Match analysis from round 4 26.3.2022
In the early rounds of the NSW NPL this season APIA Leichhardt hosted Blacktown City in an encounter that would set the tone for two of the likely title-contenders of the 2022 season. Blacktown had won 2 out of 2 since the start of the season, with APIA having 2 wins and 1 loss from their 3 games played.
APIA looked to set up in a 4-3-1-2 shape with a traditional number 10 in Parisi linking play between the 8s and the striker pairing of Blair and Romero. Although two-striker systems are a rarer site these days, Romero was constantly shifting to either the left or right sideline with an aim of receiving the ball in these positions and looking to take a defender on in a 1v1. This would allow the outside 8 of either Armson or Azzone to push up into the opposite flanks open space to support the attack. Ucchino was the 6 for APIA who would often receive balls from the centre backs in build-up. In attack one of the fullbacks would push up very high when the ball was on the opposite side of the park, with the other fullback providing an option for a backwards ball from the wide-forward.
Blacktown set up in a 5-2-1-2 shape in defence, however this shifted in attack. They defended with a low midfield block and deep defensive line, which did nullify a lot of APIA’s attacking threat on the break in the wide areas. This did leave them a little isolated up top when looking to counter, with Mallia and Mendy constantly having to hold up play when receiving the ball out wide so more Blacktown players could join the attack.
Aoyama would float in the half-spaces between midfield and attack. If one of the Blacktown forwards received the ball wide, Aoyama would join the frontline and create a front 3. In defence he would often initiate the press or drop into the midfield block based on where APIA had possession. Bandiera and Askew were astute at joining the attack when needed, however due to a deep defensive line and starting position they would often arrive slightly later than they should have. One of Mendy and Mallia would peel very wide to receive long balls, usually big diagonals from the back or the 8s. Mendy often took on his man on the outside and looked to cut the ball back from the goal line, while Mallia would cut inside and pull the trigger if able to. Blacktown looked to go short from goal kicks and were comfortable playing out from the back, with Collins finding Berry and Lewis in the outside channels to advance the play.
The xG flowchart for this match shows us that neither team had many quality chances, which was due to the defence-first nature of both of their set ups.
Towards the end of the match, once Apia had taken the lead, their attacking output dropped significantly. They sat back and soaked up the pressure, attempting to see the game out and secure the 3 points. In attack they committed less players forward and kept their defensive structure, with Nicolau staying back and holding his position more often than joining the attack. This limited Blacktown to chances from distance, shown by their xG tally from the 70th minute onwards. They registered 5 shots with an average of .074 xG, with these chances coming largely from outside of the box.