Sergi Guardiola’s maiden Hyundai A-League goal could point the way forward for reigning champions Adelaide United as they look to kick-start their title defence.
Adelaide have yet to win in the opening four rounds of the 2016-17 campaign and sit ninth in the table ahead of their home match against Central Coast Mariners on Sunday.
But there have been some good signs from the Reds, with Guillermo Amor’s side having strong periods in their past three games despite each fixture ending in a 2-1 defeat for the title-holders.
Comparing Adelaide’s statistics from last season to this season, there are many areas where Amor’s men are matching the output of the Reds’ championship-winning squad.
One glaring difference, however, is the reduction in crosses.
That is where Guardiola’s goal comes in.
Last week, Guardiola opened his Hyundai A-League account against Melbourne City, nodding Ben Garuccio’s cross into the net in the 64th minute at AAMI Park.
The Spanish striker has impressed since arriving on loan from Spanish club Granada as he leads Adelaide for shots (9), shots on target (6), total aerial duels (13) and fouls won (15).
Adelaide should look to exploit his height and strength more often as crossing was one area they dominated in the 2015/16 Season.
The Reds led the Hyundai A-League for open play crosses per game last season with 14.8, while they were also on top for cross completion (24.9%).
So far this season, Adelaide have managed just 11.3 open play crosses per game – better only than Newcastle Jets, Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix – while their cross completion rate has actually improved to 26.3 per cent after four rounds.
Injuries and player departures have been critical to that downturn in delivery from wide areas.
Craig Goodwin (148) – who has left the club for Sparta Rotterdam – was Adelaide’s leading crosser last term, while Marcelo Carrusca (123) and Sergio Cirio (64) completed the top three.
Carrusca (foot) and Cirio (knee) are on Adelaide’s long-term injury list.
The trio’s collective absence has also hurt Adelaide’s passing accuracy in the forward half of the pitch with the Reds’ dropping from 70.3 per cent to 65.6.
Cirio (82.2%), Goodwin (80.7%) and Carrusca (76.2%) were three of the Reds’ four best players for passing accuracy in the forward half last term.
Defensively, Adelaide are performing well compared to the 2015/16 Season – apart from goals conceded per game – when they let in the least amount of goals in the A-League.
Shots faced per game has dropped from 3.7 to 3.5, tackles won has risen from 75.85 per cent to 84.73 and ball recoveries per game has had a minimal increase from 53.7 to 53.8.
If Amor’s men can get their attack clicking again – shots on target per game has dropped from 5.2 to 4 and shot conversion has dropped from 17.9 per cent to 10.8 – the Hyundai A-League champions should start pushing up the table.
Utilising Guardiola’s aerial prowess could be the solution.