A slightly earlier version of the Notebook this round; with North Melbourne’s Monday night game naturally getting a standalone post on Tuesday morning.
Until then, on with what caught my eye over the weekend.
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Explaining a ‘schedule loss’
Friday night’s game between Gold Coast and Carlton was perfectly set up for a comfortable Blues victory.
One side there was a Gold Coast side playing its fifth game in 19 days and coming into this one off the back of four-day and five-day breaks. Then there was Carlton playing its third game in the same period, enjoying the relative luxury of back-to-back six-day breaks on the other side of its bye.
Add in the oppressive Northern Territory conditions – making it even tougher than normal to cover the ground – and it’s easy to see why the Suns looked stuck in mud all night. Or stuck in humidity if that’s possible.
Called a ‘schedule loss’ in NBA discussion, it had been rarely seen in the AFL before this year for obvious reasons.
Considering all the different machinations and combinations this year, the AFL has done an excellent job to minimise these occurrences. However, there is one more game to circle before the end of the home and away season.
In Round 16, it’s West Coast v Western Bulldogs on September 6.
It’ll be the Eagles’ fourth game in 15 days, and the Bulldogs’ third in 16 days, which seems like only a slight disadvantage on the surface.
However, for the Eagles that includes travel from Perth over to Queensland, with a trip in between from either Brisbane to Gold Coast, or vice versa depending on where their hub is situated. And they’ll only have a five-day break leading directly into the Bulldogs.
Meanwhile the Bulldogs have the luxury of staying at their hub throughout, with all games in this period at Metricon Stadium, along with the added bonus of a nine-day break heading into the Eagles.
Now consider what may be on the line for both top four and top eight in this match. You’re left with a definite handicap.
Essendon sitting unconventionally deep
66 to 24 is a remarkable inside 50 count. Perhaps even more remarkable is despite the disparity, Essendon only fell to Richmond by two goals.
The Bombers’ offensive style stayed so static from start to finish, it appeared they either accepted their only way to score was by absorbing Tiger entries and then countering, or they were bullied into it after being beaten up around the ball.
Either way the end result was almost like an extreme version of Richmond’s win against Sydney a few weeks back. That day spawned the famous, ‘75,000 people in our forward 50’ quote from Damien Hardwick; this one only a vague ‘Essendon played us in a challenging way’.
Without clean possession there was no way Essendon could move the ball up field smoothly. We were left with situations like this:
In lieu of multiple screenshots repeating the same thing, let’s use this as a proxy for most of the night.
After the last few weeks of not being able to apply enough pressure around the ball (for a number of different reasons), Essendon reverted to a sitting deep method prime Jose Mourinho would be proud of, and then put all its eggs in a counter-attacking basket. Midfielders didn’t push up often or quickly enough, leaving a heavy strain on the forward group.
However, playing like this in today’s AFL isn’t a sustainable, week-to-week method unless your forward group is top-tier.
When it’s not, a side has to work on pressing higher and keeping the ball locked in its forward half. Without it, it’s too easy to get pinned back and trapped.
It’s so tough to consistently generate scoring shots when starting everything from the defensive half. There’ll be moments which look fantastic, exhilarating, and end up as plays of the week. But there needs to be extra strings to the bow so Essendon can progress from only being a highlights side every so often; it’s not there at the moment.
The ideal version of the Bombers is a combination of what we saw in the first few weeks of the season, married with more aggressive ball movement which makes the most of on-ball pressure, rather than being forced to start from so far back in defence. How long it takes them to get there is the key question.
Good ‘kick-mark’ v bad ‘kick-mark’
West Coast v GWS was a perfect example of how the same method can be applied to achieve wildly different results.
Both sides favour kicking over handball when playing their preferred style, ranking in the top half for kick to handball ratio heading into Round 13.
In the space of 90 first-quarter seconds on Sunday, we witnessed how West Coast can use those kicks to damage a defence, while the Giants too often fall into the trap of possession for possession sake:
One team has players running into areas which can hurt opposition defenders, and the other doesn’t. Although this specific example didn’t end in a goal for West Coast, add the process up enough times over the course of a match and you’re left with a comfortable Eagles win, disregarding GWS’ late goals.
Next up for the Giants is a Fremantle defence stingy enough to not concede more than 50 in each of its last five matches. A loss to the Dockers and they could be sitting as much as two games out of the eight with four remaining. There’s no margin for error remaining.