Adelaide drew blanks in their opening round match against Western United, while City will be looking to build on their first win against Brisbane.
The womens team, meanwhile, will be getting underway against Canberra United after earning a well earned point in their first match, also against Brisbane Roar. They withstood heavy pressure from the Brisbane strikers and midfield throughout the game, and while we weren't at our best it was Round 1. It was the start of a season that was unlike any other before it, in any league. Not to mention that the conditions at both games on Tuesday were horrendous. The important thing for the womens team is to be able to shake off that performance and strike back against Canberra on Sunday. Both the mens team and the womens team will be kicking off within an hour of each other, with the mens kicking off at 3pm AEDT and the women starting at 4pm.
The mens team will be without Adrian Luna, who was unfairly sent off for a challenge in the 70th minute against Brisbane, as well as Andrew Nabbout who as of the 31st of December has been ruled out for 6 weeks. This will leave us very short on the right hand side, however our injury list doesn't seem to be any worse than that as Rostyn Griffiths has been confirmed fit by the club after a cramp scare late in the game. While there were no doubt tired legs and heat stressed players in the changerooms after the game, it seems like the rest of the first 11 should be available. There was only one switch in the womens game, with Margot Robbine coming off for Harriet Withers, so barring any off-field incidents the players unavailable should remain the same as on Tuesday: Sofia Sakalis, Chelsea Blisset, and Alex Chidiac, who remains in quarantine after signing for us two days before the opening round clash.
Adelaide United made three substitutions in their clash with Western United but noone was injured so it would seem that they'd be at full strength.
Round 2 is a vitally important match for both teams. For the mens, it's a chance to stay at the top of the table and put early pressure on the other clubs. For the women, it's important that you don't start the season missing points in consecutive games if we're going to again be challenging for the title, and it will boost their confidence if they can manage a win on Sunday.
In 2019 we had two heartbreaking, but very different losses to United. We lost in extra time in the first elimination final at the end of the 2018-19 season, while we just played incredibly poorly in a 4-0 defeat in the FFA cup final in what was a real chance to win some silverware. Then they got a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw towards the end of the season, and a 3-1 loss in February. We never avenged our losses to them and we need to do that. It starts by winning on Sunday.
Erick Mombearts was able to turn us around into the best squad in the A-League. It wasn't just the players he brought in, or his style of man management. It was the mentality of the club and the team.
This is not to say that we need to win on Sunday just to avenge our losses to them in 2019. A bigger gift is the 3 points, however we can't have a bogey team. Adelaide finished 7th last year, yet they demolished us in the FFA Cup and we dropped points against them twice in the league. The mentality shift that started with Erick allowed us to stay in the games against teams like Sydney and beat them, but when a team that isn't on our level is able to dominate us the way they did (in our 3-1 loss they had double our shots and were way more attacking, while in the 2-2 draw it's amazing how we were able to survive for so long given that they had 30 shots against us) last season it's a problem. It starts to weigh on the mind a little, and then we start to think about the devastating losses in the finals. Obviously a lack of confidence will fester in these circumstances and this is not acceptable. Winning will not only put us with 6 points out of 6. It will put those fears and torturous moments to bed.
How will we accomodate the missing players?
Adelaide will go into Sunday's match with the same squad to pick from as on the opening day. City, on the other hand, will be without influential players Luna and Nabbout, who cut in from the wings and provided brilliant delivery towards the end of the first half against Brisbane in a match where we lagged behind for a lot of the game.
We definitely lacked pace and you could debate whether this was due to the conditions or the lack of match sharpness, but we expect a much cooler and less humid climate in Adelaide on Sunday which will hopefully be beneficial to us and will allow us to break out of the blocks early and continue piling momentum and pressure onto United.
We need to ensure that we don't fall behind early in the match, and not just in terms of goals. We were on the back foot for large parts of the first half, and our best chances came from swift counterattacks provided by Luna and Nabbout. With both players out, if we rely on a counterattacking style we're not going to get anywhere. JMac was hardly sighted in the first half apart from a few headers of varying accuracy. The style that Mombearts brought with attacking fullbacks occasionally in 2019-20 could be vital to relieving the absence of our wingers and breaking down the Adelaide defence.
What's the tactical focus for the match against Canberra?
We wrote last week that our womens team had a great defence and we were questioning who would be scoring the goals. We kept another cleansheet against Brisbane, but I think the concern should be the 30 shots we conceded. We gave away too much space in our defensive areas and as a result there was a 14% possession differential in Brisbane's favour and we were only able to get 6 shots - 1 on target - for the entire match.
The good thing is that Brisbane were only able to get about 28% of their shots to actually get on target, so while their strikers were able to find space to take the shots there wasn't enough time for them to focus on placement. This is good.
The big question is if we focus on pass accuracy (we had an average of 58% throughout the match) to help get the ball to our strikers or if we try and close down the opposition and prevent them from getting shots away. Both strategies have their pros and cons but I feel that if we want to win the league again we need to prioritise scoring rather than not conceding. If the ball's in your half you're more likely to concede than if it's in the opposition half. And with a defensive style one mistake can be the difference between keeping a clean sheet or conceding a goal - and then the floodgates open. If we play attacking football and keep Canberra United on the back foot then hopefully we won't have the same defensive pressure or struggle we did against Brisbane on the opening match.