course, an excellent defender in his own right) and Adelaide must find different ways of breaking down Victory’s defence.
The Reds will become their own worst enemy if they just keep trying to do the same thing over and over (much like they did against Melbourne City) without success.
It may only be round four, but this game is already a season defining moment for Adelaide.
And another thing…
A small note on a quirky law of our game. It doesn’t occur often but did happen against Melbourne City a few weeks back.
City received a free kick for offside against Ben Halloran and were permitted to take it inside the United half. Of course, everyone knows that you cannot be offside in your own half. And so, players, coaches and fans alike let the referee know how they felt.
Except the referee was 100 percent correct. Why?
Law 11.4 states: “If an offside offence occurs, the referee awards an indirect free kick where the offence occurred, including if it is in the player’s own half of the field of play.”
This basically means, the free kick is taken where the offside player touched the ball and not the position they were in when the ball was played.
Against Melbourne City, Halloran was in an offside position in City’s half when the ball was played to him, but touched the ball inside his own half. Hence, the free kick was awarded where he touched it, not where he was when the passage of play started.
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