Adelaide: The story so far

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Despite attracting much hype during the A-League pre-season Adelaide United, after the first month of the season, find themselves in an underwhelming sixth position having accrued four points. However these bare statistics of the league table tell little of the story of the season so far, with four entertaining games providing much food for thought for Reds’ fans. The new coach has already made his mark on the side, cultivating a new style and building a new-look team for 2013/14.

Adelaide’s comprehensive victory in round one at home to Perth Glory saw some bold predictions of A-League dominance for Josep Gombau and his side, however less impressive results in the following weeks, first against traditional rivals Melbourne Victory and then on the road to last season’s grand finalists Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers, has seen critical opinion turn against the Reds. The truth, as always, is more complex than a thirty second sound-bite or 140 characters allows, and four rounds in we can just begin to assess where Adelaide sit in their quest to bring modern football to Coopers Stadium.

Gombau’s chosen eleven, like any football side, has been impacted by availability thus far, but it is possible to discern the Spaniard’s personnel preferences. Eugene Galekovic, unsurprisingly, remains unchallenged as first choice between the posts. The club captain’s shot stopping has featured heavily in highlights reels, but, in line with the coach’s methodology, he has also had the opportunity to showcase his distribution, impressing even against the high press of Melbourne Victory in round two.

The injury to young Daniel Bowles against the Victory has meant Tarek Elrich stepping into the right-back role, while Michael Zullo’s marauding runs from left-back may well prompt Socceroos selection in the near future. However both fullbacks have been guilty of costly defensive lapses in the last two weeks, with Zullo’s forays forward now identified as a potential avenue for counter-attacking. In the centre of defense Jon McKain and Nigel Boogaard have established themselves as starters, with Osama Malik filling in there while Boogaard served a suspension in round two.

Adelaide’s midfield setup has varied each week, however, especially after this week’s game away to West Sydney, it is clear to see that Marcelo Carrusca is pivotal to the creative output of the side in a floating #10 role. Recent import Isaias, comfortable in receiving the ball under pressure and spreading the play across the pitch, has played as either the holding #6 or the link-man of Adelaide’s midfield trio, with either Malik (as the holder/axillary centre-back) or Steven Lustica (more of an all-rounder) preferred over Cameron Watson, who hasn’t started since being caught playing out from the back against the Victory.

Sergio Cirio, United’s last Spaniard, seems most suited to one of the wide forward slots despite being nominally the third midfielder against Melbourne. His combination play cutting in from the left shows an appreciation of Gombau’s forward thinking, while a promising partnership with Zullo behind is developing each week. On the opposite flank Fabio Ferreira has been a regular, attempting to stretch the play, while Awer Mabil has been restricted to cameos despite an impressive showing in round two. Ryan Kitto, another SA-based youngster, has also appeared, suggesting this section of the side is yet to be settled.

The goals and guile of Jeronimo, taking up a poaching role inside the penalty box, has been the main source of Adelaide’s attacking prowess so far, with his absence certainly felt against the Central Coast Mariners in Round Three. Injury replacement Brett McGrath failed to step up in his stead and has now left the club, with Bruce Djite returning to full fitness this week after a run-out in the National Youth League side over the past weekend.

While United’s struggles in breaking down the determined defenses of Central Coast and West Sydney have been highlighted in recent weeks, Adelaide fans should take solace from having faced arguably the A-League’s three front-runners so early in the season. Continually dominant in possession Adelaide are still yet to become a potent attacking force and have been exposed on the counter-attack each week.

The next month for the Reds includes two trips to Victoria and one to Perth, while the home fans will see Newcastle Jets visit this coming weekend. Gombau’s team should be aiming for three points in each of these fixtures, which no doubt will shed more light on Adelaide’s progression towards the mecca of tiki taka.

Mathew Doolan

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