THERE were plenty of lessons from the Socceroos’ first camp under Bert van Marwijk, but it also created as many headaches as solutions.
The 4-1 loss to Norway, followed by the 0-0 draw with Colombia, exposed the teething problems that need to be quickly fixed before Russia, and while a player like Massimo Luongo put his credentials front and centre, others, particularly defensively, will make the new Dutch mentor look closely at other options floating around Australia and the football globe.
The latest edition of Fox Sports’ Socceroos Power Rankings reflects the learnings from van Marwijk’s first outing, while also grading candidates on their indispensability/competition for their place, as well as their recent fitness, form and role for club and country.
Despite a clear core emerging in recent months, the Norway-Colombia double header has surprisingly re-written the hierarchy.
In fact, the new No.1 – with a bullet – has actually rocketed without kicking a ball in anger in competitive action.
Here we go, let the debate begin!
PODCAST: David Weiner and Kate Cohen reflect on their initial impressions of Bert van Marwijk’s tenure, and dissect the Socceroos Power Rankings.
THE TOP 10 (last ranking in brackets)
1. Trent Sainsbury, defender, Grasshoppers (5)
2. Mathew Leckie, winger, Hertha Berlin (3)
3. Tomi Juric, striker, FC Luzern (9)
4. Mile Jedinak, midfielder, Aston Villa (3)
5. Tom Rogic, midfielder, Celtic (6)
6. Aaron Mooy, midfield, Huddersfield (1)
7. Massimo Luongo, midfielder, QPR (8)
8. Mat Ryan, goalkeeper, Brighton & Hove Albion (2)
9. Matthew Jurman, defender, Suwon Bluewings (14)
10. Aziz Behich, defence, Bursaspor (12)
Sainsbury is now back on the park, with Grasshoppers in Switzerland, and that’s a timely return to action given the fragile display from the next tier of defenders in Oslo and London. It was a stark reminder that the Socceroos need Sainsbury on the park in Russia.
Club game time has never been a huge factor in influencing Sainsbury’s selection or form for his country – he had been out of action in club-land while playing a pivotal role in World Cup qualifying – but it is imperative he is healthy in the lead-up to what could be a huge shop window for the talented defender.
In the same vein, former Sydney FC defender Jurman cracks the top 10 for the first time – and the options to join him as the reserve still looks open. Fox Sports’ Mark Bosnich, speaking on Shootout on the weekend, nominated Rhys Williams as the preferred next cab off the rank.
The other major movers – both up and down – come from reading into van Marwijk’s selections, and language.
For example, Leckie, already a mainstay in the Socceroos XI, was the one candidate to start both matches in the same position in the attacking third. He remains in our top three positions.
On the other hand, Ryan has been No.1 for the last four years, but van Marwijk has been loath to endorse the Brighton & Hove Albion stopper as his first choice, declaring the race for the goalkeeping position up for grabs. The decision to cap Danny Vukovic and play Brad Jones could just be a merely symbolic gesture to show everyone that no one is safe, or it could be the clearest example of a change in boss bringing a change in ideas. Perhaps in van Marwijk’s estimation, Ryan’s distribution plays second fiddle to Jones’ aerial presence? Time will tell.
As discussed after the Colombia clash, Luongo has created a selection headache with van Marwijk’s rigid 4-2-3-1 formation. That’s why Mooy, who is Australia’s highest credentialed outfield player as a regular Premier League starter, has suddenly been lured into the pack now that it appears Jedinak, Luongo, Mooy, Rogic and Irvine are vying for three distinct roles. The maths doesn’t add up.
The current order in our top 10 was decided because Jedinak, as captain, appears the most certain, while the 4-2-3-1 formation almost demands Rogic’s inclusion as a No.10. Are Mooy and Luongo vying for the second central midfield berth? FURTHER ANALYSIS .
Behich and Juric are the other two clear winners from the first games; Juric is the No.9 and Behich is the left-back. It seems clear cut.
THE REST OF THE 23
11. Robbie Kruse, winger, Bochum (7)
12. Jackson Irvine, midfielder, Hull (15)
13. Josh Risdon, defender, Western Sydney (21)
14. Tim Cahill, striker, Millwall (10)
15. Mark Milligan, midfield/defence, Al Ahli (11)
16. Andrew Nabbout, attacker, Urawa Red Diamonds (35)
17. Dimi Petratos, attacker, Newcastle Jets (22)
18. Milos Degenek, defender, Yokohama (18)
19. Bailey Wright, defender, Bristol City (16)
20. Brad Jones, goalkeeper, Feyenoord (31)
21. Danny Vukovic, goalkeeper, Genk (13)
22. James Troisi, midfielder, Melbourne Victory (19)
23. James Meredith, defender, Millwall (42)
24. Aleksandar Susnjar, defender, Mlada Boleslav (NA)
25. Nikita Rukavytsya, attacker, Maccabi Haifa (33)
26. Josh Brillante, midfielder, Sydney FC (28)
Of the 26 names read out for the first two games, how many will be on the final 23 list read out for Russia?
There’s a fair bit of uncertainty in this next batch of players.
For example, Wright has gone from the nominal third central defensive option to a right back that looked at sea against Norway.
Jones has rocketed into the fray and sits neck and neck with Vukovic.
Milligan’s place in the XI looks more like a defensive role now, rather than in midfield, but have his stocks fallen after the difficulties in Norway? He certainly looks far less of a lock to be in the XI than he was under Ange Postecoglou.
The most fascinating part of this mix are the two left-field entrants: Petratos was excellent in the first game when he was able to exert his influence. As for Nabbout, was van Marwijk auditioning him in a genuine trial, with runs at No.9, 7 and then 11, to see how the international novice fared exposed in the deep end? Or is that a sign he has gone past the likes of Kruse, Rukavytsya, Troisi – players who could have started, particularly once Leckie played in Oslo, but were all resigned to cameos?
Either way, both bolters are genuinely in the mix to be in the final 23 come June, especially given the need for proper attacking width and incision if the side’s fullbacks are going to be more conservative than in recent years.
27. Alex Gersbach, defender, Lens (17)
28. Mitch Langerak, goalkeeper, Nagoya Grampus (20)
29. Luke Wilkshire, defender, Sydney FC (29)
30. Jamie Maclaren, striker, Hibernian (23)
31. Brandon Borrello, winger, Kaiserslautern (37)
32. Daniel Arzani, midfielder, Melbourne City (26)
33. Daniel De Silva, midfielder, Central Coast (27)
34. Rhys Williams, defender, Melbourne Victory (38)
35. Craig Goodwin, winger, Sparta Rotterdam (30)
36. Awer Mabil, winger, Pacos de Ferreira (24)
37. Mustafa Amini, midfielder, AGF (25)
38. James Jeggo, midfielder, Sturm Graz (32)
39. Ajdin Hrustic, midfielder, FC Groningen (43)
40. Golgol Mebrahtu, striker, Mladá Boleslav (36)
Make no mistake: another defender, or two, will sneak into the list.
At the moment, Susnjar is best placed to do so, because he has the inside running. But Gersbach, Williams – dare we say it, even Wilkshire? – have to come into the mix thanks to the continued lack of depth at right-back, and the vulnerabilities exposed by Norway and Colombia.
There’s a few realistic contenders still vying for a late bolters’ status, with the two obvious being players van Marwijk was directly asked about before the last games: Arzani, and Borrello.
The latter ticks the ‘raw pace and width’ box, while the former almost demands selection if van Marwijk wants to leave a gift, and legacy, for Australian football by taking him to Russia for, at minimum, the experience in an extended squad.
Van Marwijk’s first choice of 26 players provided a reality check to many on this segment of the list, who were fringe stars under Postecoglou. Besides Mebrahtu, who is a wildcard striking option, the rest of these candidates are worthy of discussion but seemingly have more credentialed players ahead of them, like Amini, Mabil, Goodwin, Jeggo and Hrustic.
41. Alex Wilkinson, defender, Sydney FC (39)
42. Brett Holman, midfielder, Brisbane Roar (34)
43. Kenneth Dougall, midfielder, Sparta Rotterdam (44)
44. Riley McGree, midfielder, Newcastle Jets (45)
45. Chris Ikonomidis, midfielder, Western Sydney (46)
46. Adam Federici, goalkeeper, Bournemouth (48)
47. Mark Birighitti, goalkeeper, NAC Breda (40)
48. Brad Smith, defender, Bournemouth (41)
49. Ben Halloran, winger, V-Varen Nagasaki (49)
50. Callum Elder, defender, Wigan (50)