MATHEW Leckie was so excited by the change to a 4-2-3-1, he couldn’t help but to break the news on day three of the Socceroos’ first camp under Bert van Marwijk.
Leckie was one of the players forced to shift roles as former boss Ange Postecoglou prioritised packing four central midfielders into his back three system. It worked for Leckie in once sense – the Hertha Berlin man netted three goals after the change to right wing back – but also left him feeling handcuffed, starting from deeper than he had come accustomed to.
“It was a change for me,” Leckie said from Oslo. “I never played the position, but towards the end and throughout it I adapted to it.
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“For one of my strengths, I try to bring a lot of power, energy and aggression to the game.
“In that right wing back role … maybe I was not as free in an attacking sense.
“Maybe going back to the four at the back I can play in a more attacking role and take more risks.”
But the change doesn’t just allow Leckie to play in a more favoured position, it also opens up the potential for two of the squad’s bolters to stake a claim in friendlies against Norway and Colombia.
While on paper, Tomi Juric would be the best option to lead the line, with Robbie Kruse and Leckie either side of him and Tom Rogic in an advanced midfield role, the versatility and form of both Andrew Nabbout and Dimitri Petratros bring them into consideration.
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Both can adopt multiple roles in the front four of a 4-2-3-1, crucial considering perhaps the biggest point of contention about the switch — a simple lack of depth and players beating down the doors to push Kruse and Leckie (and Juric) for starting spots.
THE ATTACKING CANDIDATES
The case for: Cahill is still our best before for goals in key moments of big matches. A physical threat who forces opposition defences to do things they don’t like, he’s also chasing a huge World Cup feat so is highly motivated.
The case against: Age, lack of match fitness and huge questions over whether he can complete a full 90 minutes in the fast paced madness of an international fixture. But as an impact sub, Cahill’s role is crucial.
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The case for: Another physical presence who has grown into the role of leading the line for his country, Juric is also astute at starting Australia’s press from the front.
The case against: Entering his prime now, Juric’s goal return is eight from 32 caps at a rate of one every 191 minutes. It’s a solid return, but with more clinical finishing, he could be well into the double digits by now, especially as the Socceroos need a consistent goalscorer given recent struggles from open play.
The case for: When Kruse was on the field in Postecoglou’s 3-3-3-1 system, playing as a No.10, the team looked more balanced and created more chances almost exclusively due to Kruse’s energy, forward runs and intelligent positioning. Shifting back to a 4-2-3-1 allows Kruse to come in off the left wing, onto his stronger right foot – a role he has been playing with his club and where he shone prior to the 2014 World Cup.
The case against: Final product is lacking and a constant frustration for fans who see the Germany-based attacker get into good positions without goals or assists resulting.
The case for: Searing pace, direct running, the engines to go all day and one of Australia’s most dangerous weapons. Plus Leckie has been less than subtle in saying he prefers a winger role to a wingback role.
The case against: As with Kruse, Leckie can frustrate due to a pure lack of final third product. About to crack the 50-cap mark, Leckie, has scored four of his six career Socceroos goals in the World Cup qualifying campaign just passed – so maybe we’re starting to see his best.
The case for: Fresh, in form, confident and a flexible joker in the pack for Van Marwijk to send a message to some of the more established names and show no one is guaranteed a spot.
The case against: Of course, there’s the risk that the step up is just too great for Nabbout who will also have to grapple with the culture change of swapping the A-League for the J.League.
The case for: Postecoglou brought Rukavytsya back into the mix late in the qualifying stages and preferred him as an impact option off the bench due to his pace. Plus, the former Glory attacker is one of the most in-form Aussies in front of goals – scoring nine goals this season for Maccabi Haifa.
The case against: He’s 30 years old, with one international goal to his name from way back in 2012. And no international goals from a competitive fixture.
The case for: Another wildcard option for Van Marwijk who can act as an option on either flank or in behind the striker. Petratos has been one of the driving forces behind Newcastle Jets’ vast improvements this season.
The case against: Like Nabbout, Petratos is unproven and unexposed to this level before.