Coming off a successful 2018, FC Bulleen Lions recruited strongly and appear to be well-equipped on paper to challenge for honours again in 2019. In contrast, Heidelberg United have had a difficult few years, but on the basis of this game have a balanced squad which should see them improve on their results from previous seasons.
How they lined up:
At time of writing, the Bulleen squad appeared to be somewhat unbalanced, with many attack-minded players compared to the number of defensive midfielders and centre backs. One question before the game was where some players would play in Bulleen’s default 4-3-3 system. Somewhat surprisingly, the answer to this question was to play midfielders Sarah Cain and Kristina Hall (both of whom are better known for their attacking contributions) as the sole holding midfielder and centre back respectively.
Heidelberg lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with new American recruit Sidney Allen playing in the number 10 position behind another new import in Melissa Garcia. Allen was a standout in State League 1 with Boroondara Eagles in 2018 where she made and scored goals for fun and demonstrated excellent close control at speed and in tight spaces, while Garcia comes with a solid pedigree at US college level. Consequently, expectations were that Heidelberg would look to exploit the spaces Cain and Hall were covering.
The game started at a frantic pace, with both teams looking to get in behind the opposition defence early. Off the ball, both teams generally stayed in a mid-block, allowing the goalkeepers and centre backs to have the ball while concentrating on denying space in the middle third. This encouraged both teams’ centre backs to look to play long in possession.
The first goal came through this route in the 6th minute, when Hall was given time and space to advance. With Heidelberg sat in their mid-block adopting a man-marking approach in the middle third, Racheal Quigley dropped off from her centre forward position, dragging Daniella Galluccio out of position. Similarly, Emily Dolzan came towards the ball, drawing Ellen Turner forward from her unfamiliar left-back position. Quigley and Dolzan’s movements created space in behind for Melanie Camilleri to make a dangerous diagonal run into, with Hall finding her easily.
With Quigley and Dolzan then coming back up to support Camilleri, they were able to combine for Dolzan to score the opening goal. Notably, Dolzan was able to find space to receive the pass due to Turner’s poor body position in the buildup to the goal – as Dolzan dropped deep, Turner remained square to the ball while Dolzan was already half turned and able to sprint past.
Buildup to the first goal (1) – note Turner’s body position compared to Dolzan on half turn; Camilleri offscreen
Buildup to the first goal (2) – Camilleri diagonal run (red arrow) into space created by Quigley dragging Gallucio out of position (yellow circle); Quigley making supporting run (blue arrow); ball incoming (white circle)
Perhaps realising their mistake after the opener, the Heidelberg defence stayed steadfast in their positions, which allowed Quigley to create a 4v3 situation in midfield by dropping into the space behind Heidelberg’s deep midfielders Rebecca Saber and Elisabeth Robers. The theme of Quigley dropping into midfield became more apparent as the game progressed, with Friend and Camilleri occasionally making the reverse run. Another aspect of the midfield overload was that Kayla Morrison and Hall now found it easier to play shorter passes into the feet of Friend, Liana Iaconis, and especially Cain. However, good midfield pressure from Heidelberg eventually forced Bulleen to play longer, causing a few turnovers for the Bergers to pounce on and counterattack quickly.
Sitting in their 4-2-3-1 mid-block on the halfway line, Heidelberg’s main route of attack involved early, lofted passes towards Holly Boldiston, Steph Galea and Garcia to try and exploit the space behind Morrison and Hall. Strangely, the majority of their long balls were directed towards the channel that Morrison was covering, rather than at the shorter Hall playing in an unfamiliar position. This made it easy for Bulleen to recover possession, with Morrison proving dominant in the air while also having the pace to recover if she was unable to head clear.
Heidelberg mid block – allow Bulleen centrebacks to have ball, man marking in middle third (black arrow), Allen cutting off passing lane to Iaconis. (Heidelberg back 4 offscreen)
Unsurprisingly, Heidelberg’s goal came when they played the ball towards Hall and Francesca Iermano’s side. Following a brief moment of midfield pinball in the 44th minute, Camilleri’s attempted pass to Iaconis was intercepted by Saber who gave it to Turner. The Heidelberg left back played a long, high ball in behind the Bulleen back four, then Garcia, on the left wing at this stage, was able to steal a march on Iermano. Garcia’s shot was deflected by Shields into Boldiston’s path for an easy finish.
Heidelberg goal – Iermano caught high, allowing Garcia to gain space and momentum to reach the pass
Seeking more attacking drive in their midfield, Bulleen switched Hall into Iaconis’ midfield position, with Alex Natoli coming on to partner with Morrison at the back.
Hall’s move into her natural attacking midfield role gave Bulleen extra impetus in central areas, and they were able to get into some good positions between Heidelberg’s lines. This was helped by Heidelberg’s tiring legs, with the distances between their midfield and defensive lines becoming larger as the second half progressed. Fortunately, Bulleen were unable to capitalise, and two moments in the 65th and 70th minutes briefly swung the game into Heidelberg’s favour.
The first moment was Cain’s substitution, with Candela Ferreyra Bas coming on to play on the left wing, pushing Camilleri into the centre forward position and Quigley dropping into midfield. This left Bulleen with an attack-minded midfield consisting of Quigley, Friend, and Hall – or in other words, a striker, a converted striker, and an attacking midfielder respectively. Removing Cain, who consistently offered a deep passing option, made it harder for Bulleen to build from the back through the midfield.
The second moment was more decisive, with Morrison being forced off with an injury. This meant Hall dropped back into centre back, with Kate Fotopoulos coming on to take up the deep midfield position that Cain previously occupied, although she wasn’t quite as positionally disciplined.
The loss of Bulleen’s main defender encouraged Heidelberg to test the Lions’ defence more. Understandably, a brief period of defensive instability followed as Bulleen tried to readjust. Heidelberg continued to force turnovers in their mid-block, although given their tired legs, the midfielders weren’t able to support their strikers during the counterattacks, and their first substitution in the 75th minute came too late to exploit Morrison’s absence.
Shortly after in the 80th minute, Hall scored the winning goal from a free kick.
For the first game of the season, there were enough promising signs on display for both teams to be positive about the season ahead.
Missed the game? Watch the full replay on YouTube on the NPL Victoria channel.
Chor Lai currently holds an AFC B Licence and is a former Women’s Premier League Reserves and State League 1 Reserves coach with more than 200 games in women’s football across all levels.
Tune in every other week for more analysis on NPLW from Chor.