Unbelievably, we now have to endure three whole days without football, which is disgraceful.
But at the end of 20 consecutive days with football, we may be starting to see some ladder separation.
The top six teams look far and away just that, with a significant gap of a game, percentage and form lines down to Collingwood in seventh.
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How not to move the ball
Well … where to start here? Of all the areas to drill down on, the one I’ll pick is how the Giants can have their season high for inside 50s at the same time they kick their lowest score of the year. A side with so much talent shouldn’t look like this.
Lack of off-ball movement
For all Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg’s skills, they’re far from contested marking beasts. Yet here they’re happy to wait for the ball to be sat on their head while Tim Taranto is the only player bothering to make a lead. Not a sustainable approach.
This is a side effect of a team low on confidence. Forcing a forward half turnover normally leaves teams in an excellent situation for either a quality entry or scoring shot from a dangerous position.
Here it’s Lachie Whitfield barely looking up field before deciding a dump kick is his best option. This is Lachie Whitfield, not an overawed youngster. The ball trickles out of bounds for a throw in.
Here’s Josh Kelly bursting away from a stoppage – and then deciding to go long on his right foot to Finlayson in a one-on-two.
It’s not entirely his fault though. As the kick sails towards Finlayson, there’s a glimpse of Jeremy Cameron nearly within touching distance of Kelly.
Why is the reigning Coleman Medalist coming up too close to a stoppage, putting himself in no man’s land and preventing Kelly from another option with his disposal?
Multiply these three elements repeatedly and it’s how you end up with 52 inside 50s for a total of three goals. If the Giants turn out more of the same against West Coast, even reaching three goals may be optimistic.
How to break a forward half side
Disclaimer: The following will probably look very easy for a team to do. That’s definitely not the case.
The foundation of Port Adelaide’s success in 2020 has been its forward half play. It gets locked in, teams can’t clear and then the pressure eventually tells on the scoreboard. No better example than the victory against Richmond.
So to beat the Power, objective number one, two and three is to avoid being trapped in your own defensive half. Simple in theory, hard in reality as shown by Port’s 9-2 record heading into the game against Geelong.
It’s done in two ways – stop the Power from getting clean possession into their forward 50 and be clean when moving the ball forward yourself.
The first was achieved through tremendous work rate defensively, no wasted movements meaning it felt like Geelong was defending with 25 on the field.
For instance, this screenshot comes just moments after a 35-40 metre kick out of a contest finds Steven Motlop. Already there are plenty of Cats blocking up both useful space for a lead and for those Power players trailing the ball in.
There’s only one option to the flank, which Motlop doesn’t hit cleanly. Then further Geelong pressure forces Travis Boak into a rushed kick towards the square, where the Cats have a four-on-two advantage. It’s impossible to score regularly when an already good defence is this on top of its game.
The ball movement part of the equation hinged on Geelong being able to execute its patient step-by-step method going forward. When up and running it’s a high uncontested mark style, but if its off it can invite trouble against a forward half side like Port Adelaide.
Thankfully from a Geelong perspective, it was all the way on. There was plenty of this from start to finish, picking apart the Power defensive setup.
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When a one-dimensional side doesn’t improve
After Essendon’s victories against Collingwood and North Melbourne, I explained the stage of development the Bombers were in. To oversimplify, the equation was basically = minimal offensive cohesion, relying heavily on defensive efforts at ground level.
Normally the longer a season goes, the more strings a team has to add to their play. Plan A is watched, scouted and analysed, which means there’s not the element of surprise that naturally comes after the introduction of something new.
Apply that to Essendon and you’re left with teams understanding the Bombers’ one-wood is their pressure.
Planning for the Bombers right now is along the lines of ‘if we can take pressure chances away from them, can they still threaten us in any other way?’
The answer right now is an emphatic no. St Kilda’s 98 marks was its season high, working as much in a defensive manner as an attacking one, not allowing Essendon any way to counter forward even when there was a turnover.
Consider the following passage of play. Keep in mind the Saints know Essendon won’t threaten them as long as they don’t turn the ball over in a dangerous position.
This is the tail end of a methodical chip-chip-chip down the field, ending with a deep inside 50 entry. Essendon wins the ball back 20 metres from its own goal, and a Sam Draper clearing kick is marked by Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.
But St Kilda is set up well and Essendon quite literally has nothing to go to – and no creativity yet to figure out how to improvise. Unsurprisingly the play petered out after the final frames shown in the clip.
These passages will continue until Essendon upgrades its personnel and then has a longer period of playing with each other. Then suddenly the ground pressure will bring greater rewards because it’s part of a well-rounded game style – not the only thing opponents have to keep an eye out for.