When Jake Barker-Daish replaced Bruce Djite in the 76th minute of Sunday’s game against Perth Glory, it left many fans to wonder: Was it Josep Gombau shutting up shop or was it simply a lack of options at his disposal? Replacing the only true striker left on the pitch with a midfielder showed that Adelaide are lacking the depth required up front.
Jeronimo Neumann and Djite started together for the first time this season against the Glory, giving United a different threat going forward. However the reds failed to score and it came time for players to be replaced, Jeronimo was replaced by Awer Mabil and Djite by Barker-Daish. Mabil for the Argentinean striker was effectively a straight swap as Jeronimo had been operating mostly on the flank, but Djite is a true number nine and was replaced by a midfield utility player.
Having either Djite or Jeronimo on the bench gives a solid attacking option to throw at opponents late in games. But there is very little depth behind these two players. Sergio Cirio was touted as a player who could play anywhere across the front line but we have seen him almost exclusively on the left. Awer Mabil’s pace through the middle could be an option that would frighten most defences, but Gombau has again mostly utilised him out wide.
So Gombau faces a conundrum: Two players in Djite and Jeronimo who are better with a partner up front, but little depth behind them. Does he play them both and rely on them to get the job done before the hour mark, or does the Spaniard start one and bring the other on as an impact sub?
Of course had Fabio Ferreira been fit on the weekend, this question may not have arisen. The loss of the Portuguese winger was a big blow for United as he had started every game until Sunday. His absence is what triggered Gombau’s selection of both Jeronimo and Djite.
Adelaide’s decision to let Brent McGrath leave earlier this season is not surprising given he had trialled unsuccessfully at numerous clubs. It is baffling however when you consider the shortage of striking options that United possess.
In a salary capped league where recruitment strategies vary greatly from season to season, clubs are often found lacking in depth. But one must wonder how United have found themselves in a position where they have only two strikers with any A-League experience. Western Sydney, Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Central Coast all have at least three options to lead the line, if not more.
Finding the back of the net is always going to be a challenge in such a competitive league, and even more so when there’s a very limited number of goalscorers in the squad. The standard of goalkeeping is arguably higher than ever and clubs need players who are calm and clinical when presented with chances, something Adelaide haven’t been this season.
For example Jeronimo has had 34 shots on goal, one more than James Troisi but the Victory striker has scored seven goals to Neumann’s three. Besart Berisha has five goals from 25 attempts which further highlights the difference in finishing this season.
Goals from midfield are often decisive in deciding league placings and Marcelo Carrusca had a nightmare in front of goal on Sunday. While none of his misses were truly terrible, a player of his quality has to do better with the opportunities he had. Adelaide have just three goals so far from midfield, with two from Carrusca and one from Steven Lustica. Meanwhile Marcos Flores, Ivan Franjic and Andrea Migliorini all have three goals to their names. Mitch Nichols has found the back of the net four times from midfield.
I highlighted in a previous piece that the gap between midfield and attack could be a reason for Adelaide’s lack of penetration from midfield. While United looked to have their midfield slightly further forward on Sunday, this was more of a result of Perth dropping very deep when not in possession.
There is another key issue that is prevalent in the Adelaide midfield at the moment. Aside from Carrusca, there is a distinct lack of desire to get forward and get onto the end of passes and crosses. The midfield seems too structured at times and almost ‘lets’ the forwards attack, rather than looking to actively help and participate. Runners from midfield are hard to track for defenders and there is a serious lack of forward movement from United’s midfielders.
It is not clear if Gombau has instructed his players to curb their attacking instincts or if it is a by-product of the style of football that Adelaide are trying to play. United are not keeping their midfield more structured to avoid being caught on the counter because they are as vulnerable as ever, and Gombau doesn’t appear to be overly concerned with the finer tactical details of his defence.
There are clearly questions surrounding Adelaide’s recruitment during the offseason. Why did they believe that two strikers were enough for an entire season when one was already injured before the season began? Why release Brent McGrath and not look to replace him? Will United look to bring in attacking cover in the January window?
Given that Gombau has stated his desire to develop young players (and his background of doing so), it is disappointing to see that no striker had been promoted from Adelaide’s NYL squad to date. Winger Ryan Kitto has played 28 minutes so far this season and that is as close to a promoted striker as we have seen. Bruce Kamau, Nikola Mileusnic and Jordan O’Doherty are attacking players who could contribute if given time with the senior squad.
We will see in time if Gombau brings in younger players to add some attacking thrust, or if he looks to sign more strikers during January and the offseason period. But one thing is certain, United need to reinforce their frontline or they find themselves out of their depth.