WELL. That’s that.
We’ve now had our first glimpse of the new Socceroos era under Bert van Marwijk as time ticks away to the World Cup.
The result, a 4-1 loss to Norway, ended on a low. After going into the break level, having taken the lead, things went downhill quickly in the second half – a goal copped inside three minutes of the restart, another just as Australia tried to raise the tempo and the final dagger delivered as the game reached its end.
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But beyond the result, it took just two minutes to see immediate signs of a breakaway from the Ange Postecoglou style and mentality.
In a game where for large parts players look lost – after all, the new set up has had just four sessions on the park to instil a new system – there would be no continuation of the ‘take the game to the opposition and never take a backwards step’ mantras.
In fact, it was one of the more stark contrasts imaginable for fans accustomed to what we’ve seen for the past four years.
When Aaron Mooy turned the ball over in midfield, Dimitri Petratos reacted to force Norway back to their goalkeeper. From there, the Aussie retreated, back into a medium block.
It was a chance to press, to force the play, to force a mistake and to show everyone we mean business. Instead, we opted to remain compact, hard to beat. It didn’t work over 90 minutes.
But that wasn’t the only clear sign of change in the two main phases of the game.
With the ball, Postecoglou – even during the majority of his tenure when he played with a back four – encouraged brave positioning, fullbacks getting high up the field and looking to cause problems for the other side.
After five minutes, we got a clear glimpse of the different approach of both Bailey Wright and Aziz Behich – they took up positions flat with their centre backs, inviting Norway to step up and close down space.
Rarely was there a sight, both on the left or the right, of Wright or Behich looking to get level and outside of their man or, heaven forbid, beyond them – which was what Norway were doing to the Socceroos.
Even as the ball was switched from left to right, Wright dropped off, forced a square pass from Milligan and dawdled on the ball. The outcome was negative for a side looking to exploit space on the far side – it forced right winger Mathew Leckie to take up a position he would have been in anyway if he’d been at wingback. It also forced Aaron Mooy, under pressure, towards the ball.
The Huddersfield man had just one option when he received – pass back first time. The Norway press was triggered, Wright was forced to pass back to Mark Milligan and out the other side for an almost identical picture on the left with Behich.
“We seem to be playing centre back to centre back to fullbacks,” quipped Fox Sports football expert Scott Miller at half time.
The former Newcastle Jets head coach added: “The fullbacks aren’t in advanced areas so it’s a very defensive mindset in terms of a set up.”
Miller wasn’t alone in his criticism of Australia’s adventure – or lack thereof – in build-up.
“We haven’t really tried to create overloads out wide,” said former Socceroo Robbie Slater.
“It’s almost as if they [the fullbacks] have been instructed to stay deep and not get exposed.
“I don’t think Bailey Wright was able to deal with the pace [of Norway] and I think Milos Degenek is a more natural option.
“They had more chances, more shots and more intent. I think, if you’re looking at what we had in the past, we’ve seen No.6s stay on the same line, one isn’t dropping in – it’s very rigid, [Andrew] Nabbout has been left isolated.
“That all explains why we aren’t going to have a farewell game because [Van Marwijk] needs time [to train].”
Wright wasn’t alone in looking lost and confused.
Mat Ryan looked longer and more direct than we’re used to seeing and gave the ball away at the first time of trying to pass into midfield, while Mile Jedinak and Aaron Mooy weren’t able to provide balance in the middle of the park – often playing on the same line in the opening stages of the match.
Add in Milligan’s struggles at the heart of defence – later moved out to right back after Wright was hooked minutes into the second half – and a lack of front third spark from Leckie and debutant Nabbout.
But besides the individual performances, which were poor, the shift away from Postecoglou’s mantras were the biggest signs of the new Socceroos era.