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Opinion: Andrew Demack opines on what is wrong with the Roar as they enter 2013 ..

What's wrong with the Brisbane Roar!

It is unseemly for Brisbane Roar fans to complain about the way their team is playing. After all, they have been privileged over the past two seasons to witness some of the best football ever played in the A-League.

But the sharp decline in fortunes of the Roar this season brings the discussion into the open. As Roar fans left the stadium last night, even with a win under the team’s belt, the main topic of conversation is: what’s gone wrong with this team ... and how can it be fixed.

What follows is of course only this writer’s opinion. Other observers will come up with other reasons, and other solutions.

Brisbane Roar’s first full season under Ange Postecoglu (2010-11) was a revelation. Postecoglu wanted to play a certain way, winning the ball back quickly, and keeping possession as much as possible. And he assembled a team which could play this way. At the heart of the team were captain Matt McKay and star German import Thomas Broich.

Broich and McKay, working closely together in midfield, were the key to both keeping possession through excellent close control, but also making that possession pay in creating chances for the strikers with penetrative passes.

Postecoglu set the team up to play 4-3-3. The midfield in this 4-3-3 has a central holding midfielder (for the Roar: Erik Paartalu), and left and right midfielders who play “between the lines”. In the 2010-11 Roar, these positions were mostly filled by Matt McKay and Mitch Nichols.

The central striker in the 4-3-3 is a crucial role. In the Roar 2010-11, Jean-Carlo Solorzano was the first choice in this position. The ideal person in this role (think of Robin Van Persie or David Villa) is mobile, aware, able to come deep to receive the ball, and also to play off the shoulder of the last defender.

The wide attackers in the 4-3-3 were Thomas Broich (left) and Kosta Barbarouses (right).

Broich played as an “inverted” wide attacker. That is to say that he would take up a position on the left, but most of his movement with the ball, and indeed off the ball, was infield, leaving the wide position behind.

This left space for McKay or overlapping fullback Shane Stefanutto to fill, and a common move for the Roar has always been an interchange of passes in midfield which results in Stefanutto (or Ivan Franjic on the other flank) set free down the flanks.

As most people would remember, the 2010-11 Roar were a great success.

At the end of that season, Matt McKay moved on, seeking a chance to play in Europe. Brisbane Roar have not successfully replaced McKay, even now, two years on.

Solorzano and Barbarouses also left at the end of that season. Solorzano was replaced by Besart Berisha, a clear improvement. Berisha quickly became the most lethal striker in the A-League.

But to cover the loss of McKay, Broich now moved into midfield. Barbarouses was also not replaced, as it was thought that Henrique, the Brazilian who missed much of the 2010-11 season through injury, could play the same role.

In defence, Luke deVere left, but his replacement for the 2011-12 season, Mohammed Adnan, proved to be a similar type of passing defender.

So with Berisha on board, Roar went up a notch in efficiency in front of goal. But with the loss of McKay and Barbarouses, there was a much greater dependence on Broich and Nichols to creat the chances and to keep possession.

Broich proved up to the task, and Brisbane won back to back championships. But in my view the second championship winning side was not as good overall as the first. Put Matt McKay back in the picture and my view would change.

The start of the current (2012-13) season saw another two key departures: Ange Postecoglu and Mohammed Adnan.

Of Postecoglu's move there's nothing to say from the point of view of this analysis, other than to be grateful for his amazing contribution to Brisbane Roar's success.

Adnan has not been replaced. So Brisbane’s passing game, which starts with reliable and patient decision-making from the centre backs (Matt Smith and A.N. Other) has been less effective this season.

The main addition to the squad this season was Ben Halloran, who brings pace and plenty of ability on the ball. But Halloran’s introduction has been made more difficult by a slump in form from Berisha.

With Berisha playing poorly, even more creative load is placed on Broich. There’s only so much one German playing on ageing legs can do, no matter how good he is.

Brisbane’s new coach Mike Mulvey has several quandaries to work through. He seems to have already decided on a few of them. James Donachie is his choice as Matt Smith’s partner in defence. And that’s fair enough, as Matt Jurman has been disappointing.

Massimo Murdocca’s ability to win the ball and keep possession has been deemed less useful than Mitch Nichols’ more attacking instincts. And the results since Mulvey’s appointment also seem to bear that out.

But I think the Roar are missing a chance to lessen the load on Broich, and therefore the subsequent load on Berisha, by leaving Murdocca on the bench.

If Broich moves back out to the left attacker’s position, it gives Massimo Murdocca a spot in midfield, pushes Ben Halloran to the right wing, and demotes Henrique to the bench.

The poor form of James Meyer in the Roar’s youth league team has meant that Vidosic and now Mulvey had no real alternatives other than persisting with Berisha and hoping his form turns around.

That continues to be the case, but persisting with Henrique at right wing in the face of a couple of season worth of evidence that he is not the answer, seems to me to be to the detriment of the team’s chances of rescuing some finals form from the wreckage of the current season.

By Andrew Demack Brisbane, 2 January, 2013


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