Macarthur FC has had a highly successful start to their A-League Men campaign, currently sitting top of the table, unbeaten on seven points.
This has come despite tactical and individual quirks within their formation.
Head coach Ante Milicic has opted for highly attacking wingbacks in a 3-4-3, with two number tens and Lachlan Rose, formerly a winger, deployed upfront.
The attacking personal has been condescended by a relatively reactive brand of football – Macarthur has had just four shots on target per game this season while having had an average of 46.9% possession, the ninth-most in the league.
Milicic has opted for a conservative approach so far, but it could be inferred that first-half goals against Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners in their last two fixtures have strengthened the requirements on the defensive aspects of play.
Against Sydney, Macarthur sat in a deep 5-4-1 block and allowed Sydney to control possession, with the Sky Blues enjoying 64% of the ball.
Against the Mariners, Macarthur repeated the trick after going up through a deflected Ulises Davila strike just before halftime.
The Central Coast side play a similar formation and build-up pattern to Sydney but emphasise the creativity of the front two rather than the wide midfielders, who are more in the mould of ball carriers.
Macarthur used their wide centre-backs to counteract this, with Alexander Susnjar and Tomislav Uskok pushed forwards centrally to pressure the Mariners front two of Moresche and Marco Urena.
Despite these smart tactical tweaks from Milicic, Macarthur has been somewhat lucky with their goals conceded this season.
Filip Kurto has been forced to make 5.0 saves per game – the most in the league, but perhaps the more telling stat is that their expected goals conceded currently sits at 5.3, despite having only conceded one goal.
This is the third-most in the league and hints at Kurto’s individual ability perhaps keeping them ahead in matches, rather than their defensive structure.
But perhaps that’s to be expected with such a forward-thinking, attacking lineup, which we haven’t been able to see properly in full flow this season.
Macarthur has only been down for 35 minutes this campaign and has remained reactive otherwise, but there are conclusions that can be drawn from their attacking play so far this season.
Macarthur plays a 3-2-5 when in possession of the football, with wingbacks Moudi Najjar and Craig Noone going high and wide, which suits the personnel, considering they both are wingers by trade.
Lachlan Rose plays as a lone striker in a poacher mould, with Ulises Davila and Daniel De Silva dovetailing off him in between the lines.
Rose’s positioning has been interesting so far this season, with the former winger playing firmly as a true number nine.
Against the Mariners, he would position himself in offside positions consistently to help his side’s buildup play and attacking threat.
By positioning himself offside behind the Mariners defensive line, he would stretch the play, leaving more space for Davila and De Silva to operate in between the defensive and midfield line.
He would also occupy the centre-back’s attention, with Ruon Tongyik, in particular, looking shaken and nervous during his 45 minutes on the field.
Rose’s position also offered a key goalscoring threat in behind and is reminiscent of where Sergio Aguero would often position himself for Manchester City in the latter years under Pep Guardiola.
The tactic allows for an overload in behind, with the wingbacks looking to receive the ball beyond the opposition defensive line and play a simple, squared pass to the unmarked striker.
“I probably came to that conclusion during the offseason – last year he played a lot on the wing or even as a wingback”, said Ante Milicic of Lachlan Rose playing as a striker.
“But I just felt that centrally he makes great forward runs, his timing is good, he’s got a lot of speed as we know and he works great in the press.”
However, it remains to be seen whether Milicic prefers a rigid, possession-based brand of football as he did last campaign, with Macarthur prioritising more individualist play this season.
The trio of Craig Noone, Ulises Davila and Daniel De Silva has been integral, with the three all gaining key assists over Macarthur’s first three goals.
For Macarthur’s finish against Wellington, a clever corner from Noone found an unmarked Lachlan Rose, who struck the ball with intent on the half volley.
Rose found the net again against Sydney in the second round, after great play from Davila saw a short square pass from De Silva find the back of the net.
Macarthur’s win against the Mariners came from a deflected strike from Ulises Davila, but it was De Silva’s movement and dribbling that broke through the Mariners defence.
The Bulls’ underlying numbers suggest that over time their form will even out, and it remains to be seen whether their collective, conservative football combined with their attack-minded individuals is the right way to go.
Ante Milicic persuades that he has built a side around the individuals in the team, but until they go down by a goal early, or lose a game, it’s hard to judge the quality of the side.
“By the time I got to know the players, to find that right balance and to find a system that suits the characteristics of the side has taken time”, he said.
Based on personnel in the positions, the Bulls are a side built to be on the front foot during the match. We’ve seen stark contrasts so far this season, and yet they sit unbeaten on the top of the table.
Perhaps they’ve got lucky so far with a fantastic goalkeeper, and they’ll play a more attacking brand of football when results possibly start to fall.
Macarthur FC is a curious case this season, and all three goals this campaign have come more from moments of individual brilliance rather than based on systemised attacks.
However, from the way he has spoken, it’s possible Milicic has adopted an individual over system approach, which is in stark contrast to the way the Bulls were set up last season.
A drop off in results over the next month is possible and could give us a greater understanding as to whether this current run of form is a true showing of the side Macarthur will be his campaign.
Image Source: Macarthur FC