Kruse and Leckie could kill two birds with one stone

Australia are blessed with an embarrassment of midfield riches as they attempt to reach a fourth straight FIFA World Cup in less than two years.

kruse leckie

Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie celebrate a Socceroos goal Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

It's just a shame the Socceroos do not score as many goals as they should.

Coach Ange Postecoglou can count on a set of gifted attacking midfielders in Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy and Massimo Luongo plus their defensive counterparts Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan.

Problem is only three can fit in Postecoglou's preferred 4-3-3 system that has given him much success since he took over the job almost three years ago.

The Socceroos face two crucial qualifiers in their campaign to reach Russia 2018.

On Friday (AEDT) they meet Saudi Arabia in Jeddah and four four days later they are up against Japan in Melbourne.

These two massive matches should test the mettle of the largely foreign-based team and if Postecoglou's men can take a point in Jeddah and win in Melbourne, they would consolidate their leading position in six-team Group B.

Two victories would make them raging-hot favourites to qualify, probably with a game or two to spare.

The Socceroos are travelling well and things are beginning to fall into place.

Postecoglou has assembled a strong side with two quality goalkeepers in Mat Ryan and Mitch Langerak, a back four that is steady and consistent and a midfield that has a mix of fire and flair.

Yet there is no escaping the fact that hitting the back of the net is not the Socceroos' forte.

And it's not because the team do not create scoring opportunities.

Coaches will tell you that as long as you make chances the goals will eventually come and the issue only becomes serious when you do not create opportunities.
Of course, you cannot expect to score with every chance you create but the proportion of goals scored from the opportunities created is just not right with the Australian team.

This was abundantly clear in the international match against Greece in Sydney in June when the Socceroos manufactured at least five or six excellent scoring chances but had to wait till the last minute to find the net with a firm drive from Mathew Leckie.

All too often the Socceroos have had to rely on Tim Cahill for the goals that changed losses into draws and stalemates into victories.

Cahill, who is nearing the end of his magnificent Socceroos career, is emerging as a valuable super sub with the ability to come on in the last 30 minutes or so and change the course of a match.

That's great for Australia ... but what about the previous 60 minutes?

Postecoglou will do anything to fit Rogic, Mooy and Luongo in his team even though that would mean applying a 4-4-2 formation that poses a few tactical problems, mainly because it would not provide enough width.

One way of solving the issue, provided it is not already too late, is by trying Leckie and Robbie Kruse as two roaming centre-forwards.

The Bundesliga-based stars are not the type of static strikers who would rarely venture outside the penalty area and with clever and timely movement they could spread out, give the team some width and in doing so make space for Rogic to slot into and do some damage from the pointy end of a diamond formation.

Leckie and Kruse do not score that often but who knows what they can produce as a combination without having the extra responsibility of being providers? 

It does not necessarily have to be Leckie and Kruse up front. Tomi Juric, who is now a reasonably experienced campaigner and who plays for Luzern in Switzerland, could take either's role and work at the opposition's defence until it is time for Cahill to come on and finish the job.

Juric is also a roaming type of striker and he has played his best football for Australia when given the freedom to move across the front line.

This twin-striker alternative may sound a bit too simplistic and Postecoglou no doubt would have explored every playing possibility in his quest for perfection but the two Germany-based forwards have never started for Australia as twin strikers in a 4-4-2.

Juric has played most of his 18 matches for Australia as a central striker.

Postecoglou used this formation against Iraq in Perth and the Socceroos won 2-0 but they did not perform as well as they did five days later against the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi when the coach reverted to his familiar 4-3-3 pattern that yielded a 1-0 victory.
So Postecoglou might have some reservations about a twin-striker formation that would not be apparent to us punters ... but I reckon it is worth another go.

It has been said in this space that playing attack-minded Rogic, Mooy and Luongo together poses a certain risk because this set-up could isolate and expose the team's defensive midfielder and make Australia's defence vulnerable to the counter-attack when the ball is lost high up.

Three midfielders behind an out-and-out striker and two 'wingers' who track back when necessary would appear to be a safer proposition.

Playing any two of Leckie, Kruse and Juric in attack in front of a diamond would not eliminate the risk of AustraIia being caught out when their attack breaks down but it would facilitate the team's aim to play their matches in the opposition's half.

Postecoglou is adamant that the Socceroos should always be strong enough to make the opposition worry about Australia's attack and not the other way round.

Two multi-purpose centre-forwards might be the only way for Postecoglou to make the most of his cultured midfield.

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5 min read
Published 1 October 2016 at 11:39am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS