Early 2011 and Brisbane Roar win one of the most dramatic grand finals in Australian sporting history. Less than 12 months later and the Roar break the Australian football record going an amazing 36 games undefeated. One week later a 2-0 loss to Sydney FC at Kogarah Oval resulted in a run of games that has seen the Roar fall dramatically down the A-League ladder. Currently in 3rd spot trailing last year's runners up, Central Coast Mariners by a seemingly insurmountable 11 points, the Roar have a lot of work for the remaining third of the season. Have the Brisbane Roar truly fallen from grace and if so why?
It may seem simple to say, but the competition has improved to the point where even cellar dwellers Gold Coast United have played an attractive and at times unlucky brand of football. There are no matches that any team can take for granted as complacency in the A-League is a recipe for a loss. That is not to say that the Roar are complacent, quite the opposite, they are part of an extremely even 2011-12 playing field. A playing field that has improved in quality by the display that Brisbane demonstrated in throughout the previous season. The Roar have shown the competition a blueprint that has been eagerly taken up by most teams in the last few months.
Although the Roar have signed quality players this season, in particular Besart Berisha and Mohamed Adnan, the end of last season saw inspirational captain Matthew McKay and leading goalscorers Kosta Barbarouses and Jean Carlos Solorzano leave the club. The hole vacated by the captain, at least, has yet to be filled. His through balls, runs on and off the ball and leadership have been evident in their absence. As valiant a leader as Matt Smith is for the Roar, he is not the pivotal play maker that Matty McKay became for the Roar. A late January loan deal from Scottish giants Rangers, whilst unlikely, would be just the tonic and impetus that the Roar could use for the final third of the season.
Coinciding with the first loss and recent loss of form has been the injury to influential play maker Thomas Broich, quickly followed by a mid season injury to Henrique and then long term injury to super-substitute from last season, James Meyer. Their absence stifled the Roar's creativity and also the team's ability to provide overlapping options coming out of defence and midfield. These three players have now returned but struggled to combine as seen in the January 28, 1 nil loss at home to Newcastle Jets. A massive amount of usual possession with little penetration further illustrated the current loss of confidence and fluidity amongst the team at present. On the positive side these players are coming back at the right end of the season. Momentum is vital in a very competitive footballing competition.
The system that Ange Postecoglou has introduced to the club is a rigid series of triangles with timed interchange between the points of each triangle. It is more planned and systematic than it appears upon casual observation. The system relies entirely upon commitment to quick movement on and off the ball as well as honouring long and hard runs forward. The movement has definitely slowed down and at times the players at times are barely moving. This puts added pressure on the passing game of the Roar as the lack of movement means that players are often on the back foot in receiving the ball. Passing accuracy suffers because the angles and lack of movement are more easily intercepted. Quite simply, the ball movement and lack of desire to meet the ball makes the Roar easier to read. Furthmore, transfer of play from one wing to the other must be quick and non-transparent, the ball movement by the Brisbane Roar has lost it's pace in this endeavour. The opposition can slide across the park and react to the transfer of the ball in a much more predictable and economical factor, as such, the Roar's fitness plays less of a factor as the game progresses compared to the previous season.
The very system, and rigidity in adhering to the system that brought the team unprecedented success in the previous season has also handicapped the Brisbane Roar this season. They have become predictable and seem unwilling to try variation to this system. It could be argued that systems build a club's identity, and whilst this is true it is always combined with success built over many years. Nobody would talk about the Barca way if Barcelona weren't the successful entity that they are. People have talked about the lack of a plan B for the Brisbane Roar, and they wouldn't be entirely wrong. The plan to play the same way each week, when integral players to the system are missing is a very risky venture, evident in the Roar's six losses to date.
This is not to say that the season cannot be rectified, players are returning to the team, they still sit in third and have an exciting Asian Champion's League campaign ahead of them. Hard work, subtle variation in their game plan and a commitment to faster ball movement may yet see the Brisbane Roar lift the coveted toilet seat as reigning champions. This would be a remarkable achievement, the first by an A-League team in the competition's short and colorful history.
What are your thoughts on why the Brisbane Roar have come back to the A-League pack?