​The Dossier: Battle for the ball crucial in Victory-Reds


The Sydney Derby will dominate the agenda in the build-up to this weekend’s action, but the Round 8 opener between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United on Friday night is the contest that has the Hyundai A-League’s football hipsters salivating, writes Goal.com Australia Editor Iain Strachan.

As Kevin Muscat and Josep Gombau fine tune their preparations for the clash at AAMI Park, we take a closer look at two of the men that make their respective teams tick and, perhaps more importantly, how to stop them.

Both of the league’s entertainers like to play it short from the back, the goalkeeper finding a free defender who, if a wide team-mate or quick forward option isn’t available, is likely to feed the nearest central midfielder. 

In Victory’s case, that’s Mark Milligan and Carl Valeri, while Isaias is the most regular outlet for the Reds’ backline. 

Only ever-present goalkeeper Nathan Coe has spent more time on the field than Valeri this season, the newcomer starting every minute for Victory since arriving from Italy. Isaias meanwhile is one of four members of the Adelaide squad, along with Eugene Galekovic, Nigel Boogaard and James Jeggo, to play every minute of their seven games so far.

Guilherme Finkler is the only Victory player to have more touches than Valeri, who leads the side for passes attempted (340) and boasts the third highest passing accuracy rate in the squad of 85.3 percent.

Isaias has taken more touches (495) and attempted more passes (385) than Valeri, notching the highest statistics of any Adelaide midfielder or forward in those categories.

Isaias’ higher numbers may have contributed to the fact that he has, at 81 percent, been less accurate than Valeri.

The biggest disparity between the two is in their defensive and disciplinary stats. Valeri is the third most effective tackler (82.4 percent success rate) of any Victory forward or midfielder. 

At the opposite end of the scale, Isaias (64.3 percent) is the second least successful tackler of Adelaide’s midfielders and forwards. Only Pablo Sanchez (50 percent) is worse.

Isaias though fares better than his Victory counterpart with referees, giving away nine fouls and winning seven throughout the first seven rounds of the season. Valeri has won just three fouls and conceded a whopping 19, the most of any member of the Victory squad. 

That may be a function of Muscat’s instructions to win the ball back quickly while letting the opposition know they are in a contest and you can’t argue with the Big V’s results so far this term on the back of that aggressive strategy. 

But those numbers need to come down if Valeri is to stay out of the referee’s notebook and avoid giving away free-kicks in dangerous areas.

The importance of each player to their team is not disputed, but stopping them is easier said than done.

Gombau may perhaps brief Jimmy Jeggo or Marcelo Carrusca to try and close down Valeri (and Milligan), while Finkler could be working overtime on Friday, charged with creating for his team and also shutting down Isaias.

The Brazilian playmaker may not look like a natural candidate for such a role, but Finkler’s stats in that regard show promise – he’s won 44.4 percent of his 90 duels entered into (the second most of any Victory player), with a tackle success ratio of 83.3 percent, second highest of the Big V’s midfielders. 

Having won 19 fouls and given up just five, the 29-year-old is clearly capable of getting the match officials on his side. And if Opta’s average position map from the 1-1 draw in Round 2 is anything to go by, the two men will be right on top of each all night.

As any coach will tell you, the outcome of a match is determined by far more than the performance of just one or two players. But Valeri and Isaias are certainly barometers for Victory and Adelaide respectively so far this season. Shut them down and you’ll take a potentially decisive advantage.

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