MetroStars will be looking to pull off one of the biggest Cupsets in history when taking on Melbourne City in a Thursday night clash at TK Shutter Reserve.
The intriguing contest can be watched LIVE and FREE on 10Play.
City is coming off the back of a third consecutive A-League Men Premiership, whilst the one-time Australia Cup winner has also clinched the Championship once, as well as playing a part in the last four top-flight grand finals.
However, MetroStars have impressed considerably this campaign, reaching their furthest-ever position in the Australia Cup and winning the South Australian Men’s NPL Premiership whilst suffering just two defeats across 22 regular season games in the process.
And in some aspects, this clash is more attainable for MetroStars than many think.
This article will take a look at how their bright attacking play, all-round strong mentality and active defending could be key in their attempt to majorly upset City in tonight's clash.
MetroStars’ positive play in possession
MetroStars will look to disrupt City with their highly positive build-up play throughout the match.
The South Australian Premiers look to consistently keep ball speed high and have variations in how they can progress play.
Their double pivot gives them a strong presence at the base of midfield to retain possession, as well as their two fullbacks who provide width in deep areas.
The squad’s overall comfortability and assertiveness on the ball make them difficult to press, and they are able to progress play either through flowing moves through the lines or more direct passes in behind.
This is because they counter-press strongly and in numbers, which allows them to both retain possession and play a more territorial style of football to force mistakes out of the opposition, and to latch onto loose balls to continue the momentum of their quick attacks.
They open up angles well with wingers receiving the ball wide and cutting inside and have consistent runners to provide penetration in behind and to open up further space by having a player drop into the space vacated by the runner.
One of their most threatening movements, and something that could disturb City throughout the matchup is the movement of one of their double pivot members - usually Hamish Gow.
The midfielder on occasion looks to leave the defensive midfield line and make a run in behind, which in conjunction with the movement of MetroStars’ striker, could cause chaos.
Against Wellington, City looked to aggressively press Wellington striker Oskar Zawada when the prolific Pole moved off the defensive line, with central defender Nuno Reis following him well off his usual position.
This could open space for Gow to sprint into, and even if it’s now the midfielder originally who receives the ball, it will squeeze City’s now defensive three to open up space for the winger on the left.
This would feed their more territorial game, where they can look to latch onto the pass in behind and press with intensity to move up the pitch by forcing the ball out for a throw-in or forcing a mistake from City’s backline.
It wouldn’t work every time, but would be a small tactical victory that could lead to significant attacking output for the underdog side.
As part of this, pressing from out to in could force mistakes off long balls from the City backline, such as this misplaced header from Reis in the 5th minute of their Round of 16 match against Wellington.
Reis is forced to clear the ball centrally into the path of Bozhidar Kraev as a result of the wide pressure meaning the header had to be central.
MetroStars can look to do this throughout the match to manipulate aerial mistakes from the City backline, with an attacking midfielder sweeping up any misplaced headers and move forward on transition with intensity and purpose.
But overall, MetroStars look like they could disrupt the City defence on the ball through maintaining their positive, high-tempo style and looking to exploit the space created by front-line players dropping off to lead to chances to pull off what would be a highly significant Cupset.
Staying strong yet active defensively
Despite coming up against the better technical side, defending actively will be key to MetroStars gaining a result from this match.
It is a cliché, but sitting in a deep block out of possession will hurt MetroStars, both from a defensive and offensive perspective.
Playing an aggressive mid-block will force mistakes from the City backline, who are currently still in their pre-season, and could lead to a few key chances for the NPL side.
Defensively, it will stifle City in possession, where they sometimes lack a pacey threat in behind from the forward line.
Due to this, they can become one-dimensional in nature, as they’ve looked at times in the Cup this campaign, with sides purposefully controlling the game through congesting midfield areas to not allow for quick combinations to move the ball up the pitch, which can be done through the defensive line stepping up due to a lack of threat in behind.
As a result, MetroStars can force them to play the game in their attacking half with the ball, where City will be non-threatening and susceptible to mistakes.
It is worth mentioning that Andrew Nabbout coming in would provide the pacey presence City has been lacking, particularly due to his ability to take down long passes with his strength and aerial, athletic first touch, and he could prove decisive in stretching play to give the A-League Men Premiers that extra dimension to their attack.
Beyond this, one specific aspect MetroStars will have to be wary of is Jamie Maclaren’s run off the blind shoulder of one of the two central defenders.
Particularly on transitions, MetroStars can be susceptible to this kind of run, which has seen Maclaren get into threatening goalscoring positions time and time again over the last few seasons for City.
While not an easy thing to manage by any means, MetroStars will have to be consistently checking for these runs as space opens up with venturing fullbacks forward, because City can transition with a punishing elegance and find this Maclaren run on a systematic basis.
Getting the ball back in play rapidly
One of the most impressive aspects of MetroStars’ play, which follows the other features of their game, is how quickly they restart play after the ball goes out.
They consistently look to rush throw-ins to capitalise on a sleepy defence and take goal kicks quickly to keep the ball in play throughout the match.
It’s hard to judge what the fitness levels of both sides will be, with MetroStars at the end of their campaign and City barely at the beginning of theirs. However, as the professional side, it is likely that the A-League Men team will search for a slower tempo to take control of the match.
MetroStars’ positivity and consistency no matter if the ball is live or not could look to disrupt City’s rhythm, but can also have short-term benefits as well as the long-term help of agitating their opponents’ style of play.
They can catch City’s defence sleeping with quick throw-ins and free kicks, which could lead to a potentially decisive golden opportunity in the game.
It’s a simple thing, but something MetroStars have done well in the Cup. And with City perhaps not at their mental best in pre-season, it is something that could result in one of the biggest Cupsets in Australia Cup history.