Mid-season review

As we approach the midway point of the season, it seems like a good time to go over the opening three months of the season. In this we’ll look at the success stories of this season so far and some of the challenges faced. Don’t forget that you can also listen to more mid year reviews on the Roar Radio’s mid-season review podcast which was posted the other day.

What’s gone right.

Promotion of youth:
One of the question marks over the Brisbane squad going into the

One of the biggest success stories of the first half(Bradley Kanaris - Getty Images AsiaPac)

One of the biggest success stories of the first half(Bradley Kanaris – Getty Images AsiaPac)

season was over the depth should injures arise. Injuries to Michael Theo, Jade North, Shane Stefanutto, Liam Miller and Besart Berisha has given some of the depth players to step in and they’ve more than proven there is the depth in the squad. Corey Brown and James Donachie have stepped in and played significant minutes in the backline, while other youngsters such as Kwame Yeboah, Matt Acton and Dimitri Petratos has stepped up when required. One youngster who would have joined this group if it wasn’t for a pre-season injury is George Lambadaridis who would have been given the chance to tie down a midfield spot with the injury issues.

Results:
When you’re sitting top of the table halfway through the season obviously the results have been good. The overall record of 9 wins out of 12 games, with 3 defeats is a fantastic foundation leading into the second half of the season. It is however just the foundation of the season. One of the priorities of the season seems to be to make Suncorp a fortress and four wins from five is a strong start to that. Home form will be a crucial factor in the reminder of the season with 9 of the last 15 games to be played here in Brisbane.

Player development:
It’s not just the young players who have shown signs of improvement in the opening half of the season, some of the players who were put into the starting line-up at the end of last season have continued to improve this season. Jack Hingert has made the right back spot his own, Luke Brattan has quickly become one of the leagues best central midfielders resulting in Graham Arnold reportedly wanting to take him to Japan. One of the sides most consistent players in recent times, Ivan Franjic, has taken his game to another level in the midfield adding goals to his game. The youngster such as Brown, Donachie and Yeboah have taken huge steps forward and will continue to do so in the second half of the season

What’s gone wrong:

Injuries:
Not a lot has gone wrong this season to date, however if anything has gone wrong it would be injuries to some key players in the squad. Obviously injuries are part of the game and all teams go through them and the plus side of them is they provide an opportunity for other players to step in and as mentioned above they’ve certainly done that. Here’s a quick rundown of the teams injury issues:
– Theo: Missed two games with a shoulder injury.
– North: Missed three games with a groin injury.
– Stefanutto: Missed seven games with a hamstring injury.
– Miller: Missed five games with a calf injury.
– McKay: Missed two games due to national team commitments.
– Franjic: Missed one game due to national team commitments.
– Berisha: Missed three games with hamstring and hip flexor injuries.
– Lambadaridis: Missed whole season with knee injury.
– Danning: Missed whole season with knee injury.

Liam Miller’s struggles:
As one of Mulvey’s key offseason buys, a lot has been expected of

Miller has been a disappointment to date(Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Miller has been a disappointment to date(Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Liam and in truth he’s failed to live up to the expectations. The injury he sustained in Melbourne that’s seen him miss almost half of the games to date hasn’t helped his cause, however even in the games he’s played he’s struggled to make an impact. He’s improved in the last couple of weeks including playing an OK game against Sydney on Boxing Day, but he’s got a lot of improvement in him. Hopefully we see that in the second half of the season.

Lack of striking depth:
This was another of the concerns raised over the squad following the decision not to sign Brisbane City striker Antonio Murray as cover for Berisha. While Kwame Yeboah was in the squad and was performing well in the pre-season, he was considered more to be a wide player; however he was thrust into the role away to Melbourne Victory. Ultimately over the coming weeks Kwame would prove himself to be a solid attacker in the league; however his departure now has set the striker depth back to square one. It could be Brandon Borrello, it could be Kofi Danning or they could look outside the organisation.

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12 months on: Assessing Mike Mulvey

Today marks 1 year to the day since Mike Mulvey was officially introduced as the 5th head coach for Brisbane Roar following the ‘promotion’ of Rado Vidosic to technical director. It was a move which was greeted with a large degree of surprise at the time, and at the time when he received a two year extension surprise and a touch of anger and disappointment. What Mulvey has done in his opening 12 months in charge is stabilise the club, and return he club the club to the top of the table.

In that time Mulvey has lead Brisbane on an unsuccessful tilt at the Champions League, a late run at the finals series and also started off this current season with 8 wins from the opening 10 rounds. Back in the off-season I wrote a piece about how Mulvey fared in the second half of last season in a number of ways, and he stacked up favourably. GM Sean Dobson said at the fan forum in the off-season the club were judging him on how he worked behind the scenes in fixing what they both described as a sense of entitlement. From the outside it’s impossible to asses that, however there are four ways in which it’s fair to judge Mike from the outside, and those are results, player development, transfer activity and the style of play. In some was this piece follows on from something I wrote in the post season wrap.

Results:

While everyone likes to see attacking football and young players moving into the first team, it’s the results on the park where a coach is ultimately judged. Currently Brisbane sit top of the A-League table after 10 rounds this season which has set the side up for a solid season. But how does Mike stack up results wise compared to his predecessors? To try and judge this we’ll take a look at how each of the five Brisbane coaches have fared in the 1st twelve months of their tenure.

coaches
Fig 1.0: Brisbane Roar coaches stats from their 1st 12 months in the role.

A quick look shows that Mulvey has won the most games over his first 12 months, collected more points, scored more goals and conceded the second fewest goals –compared to the other coaches.

Statistically Brisbane best coach over the opening 12 months(Adam Butler Goal Weekly)

Statistically Brisbane best coach over the opening 12 months(Adam Butler Goal Weekly)

Rado’s stats are an outlier and as such it’s not really fair to include his given he only coached half the games of the others. Some may be surprised by Postecoglou’s stats however it’s worth remembering the problems in the early days when he took over midway through the 2009-10 season. One the whole however Mulvey compares extremely favourably to his predecessors and it’s fair to say from a results standpoint he’s been a resounding success to date. Long may it continue.

Player Development:

For the most part Brisbane have had a largely experienced squad of players since Mulvey’s arrival, however there’s no doubt that a few players have taken a step forward in the first team squad. That is in part due to being given an extended opportunity in the line-up, however there’s also a couple of players who were already reasonably experienced who’ve taken a step forward in the past year.

One player who has been apart of the core success in recent seasons who has taken a step forward is the now versatile Ivan Franjic. When Mulvey took over Franjic was the league’s best right full-back and a fringe A-League Socceroo, fast forward 12 months and he’s now a versatile player capable of playing all down the right hand side or in the midfield and is now a fully fledged member of the Socceroos line-up and is likely on his way to Brazil. One thing that Ivan has added to his game –other than the versatility- is goals, and he’s become a regular feature on the scoresheet late last season and early in this, including the winner in Wellington at the weekend. Mulvey’s rationale for the move was to create more balance in the side last season, and that opened up the opportunity for another young defender whose done well in the side.

As mentioned above Jack Hingert was largely on the fringe of the team before Mulvey arrived, he’s gone on to cement himself as the 1st choice at right full-back and has been a consistent performer whose absence in the semi-final against Western Sydney was a bigger deal than it was made out to be at the time. Alongside Hingert as establishing himself in the side in the defence under Mulvey is James Donachie. Despite the arrival of Jade North and the presence of Matt Smith in the squad as central defenders, James established himself as one of Australia’s best young defenders late last season and despite having two fringe Socceroos in the squad he has continued to get first team football this season.

In midfield there was a gaping hole in the side when Erik Paartalu departed for Tianjin in the Chinese League, however Luke Brattan has done a fantastic job as a replacement. When he first got the role following Erik’s departure he was still recovering from an ankle injury but he managed to put in a fantastic shift away to Buriram in the Champions League. Since then he’s taken a bunch of big steps in his development and is now the heart of the Brisbane midfield.

Corey Brown is one player who has progressed under Mulvey's watch (Bradley Kanaris - Getty Images AsiaPac)

Corey Brown is one player who has progressed under Mulvey’s watch (Bradley Kanaris – Getty Images AsiaPac)

In addition to those who were in the first team, Mulvey’s tenure has also seen the emergence of a host of youth team players. The most prominent of those have been left back Corey Brown whose solid form is keeping Shane Stefanutto out of the side currently, and young attacker Kwame Yeboah who broke onto the scene in the pre-season and with goals against Central Coast and Western Sydney. Other youngsters given a first team chance, and who could emerge in the coming months are Matt Acton, Brandon Borrello, Patrick Theodore and George Lambadaridis who was set to have a big season before his knee injury.

In terms of unsuccessful player development, Do Dong-Hyun, Anthony Proia and Nick Fitzgerald failed to develop under Mulvey and were quick to move on, while Julius Doe –a January signing of Mulvey- has so far failed to live up to his enormous potential. On the whole however the leaps forward we’ve seen from Hingert, Brown, Franjic and Yeboah in particular has been impressive and you’d have to give Mulvey high marks in this respect.

Transfer Activity:

Transfers
Fig 2.0 Transfer activity under Mulvey.

11 in and 13 players out –not including full time NYL players- so far in Mulvey’s tenure, and it’s fair to say that in this respect he’s been a bit hit and miss. Amongst Mulvey’s better signings have been Jade North who stepped in at a crucial time and helped stabilise what was a shaky defence at the time, and Matt McKay who looks like he’s not missed a beat since his return to the club from Changchun Yatai. Young players that Mulvey has promoted to the first team like Corey Brown, and full-time NYL players like Kwame Yeboah have also been successful additions to the squad.

In terms of disappointments, Stef Nijland never managed to adapt to both his role in the side and also the conditions and way of the A-League, while youngsters Julius Doe and Diogo Ferreira have struggled to make much of an impact yet. This seasons big off-season addition Liam Miller was expected to have a big impact on the side, however due to form and fitness issues he’s yet to really fire to date. Departure wise, championship winning midfielders Erik Paartalu, Massimo Murdocca and Mitch Nichols are the biggest losses, with Murdocca more of a sentimental loss as the final foundation player, while Nichols and Paartalu were big losses to the side in midfield, albeit Brattan has stepped in admirably for Paartalu. I still think Meyer was a loss to the side and offered a lot as a back-up striker and winger, but they haven’t missed the now Pune FC man to date.

All up you’d have to say Mulvey’s work in the transfer market has been largely hit and miss, albeit he’s had difficult circumstances with so many players locked in already. The upcoming Besart Berisha free agency will be a good test for him in trying to keep one of the teams star players, and if required bring in a replacement.

Style:
When he took over Mike inherited a side which had gone under something of a tactical change under Rado Vidosic that ultimately proved unsuccessful. Rado tried to implement a more ‘direct’ game which often resulted in playing the ball in behind the defenders for him to run onto. I wrote about the ills of the side from a stylistic point of view here. Transition was another area where Brisbane fell down, particularly tracking back when the ball was lost.

There were no quick fixes to the problems facing the side’s way of play, however Mulvey set about fixing the issues, starting with getting a stable defensive unit and team in general. Moving Franjic forward to the right wing proved to be a shrewd move both in an attacking and defensive sense and proceeded to give the side more balance in the front third and also in the transition from defence to attack/attack to defence.

Mulvey hasn’t brought about anything radically new to the side over the past year, what he has done however is return the style of play which was so successful in the Postecoglou era, or what Mulvey calls the Brisbane DNA. The one change he did make to the style was inverting the triangle in midfield from one screener two midfielders ahead of him to having two midfielders and a #10 type in more of a 4-2-3-1 formation at the end of last season. This season however he’s reverted back to more of the old 4-3-3 with McKay and Miller pushing forward while Brattan sits deeper to start moves.

There hasn’t been a huge tactical overhaul in the past 12 months, there has however been a return to the successful way of play which brought success to Brisbane. The tactical move of Franjic further forward was a good one and brought balance to the team. Time will tell if he’ll return the success but to date it’s been a good start.

All up it’s been an incredibly successful 12 months in charge for Mulvey in almost every aspect. He’s picked up points at a fantastic rate and has the side sitting top of the table approaching the halfway mark of the season playing football very much in the traditions of Brisbane. His work in the transfer market hasn’t been fantastic with a hit and miss record, that has however been offset by his fantastic work in developing the games of the players he has, especially in the case of the younger players like Corey Brown and Luke Brattan. It started out a bit slowly, but it’s improved in time and all up it’s been a successful first season for Mulvey. Hopefully in the next 12 months and beyond he can progress even further.


Off-Season Review: Assessing Mike Mulvey

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll take a look back at the season that was, the success stories, the disappointments and take a brief look to what may lie ahead for next season. Yesterday we took a look at the season as a whole, today we’ll coach Mike Mulvey and how he fared after coming in mid-season.

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It came as something of a surprise when Mike Mulvey replaced Rado Vidosic after just 11 games in charge of this past season, and the former Gold Coast boss had some major obstacles to overcome, both internal and external. In order to assess the performance of Mike we’ll look at three different areas in which he’s had an impact- results, tactics and the transfer market.

 

 Results:

We’ll start with what is seen on the park every week given that’s what matters the most, and at the time of his appointment the two goals set out in front of him were to make the finals, and to get into the group stage of the Champions League. He obliviously failed to meet the continental football objective, however given the circumstances associated with it they did a decent job. As Mulvey said at the time, the game came too soon for them and they weren’t ready as a team or club for that level this season.

In the A-League he took over a side that was second from bottom with just 11 points from 11 games and went on to win 8 of his first 16 games in the league. In fact, if you isolate the 16 league games in charge under Mulvey, the results look impressive. Brisbane has the 5th best record over the stretch, slightly fewer than Central Coast and Melbourne, and comparable to Sydney who similarly made a 2nd half run at the finals.

 

Table2012-13 A-League table, when Mulvey took over, and how it looked from when he took over until the end of the regular season.

 

If you compare Mulvey’s first 16 games as head coach to those of his predecessors in Brisbane, he stacks up well. Comparing Mulvey to the others over this sample Mulvey’s team won more games, picked up more points, scored more goals and conceded fewer goals than each of the other coaches teams did early in their reigns. All of that statistically makes him the most successful coach in Brisbane history- early in his tenure atleast. There’s still a long way to mind and he’s not achieved anything close to what his predecessor achieved, but so far he’s gotten the results. Making the finals after arriving mid-season, and getting a win on the road is an extra tick for him.

 

1st 19 games (All Coaches)

Table of results: Brisbane Roar Managers- first 16 matches in the league

 

Overall on the results side, Mulvey did what he had to do in reality- he made the finals. The performances were up and down, but from a results stand point he gets a solid mark on this one.

 

 Tactics/Style:

Moving on to the second area to assess Mulvey on, and this is where he’s really earned his money- on the tactical and style factor. At the time of his arrival, Brisbane were team lacking ideas, imagination and seemingly belief and motivation. Through various comments made by both himself and the GM they’ve basically admitted that the motivation and focus wasn’t as high as in the previous seasons, and Mulvey deserves credit for turning that around and getting the playing group focused again.

 

 

From a stylistic point of view, the majority of the patterns of play from the Postecoglou –and Vidosic- era still remain with emphasis on playing out from the back, and building up through the lines- albeit slightly different. The play still generally goes through the wings, however at times there’s been a tendency to play the ball forward in behind the defenders for the wingers to run onto and it’s worked well especially with Franjic in recent weeks.

 

 

In terms of tactical changes made by Mulvey, the only one of note has been the inverting on the triangle in midfield from one at the base and two further forward to two at the base and one playing off the striker. The move was designed to give Brisbane greater control of the game and more passing options while playing out and building up, while also bringing someone into the #10 role which is vital in today’s game. The change has brought the best out of Luke Brattan who’s done exceptionally well, and it’s also got Nichols playing some of his better football while new signing Nijland –who was signed to slot into the role- never really clicked.

 

 

Infact most of the improvements Mulvey has made have actually come from players already at the club. The departure of Erik Paartalu opened up the opportunity for Luke Brattan to come in, and he did an outstanding job alongside one of Mulvey’s signings in Steve Lustica. Brisbane were also leaking goals routinely before and just after his arrival, however his new looked backline of Hingert, Donachie, North and Stefanutto worked wonders at one stage keeping four successive clean sheets. They also conceded the second least goals in the league in his time as coach (15), only bettered by the surging Western Sydney Wanderers (13). Mike also deserves credit for getting two of Brisbane’s key performers –Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha- firing again.

 

 

His biggest move was the decision to throw Ivan Franjic further forward into the right wing role. It was viewed as something of a surprise, however the balance it brought to the right hand side was the key catalyst for the late season surge to the finals, and it worked a treat. Not only was Franjic far better in tracking back when possession was lost, he was also a constant threat down the right hand side in the latter weeks. It’s a move which rewarded Mulvey with three goals and countless opportunities for others.

 

 

It wasn’t the tactical and stylistic revolution we saw under Postecoglou, but that’s not what was needed. Small tweaks here and there are all that was needed, especially once the players rediscovered their hunger and focus for the contest again. Most of his decisions were made for him thanks to players leaving –Paartalu- and others not performing –Jurman-. He does however deserve credit for giving the youngsters an opportunity, and for moving Franjic further forward.

 

 Transfers:

The third and final area to assess Mulvey on is his work in the transfer window, where he was reasonably busy, bringing in four fresh faces, signing two NYL players to the 1st team while also seeing five players depart. Here’s a rundown of transfer activity under his watch.

 

 

Transfers

Brisbane’s transfer activity under Mulvey- (Jan 2012- Present)

 

Starting with his signings, and we’ll start with the most experienced of the bunch in Jade North. Jade came in at a time when he was seriously underdone and took some time to get his fitness back, but when he did he formed a formidable partnership with James Donachie providing experience and guidance to his younger teammate. The other big success has been the loan signing of Steve Lustica, who’s come in and played well alongside Brattan in the centre of midfield. He does a lot of the work that often goes unnoticed in a game, but he’s been a vital cog in the late season resurgence. He also chipped in with two goals at important times aswell which is handy. The signings of Brown and Lambadaridis should also put Brisbane in good shape moving forward and Brown has excelled in his rare opportunities to this point, while we haven’t seen much of Julius Doe to this point other than in the youth league.

 

 

While Lustica and North have been successes, the same cannot be said of Stef Nijland. Plucked from Dutch giants PSV –albeit out on loan at the time- Stef came in with the task of complementing Berisha. Unfortunately for both he and Brisbane, it didn’t work out. Nijland’s inability to pick the right option and read the movements of his teammates lead to chances going begging and as a result Nichols was restored to the starting line-up. It seems unlikely that he’ll be sticking around long term in Brisbane.

 

 

In terms of departures, most of these decisions were already made for him with Erik Paartalu longing for a move to the lucrative Chinese league, while Yuji Takahashi never made the grade and saw his loan terminated early. Rock Visconte never got a look in and was hardly a shock when his deal was ended three months early while young striker Anthony Proia was another who had no place under Mulvey. Nick Fitzgerald’s departure was a strange one in that he’d all but agreed to the move before Mulvey arrived. Once his move to Central Coast became official Mulvey decided he would no longer consider him for 1st team selection and force him to spend the rest of the year in the youth league, only to back down and agree to an early release a week later on the provision a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ would be in place preventing Nick from the following weeks game in Brisbane against the Mariners.

 

 

On the whole most of Mikes work in the transfer market has been good, with North and Lustica stepping into vitally roles in the side. He swung and missed on Nijland but he’s not the first manager to miss on a foreign import and he wont be the last. The handling of the Fitzgerald and Proia saga’s wasn’t the best but id prefer the manager to be focused on players who are actually in his plans.

 

 

On the whole when you look at the body of work Mike has done in terms of turning results around, re-gaining the groups focus, tactical tweaks and in the transfer market you have to say he’s done an impressive job. To make the finals from where they were is a solid achievement and to then back it up and win a final is even more impressive. The changes he made, both tactically and personnel wise worked for the most part. Next season will be the real test for Mike however, both in a recruiting stand point as there’s still a little bit of room to move in that regard, and also continuing to build upon the solid work at the back end of this season.