Analysis: Building from the back

The disappointment of last night’s result was compounded by the feeling that Tony Popovic’s side performed generally quite well, especially in the first hour of the game.

A stylistic evolution towards a more progressive brand of football has been the talk of the off-season, and with the Wanderers firmly under the microscope, the team produced some fantastic attacking football on several occasions throughout the night. Ultimately, it’s a defeat from a match that the team will take a great number of positives from.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the performance was how promising the side looked in possession of the ball, and overall, how smoothly they are adapting to what is a substantial restructuring of the team. 

In this regard, one the key observations from last night’s performance was how the side used goal kick scenarios as a building block for establishing and maintaining periods of possession.

This comes as big change from what was, prior to this season, an overwhelming preference for a long ball. It appears the intention now is to play the ball short to a centre-half whenever possible (admittedly, they abandoned this approach late in the game when legs began to tire).

The team followed this method for a large part of the game and it was the basis of the Wanderers’ best, most fluent attacking moves. This routine was captured in microcosm by just the 12th minute.

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Although a Perth intervention broke this particular move down, it underlines the improvements the Wanderers are making in general midfield play through a more patient approach and highlights the importance of possession starting with the goalkeeper.

Dimas looks like the most pivotal cog in this engine and he was again key for the team in controlling the game with his distribution and dictating the tempo of play. The graphic below shows his importance in building spells of possession from the back, and how the Wanderers team were organised in playing the ball out from the back against Perth.

Below: how the Wanderers lined up from their own goal kicks against Perth. 

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Just like in previous pre-season matches, Scott Jamieson and Scott Neville did well in providing an outlet not only to venture forward themselves but to create space on the opposing flank. The fullbacks are continuing to develop into the side’s most important attacking weapons and the width they offered meant the ball could be switched from side to side as part of the team’s patient build up play.

As the team places more of an emphasis on possession, there’ll be more of an inclination to involve the goalkeeper in retaining the ball.

Redmayne, who looks the favourite to be handed the number 1 jersey, edges Bouzanis in this regard, averaging a 57% passing rate from last season compared to Bouzanis’ 50%.

Interestingly enough, Ante Covic had the same passing rate as Redmayne, with 57%. Yet, it’s the variety of distribution that separates both players and reinforces just how significant a departure from convention the Wanderers’ new structure from the back is in comparison to previous years.

Almost all (97%) of the passes Covic made last year were long, vertical passes consistent with the Wanderers’ direct, combative style.

Below: Ante Covic's passes vs Perth, Round 23

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Redmayne on the other hand opted to go long 86% of the time – not as long-ball as Covic but hardly Manuel Neuer (who, if you’re interested, has a pass completion rate of 91% in the Bundesliga this season – just 5% of the Bayern Munich custodian’s passes are long balls). It will be intriguing to see the former Melbourne City man focus on this aspect of his game in the upcoming season.

As evidenced by the graphic below, the Wanderers were firmly long ball last season when it came to distribution from the back. With Covic in goals for the majority of the 2014/15 season, the side averaged just 46% possession. This season, that number has already risen to 58% with both Redmayne and Bouzanis between the sticks.

It points toward the big impact the goalkeeper is having on the Wanderers’ newfound fondness for possession and suggests that they’ve got a massive role to play this season.

Data: Squawka, Opta