Strong defensive foundations just the beginning for Western United

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John Aloisi was full of praise for his side’s defensive display against Melbourne City, but the Western United head coach insists that his side are only just getting started.

Western United had a game plan heading into their clash with defending champions Melbourne City. They executed it to perfection.

A clinical counter-attacking move gave Western the lead just 20 minutes into the contest, largely thanks to a brilliant finish from striker Dylan Wenzel-Halls.

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From that point on, Aloisi’s side defended an onslaught of Melbourne City attacks in impressive fashion, remaining largely untroubled for most of the match.

Except for a Jamie Maclaren header at the end of the first half, City were unable to get quality shots away from dangerous positions in the box, instead relying on long-range efforts from the likes of Andrew Nabbout and Aiden O’Neill.

City were frustrated throughout the night as their attacks were constantly foiled with a minimum of fuss, even when Jamie Young was called into action.

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“We knew that if worked well together, which we did with our defending and organisation, we could hurt them,” Aloisi said post-match.

Leo Lacroix was the standout performer in Western’s defence, effectively pocketing Maclaren who was unable to deal with the Swiss defender’s size and strength. Lacroix also regularly interrupted attacking moves with interceptions, before coolly distributing the ball to his teammates higher up the pitch.

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“Leo is a presence. Not only without the ball, but with the ball he has a calmness,” Aloisi said.

“That goes a long way to helping the team because it relieves pressure when you’re defending for a long period.”

However, Aloisi stressed the importance of not attributing the success of the defensive game plan to any individual.

“It’s a whole team effort,” he said.

“We haven’t conceded from open play in the four games we’ve played. That’s a massive plus.”

Western United have shown through their defensive performances early in the season that their ability to nullify opposition attacks has improved dramatically.

They conceded 47 goals last season in the league – the second most of any team. Aloisi deserves credit for the team’s substantial improvement in a short period of time.

The Western United coach also praised Lacroix’s centre-back partner Tomoki Imai, as well as attacking players Alessandro Diamanti and goalscorer Wenzel-Halls for their defensive efforts.

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“Dylan was tremendous. We’ve worked a lot with Dylan in terms of understanding his defensive role. Tonight, I thought he was outstanding.” Aloisi said.

“You saw Diamanti chasing, fighting, closing down. If he’s doing that, it sets the tone for everyone else.”

Despite all of the positives of United’s display, Aloisi isn’t yet satisfied with his team’s level heading into a congested fixture period.

United’s coach is confident that his team can execute a variety of game plans, whilst stressing the room for improvement that remains prominent in his mind.

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“We’ve practiced how we should play when teams sit off us and how we should play if teams press us. We know we can switch it up if we need to,” he said.

“It feels like we’re on the right track, but there’s a lot of improvement left, and we will improve. We’ll get better as the season goes on.”

Whether the green and black side demonstrate similar proficiency when playing a possession-based brand of football will be interesting to observe.

To ensure that his team continue to perform at a high level across the season, Aloisi also highlighted the importance of squad depth when playing across multiple competitions.

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Adisu Bayew and Dylan Pierias were highlighted as players who will get opportunities in the coming weeks, particularly in potential FFA Cup ties, to ensure that the squad is filled with match-ready players.

“It’s really important that our young players get competitive minutes. We’re going to need them,” Aloisi said.

Western United are clearly focused on the bigger picture this season.

Although Saturday night’s performance was impressive, there are still several areas for improvement. Further, a number of challenges will likely arise from the sheer number of fixtures in the coming months.

Fortunately for Western United, nobody knows that better than John Aloisi.

Feature Image Credit: Western United FC

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Oscar Rutherford
Oscar Rutherford
Sports tragic studying Law/Arts at Monash University. Second-best paid Oscar working in football who has been to China.

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