There’s a fine line between Melbourne losing due to their flaws and Sydney winning because of their strengths.
On Friday night at the MCG, it was Sydney winning because of their strengths, stopping Melbourne dead in their tracks with an unreal second half.
It’s not to say Melbourne have nothing to worry about – they do, and their reckoning will come down the track somewhere.
Until then, the point of today’s match analysis piece is to highlight why the second half played out as it did.
Every final this year is getting the ‘North Melbourne match review’ treatment, for lack of a better term.
Essentially, everything I do there is transported into September, with the obvious difference of looking at a game from both teams’ perspective instead of just one.
It replaces the Notebook in the $5+ spot for Patrons. Each review will be posted the morning after the game, with early access to Patrons until the evening when it becomes free for all.
Let’s start with the first few minutes of the third quarter.
With four inside 50s (h/t Twitter for the heavy lifting) and four clearances, Melbourne piled on three goals and looked to be on the verge of blowing the game open.
Everyone in the crowd could sense it, 78,377 at the MCG with a sense of anticipation as crowd noise swelled. It was Melbourne at their best, high pressure around the ball and streaming forward at speed from their contest wins.
Then … it stopped. Instantly. And it’s where we need to take a quick detour.
In Melbourne’s Finals Dossier, I explored whether their ball movement could stand up for long enough, and touched on spells where they’ve been unable to capitalise on advantages. It’s been a common theme in losses; the most recent one to Collingwood a standout.
Now if the Dees had a continued spell of territorial and clearance dominance after these three goals but failed to take advantage – allowing Sydney to hang around – it would have been an easy connecting line. ‘Same old Melbourne’, ‘still can’t take chances’, ‘forward line no good’, and so on.
On this night, Sydney raised their level and pressure around the ball to an obscene high and it’s why we should be crediting them.
Tom Sparrow put Melbourne 12 points ahead with 15:51 remaining in the third quarter. For the rest of the term, the Dees had a grand total of five inside 50s.
You look at the stats and think, ‘Melbourne were +14 in contested possessions for the quarter. How does that not translate to an advantage?’
The whole point of winning the contest is to set up the other areas of your game, playing at your desired tempo.
Sydney’s pressure was so high it meant Melbourne’s contest wins were never, ever clean – and didn’t translate into uncontested possession.
Melbourne had more contested possessions than uncontested possessions in the second half. To illustrate how unheard of that is, here’s extra statistical context:
% of contested possessions to total possessions in 2022 H&A season:
1st: Gold Coast: 44.5%
2nd: Adelaide: 41.3%
3rd: Brisbane: 41%
Melbourne in second half v Sydney: 54.4%
And now extra video context in the form of James Harmes and Christian Petracca turnovers. The former leads directly to a goal, while the latter merely started the chain for a goal, but the common theme – nothing is easy, everything is tough.
Posts are coming thick and fast at the moment. If you’ve missed anything over the last week or so, here are links to catch up:
Friday 2nd: Look Back/Ahead: Adelaide (14th, 8-14, 86.7%)
Friday 2nd: Match Analysis: Brisbane v Richmond, Elimination Final
Thursday 1st: Look Back/Ahead: Essendon (15th, 7-15, 83.2%)
Wednesday 31st: Look Back/Ahead: GWS (16th, 6-16, 84.6%)
Tuesday 30th: Look Back/Ahead: West Coast (17th, 2-20, 59.8%)
Then you look at the last quarter, see Melbourne had 18 inside 50s for the huge sum of four behinds and again think, ‘see their forward line is breaking down’.
But, to repeat the same phrase, Sydney’s pressure forced Melbourne into low quality entries. The Swans had 30 final quarter tackles, finishing with 84 for the match – their highest non-SCG total for the year.
Sydney’s highest tackling games in 2022
99: Round 19 v Adelaide (SCG)
89: Round 17 v Western Bulldogs (SCG)
84: Qualifying Final v Melbourne
81: Round 21 v North Melbourne
77: Round 7 v Brisbane (SCG)
Not only that, Sydney had an incredible 25 tackles in their forward 50. That’s more than double the best team average for the year.
Tackles in forward 50
25: Sydney: Qualifying Final v Melbourne
11.0 per game: Port Adelaide: 1st in 2022
10.1 per game: St Kilda: 2nd in 2022
10.0 per game: Carlton: 3rd in 2022
It didn’t matter where Melbourne players were on field, space was non-existent. So it made sense that by the time they actually managed to get close to forward 50, entries were below par.
After manual tracking of Melbourne’s entries in the last term, the result looks something like this:
It all paints a picture of one thing in the second half – a game played entirely on Sydney’s terms after the first few minutes.
From Sparrow’s goal to the final siren, it read Sydney 8.3.51 – 2.5.17 Melbourne; an entirely accurate reflection on general play.
Sydney are now an overwhelming favourite to reach the Grand Final from their side of the bracket (assuming Geelong defeats Collingwood).
In this current winning streak, they’ve defeated three of their four potential preliminary final opponents.
– Round 17 v Western Bulldogs, SCG: 17.18.120 to 10.7.67
– Round 18 v Fremantle, Optus Stadium: 11.16.82 to 9.11.65
– Round 22 v Collingwood, SCG: 11.11.77 to 7.8.50.
It’s all coming up Sydney at the moment.