Perth once again on the brink of glory, but question marks linger

-

Perth Glory begin the A-League season as one of the favourites for the toilet seat, but can they overcome the on-field issues which could rear their ugly heads?

It still does not feel quite right for Perth Glory fans to enter a season full of hope and optimism.

Despite being accustomed to it in the NSL years, the A-League era has been a different story for the most part. But for the second year running, Perth will be among the favourites for end of year honours.

And yet, despite a strong recruitment drive which secured the services of a Socceroos fringe player, one of the best strikers in A-League history and a former Champions League defender, an air of uncertainty hangs over how far this team to go.

Monumental turnover in defensive stocks and questions over whether Tony Popovic’s tactics can be replicated in the post-season when defences get tighter have seen pundits favour sky and navy blue over purple.

The defence upon which the team built its success last season has undergone a makeover, with three of the back five no longer with the club, and the fourth working their way back to full health from a torn ACL (the knee, not the competition).

You can watch the A-League live for only $25 a month. Click here to read our review of Kayo Sports and to start your 14-day free trial.

Gone are Jason Davidson (Korea) Shane Lowry (UAE) and Matthew Spiranoivic (seemingly on a quest to find himself). Lowry and Spiranovic’s defensive nous was widely known, but just as important was their distribution out from the back, while Davidson’s marauding runs and link-up with Diego Castro made for many a fun afternoon at HBF Park.

The late pre-season arrivals of James Meredith and Gregory Wüthrich indicate Popa may not be as settled on his defence as he would have liked. While Tom Mrcela and Alex Grant proved more than dependable when fit last season, whether Osama Malik and Jacob Tratt will be above average replacements remains to be seen. Ditto wing back Kim Soo-beom, the Davidson replacement who will play an important part in the club’s ACL campaign, although the signing of James Meredith should ease concerns over that position.

Gregory Wüthrich could be vital to Perth’s chances this season. Photo: Perth Glory.

Perth’s gameplan last season depended on a resolute defence holding strong and the wingbacks springboarding into attack once the ball was won. The conduit between defence and attack was the midfield pairing of Juande and Neil Kilkenny. The Glory thrived when they picked up the ball deep and quickly filtered it out to the rampaging wing backs, especially against undisciplined teams lulled into a false sense of security by a deep defensive line.

For most of the season, the plan was executed to perfection and Kilkenny excelled at dictating play, shifting balls out to the overlapping wing backs to leave defenders rushing to adjust, leaving holes in their defensive setup. Perth were at their best when they were the Colleen Rooney to opposition defence’s Rebekah Vardy, opening a bottle of Merlot while their foes scrambled a hasty response.

However, they met their match in a Sydney FC team who were ready for them on Grand Final Day. When Perth wanted to waltz through The Big Dance, Sydney sat in the corner with their arms crossed, refusing to entertain the idea. They dropped back, created two banks of defence and dared Perth to pierce their armour rather than strike the first blow themselves.

Against nine men behind the ball, the two midfielders often found themselves too close together, dropping deep and in the absence of gaps, they were increasingly reluctant to break the lines, instead opting to shovel the ball to the wide men who were deprived of space by an excellent Sydney defence. This inability to penetrate against tight defences wasn’t limited to the Grand Final, but it was most glaringly obvious there.

When faced with tight defences, Glory simply gave it to Diego Castro and to see if he could conjure some magic. But the lightning rod was bottled up by a Sydney defence alert to his capabilities, and Castro found himself stifled for the most of the game.

Tony Popovic has his sights set on silverware once again. Photo: Ngau Kai Yan.

Perth’s reliance on Castro has been a talking point ever since he took the proverbial in his maiden season in Australia. He’s still capable of dropping jaws with a simple flick of the feet, but he is now 37 years old. At some point the decline is coming and to place all creative responsibility on an aging conquistador is unfair to a man who has already given so much for the purple shirt.

Chris Ikonomides and the arrival of Bruno Fornaroli should lift some creative burden from Castro’s shoulders, but the need for a cohesive backup plan if he is unable to bend defences to his will is vital.

While the ACL campaign will be welcomed, it has the possibility to throw a spanner in the works. Popovic has recruited well in preparation for the campaign and knows exactly what it takes to win Asia’s biggest prize. However, there is always the chance the constant rotation and resting of players could result in some erratic performances on both domestic and continental fronts.

Perth will start as contenders and will remain so until evidences arrives to prove otherwise. Their front three is frightening, the midfield dependable, the defence looks strong on paper and they have the best coach in the league. But if the defence looks unsettled, opponents sit 11 men behind the ball and a lack of creativity is exposed, the elusive Grand Final win may have to wait a little longer.

Latest Articles

How Australian Soccer Players Are Coping with the COVID-19 Crisis Abroad

Various soccer leagues around the globe have been buying the best footballers from any team in the world to get an edge. Australia is not...

Brisbane Roar open Talent ID centre on Far North Coast

For the first time in the region’s history, players on the Far North Coast now have a direct pathway to the A-League and W-League...