Just over twelve months ago former national team manager Frank Farina was sacked by Brisbane Roar. Ange Postecoglou, Farina’s replacement, was a divisive choice amongst fans; many remembered his failed tenure in charge of Australia’s youth sides whilst others pointed towards his success with South Melbourne in the late 1990s in the now defunct National Soccer League as proof he was a suitable appointment.
A year on and Brisbane Roar sit comfortably on top of the table and are playing a brand of football that is being compared to European giants Barcelona and Arsenal. Whilst it would be stupid to compare the technical qualities of the two sides it would be ignorant to ignore the similarities in the systems and styles being used by the two teams on opposite sides of the world.
Brisbane might not possess a false-nine with the skill of Lionel Messi but for all his faults in front of goal the Brazillian Reinaldo has proved a success in Postecoglou’s system with his runs away from goal to collect the ball and open up space behind the opposition’s defence for the midfield to run into being a key part of his side’s success so far.
Postecoglou has his side lining up in a 4-3-3 come 4-1-2-3 system (shown in the diagram below). Michael Theoklitos has joined the side after an unsuccessful stint in Europe and has proven to be the consistent goalkeeper Brisbane fans have been waiting for. Comfortable as a shot stopper and coming out to cut off through balls, ‘Theo’ has been one of the main reasons the side has conceded only 11 goals in 16 matches this season.
Luke Devere and Matt Smith have formed a formidable pairing in the centre of defence. Both are more than capable defending in the air and on the ground and do not look out place playing defense splitting passes from deep or making runs through the centre of the field if the space opens up ahead of them.
Injuries have meant that first choice full-backs Franjic and Stefanutto have been out of the side throughout the first sixteen matches, however Mundy and Susak have proven able replacements when called upon. Franjic and Stefanutto both enjoy getting down the flanks, overlapping and crossing from near the touchline. Their ability to get forward and hug the touchline has meant opposition sides have been forced deep and wide, leaving room for the likes of McKay, Murdocca, Nicholls and Broich to exploit the space left in the middle of the field.
Captain Matt McKay is enjoying arguably his best season in the A-League. Operating in a LCM role he has been dominant force in Brisbane’s crisp passing build up play. Massimo Murdocca, whilst less threatening in the final third has been a consistent performer and his superior defensive workrate has meant youngster Mitch Nicholls has had to settle for the role of Super Sub for the majority of the season.
The rock in the centre of midfield has been Erik Paartalu. Sitting deeper than McKay and Murdocca, Paartalu is the key to the beginning of most Roar attacks. Forming a triangle with Smith and DeVere to play the ball out from the back he has allowed Franjic and Stefanutto to push up the park and stretch the play. His calm distribution is the catalyst for Brisbane’s patient passing play. Like Smith and DeVere he is also excellent breaking up attacks in the air and on the floor.
The movement of the front three players in the Brisbane line-up is reminicent of European football and has ensured opposition defences have been pulled out of position since the beginning of August. Thomas Broich, the German import and former national U/21 player, has been the capture of the season. His impeccable dribbling skills and silky passing, both short and long, has been instrumental in the creation of numerous Brisbane goals whilst his set-pieces have proved dangerous and successful.
Kosta Barbarouses has made the right-wing position his own since Henrique suffered a long-term injury against Melbourne Victory early in the season. Whilst Henrique preferred to stay wider and use his pace to beat players on the wing, Barbarouses’ short passing game has been vital in unlocking defences and his finishing has netted six goals, including a second half brace against 2nd placed Adelaide a fortnight ago.
Brazillian striker Reinaldo has suffered constant criticism from Brisbane fans since his arrival part-way through the inaugural A-League season. Often frustrating in front of goal his record of 19 goals in 74 games for Brisbane does not indicate his importance to the team. His movement behind defences when Brisbane counter-attack certainly leaves a lot to be desired yet the foundation of Brisbane’s success this season has been patient build up and intelligent movement and maintenance of possession in the final third of which Reinaldo has been an important part.
Summer signing Solorzano has three goals to his name, however early indications are that he is more of a poacher and might not be able to hold the ball up and move away from goal in the same manner that Reinaldo does. That Brisbane possess two quality strikers with varying strengths though means that Postecoglou has different options to use when required.
Whilst their attacking play has been setting the league on fire the defensive record of Brisbane has been just as impressive. The side’s incredible fitness levels means they are able to press the opposition high up the pitch for the full 90 minutes and ensure they retain possession quickly after losing it to rebuild their attacks.
Whilst the A-League season is not yet four months old early indications are that Brisbane fans will be rejoicing at the end of the season. Postecoglou has built a side that is playing not only an excellent and tactically astute style of football, yet one that is playing most of its opponents off the pitch. Their four -nil drubbing of 2nd placed Adelaide, scoring three goals after having Reinaldo sent off, was one of the best performances this League has seen. If Brisbane can maintain their form then they would be hard not to back for glory in March.