City cannot afford to lose control again says Mombaerts
He may have won the battle, but Erick Mombaerts is concerned Melbourne City might lose the war if his side offer a repeat performance of Sunday's win over Adelaide United.
City beat Adelaide 2-1 at AAMI Park in Round 2 of the Hyundai A-League courtesy of Jamie Maclaren's first-half double and, on Wednesday, the pair meet again to contest the FFA Cup 2019 Final.
Despite tallying his first league win as City coach, Mombaerts was left perturbed by his side's performance, leaving both he and Adelaide counterpart Gertjan Verbeek with a feeling of dissatisfaction they each will attempt to remedy in two nights time.
The Frenchman and Dutchman now have two sleeps to collect their thoughts and plot the downfall of the other for the 2019 Final. Here's what they might have to consider.
A pressing issue for City
Mombaerts' frustration with Sunday's performance centres around his side being caught between two approaches in the second half. It was this indecision — whether to sit on their lead of go for the throat — that could have so easily seen them spurn their two-goal advantage.
Although Adelaide had flashes of quality when they beat City's high-pressing game, Verbeek's men were largely pegged back in the opening stanza, and were restricted to just four shots — and only one on target.
But the momentum switched completely as the second half grew when City sacrificed their aggression in favour of more defensive solidity. It was an approach that saw them lose control.
Adelaide had eight shots on target in the second, with three on target, including Riley McGree's strike. McGree sent a huge chance to equalise wide minutes after pulling a goal back, and only a superb last-ditch intervention from Richard Windbichler stopped Kristian Opseth from levelling in stoppage time.
It is why Mombaerts is adamant that his side must put faith in his desire to press opponents aggressively without the ball. In this regard, the 64-year-old reiterated this as a crucial part of his team's identity and demanded more effort from his charges.
"I expected to have better control of the game. That's why I'm not so happy about the performance. It has to better," he admitted.
"Maybe sometimes we protected the result too much. I know that it's not easy when you win 2-0... we can continue to attack or not.
"Maybe in the mind of our players, 2-0 is enough. And we were in between high press or not, high press or not. We are better when we high press, we know this. We have to make bigger effort on the high press."
Adelaide can't afford another slow start
As they did in their Round 1 defeat to Sydney FC, Adelaide were left chasing a two-goal deficit midway through the first half after allowing an opposition number nine to pounce on defensive lapses.
In that season-opening loss to the Sky Blues, Adam Le Fondre punished Adelaide's lack of intensity with goals in the 22nd and 28th minutes. On Sunday, Maclaren capitalised on the same slow start and hesitancy at the back which resulted in the Reds' downfall against Sydney — scoring in the 24th and 28th minute respectively.
The way Adelaide have started their last three matches should be a big area of concern for Verbeek, despite their relative resurgence in each. As Verbeek admitted post-match, 45 minutes of good football will likely not be good enough to win the cup final.
“I think we were only half as good as we can be, so we have to improve ourselves and look at ourselves to get a better result," he said.
“Because we made too many mistakes and that’s giving a good opponent, good opportunities and they used two of them.”
Mileusnic holds key
Amid their early season frustration, one of the most promising signs of Adelaide's campaign has been the emergence of Nikola Mileusnic.
The flying winger has arguably been his side's standout player in the opening two fixtures, and undoubtedly, Verbeek will be intent on utilising his pace when City arrive on Wednesday.
48.5% of Adelaide's possession came down the left flank of Mileusnic, whose combination with Kristian Opseth led to two shots on target which were dealt with by Dean Bouzanis. He was just millimetres away from sliding in a first-half reply, after a neat exchange with the Norwegian front man. After the break, Mileusnic provided the biggest chance of the second half for McGree.
His importance for Adelaide was underscored when Verbeek wrapped him cotton wool in the 72nd minute, despite his side's ascendancy.
48.5% of Adelaide's possession came down the side of Nikola Mileusnic