Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Four ways the Phoenix can win the A-League

This is proof that I'm not just restricted to cricket as for this season I have become quite the follower of the Wellington Phoenix. This piece wont be the usual pessimistic piece on the Phoenix (for those seeking out that kind of rubbish please return to the latest offerings of negative tripe from Billy Harris and Paul Thompson). This is going to be a positive piece about how the Phoenix can actually win the A-League. Sure we were struggling to make the playoffs but now that I'm confident we will make it here are the 4 ways the 'Nix can win the A-League:

1. Rojas- Plain and simple Marco Rojas. This kid should be nicknamed Midas because at the moment everything he touches turns to gold. He plays fast attacking football and is one of the best distributors of the ball in the A-League at the moment. He draws in multiple defenders and manages to beat them all. We need to get the ball to him regularly so that he can provide excellent balls for the other players and he has been doing this very successfully as he has 6 assists which is one of the best rates in the league especially considering he hasn't played as many games as most of the players above him. The best part of having Rojas is that he changed the 'Nix tactics so dramatically. When we had Ifill we would rely on merely booting the ball up field and rely on his magic to get us goals, a strategy which did have some success but once oppositions started focusing defence on Ifill it began failing. With Rojas it is completely different as now the 'Nix play a lot more along the ground and rely on good distribution and good ball to get goals. Even now when teams are become wise to Rojas' skill and try to shut him down he is good enough to draw the defenders then fast enough to beat them and provide scoring opportunities to other players. The one problem with Rojas is that while he can set up goals very well he does not have the same opportunity to score them which means we need to put more emphasis on finishing and at the moment we are succeeding very well with Dylan McCallister in a purple patch as well as hard working striker Chris Greenacre also getting into the scoring (both with seven goals each) almost completely due to excellent ball from Rojas and if he keeps it up then I believe we will be able to progress all the way to the title.

2. No more yellows- The Phoenix are one of the more physically aggressive sides in the A-League and as a result of that we concede a lot more fouls than other teams, this means far more yellows than most teams as we have conceded 58 yellow cards and one red card from just fifteen players over the season only bettered or maybe worsened by the despicable Victory who have 60 yellows and 2 reds. To really get further this season we have to maintain the best team possible meaning no more suspensions. Once we get back Sigmund and Durante we have to stop the silly challenges. Yes Ben Sigmund's late challenges can sometimes be amusing but really we can't afford to be missing one of our best defenders as proven by him being suspended twice for eight yellow cards. Other offenders are Durante (eight yellows), Tim Brown (seven yellows), Vince Lia (six yellows, one red) and Manny Muscat (eight yellows) almost guaranteed to pick up a yellow card. These guys especially need to hold back just slightly so we can maintain our best team for the whole playoff phase and truly challenge for the title. If we do lose players such as Sigmund or Durante again it will cause a complete re-shuffle of our team and require Manny Muscat going back to defence. That would be disastrous for the Phoenix as we need Manny in midfield to bring out his moments of brilliance (don't forget he is yet to score this season and most definitely do not rule out a Manny screamer in the playoffs). With a consistent team building momentum and all our players in their best positions we are giving ourselves the best opportunity to win the title.

3.Solid defence-For a small pool of players we have excellent defending options. Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante and Jade North have provided very sturdy defence for this season and we even have Tony 'Blockhead' to provide some good defence with young James Musa looking a very good prospect if called on. We have to keep this up especially for the playoffs as to advance we are going to have to keep cleansheets as we don't quite play enough of the total football to be chasing the pack from two-nil down. I'm confident that with a pairing such as Durante and North (who have taken the Jets to the title) as well as Sigmund to keep out any attack the A-League has to offer and as they say a strong defence is the best offence which could be the key to taking us to the title.

4. Turn it into a fight- Let's face it the 'Nix are not the most glamorous players in the A-League, they play physical, scrappy football it's a style that suits players who may not be world class but know how to get the best out of their talent which is a very New Zealand trait obviously passed off by Ricki Herbert. The Phoenix's best chance of taking down the favourites the Roar and the Mariners is to stop them playing the beautiful football they have been playing all season. We need to shut down their slick passing and strong runs into space. If we can do this I'm sure we can be successful proved already by our gritty victory against Adelaide. We were able to shut down Flores easily and stop good ball going to their finishers such as Van Dijk. Sure if the Phoenix are going to go all the way they are going to eek out some scrappy 1-0 victories much the way Spain did in the World Cup but in the end when you're holding the title it doesn't say how you won it just that you won it.

These things may seem fairly straight forward but many people still doubt that the Phoenix could do it. The thing with finals football is that in this case you only have to be at your best for a few games and when you do this you string along victories and suddenly you're playing in the Grand Final and in that case we may be up against a team like the Roar who have been amazing all season but if on the day we are better than them then we end up with the title which reflects one of my favourite ideologies that I have heard which comes from Tennis hall of famer Andre Agassi is that you don't have to be a perfect just that when your time comes you have to be better. The 'Nix have proved that they can do that as although we often struggle during the season and then make a mad dash to make the finals where we begin playing our best football and really this season could be ours for the taking but we will just have to wait to see how right my theories are.

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