By Connor Schmidtke
Another week in the Eastern Football League sees another top of the table clash, this time in the league’s third division.
Saturday’s important clash will see the Waverley Blues take on Coldstream, in a one v two clash.
Both teams have enjoyed a high level of success through the early part of the 2022 season. The Blues have won six of their opening seven games, while the Cougars have also only dropped one game from their five matches.
The Blues have benefitted from a high scoring style of play, averaging over 80 points per game. Their only loss for the year came in round one against another premiership contender, Warrandyte. Waverley only fell by two-points in that game, meaning they were less than a kick away from the perfect start to the season.
Coldstream’s start to the year has not been all that far behind the Blues. They have averaged around 75 points per game, with their only loss coming against the Whitehorse Pioneers in round two.
Coldstream and Waverley will be keen to win this one, with the chance to claim the top spot on the ladder nearing the halfway point of the season.
The Battle of the Midfield
Where this game will be won and lost, will be in the middle of the ground.
Looking at both team’s structures and movement around centre clearances so far this season, it shows an interesting difference between two sides that value the midfield very highly.
To start off, we’re going to have a look at Coldstream’s midfield set-up and tactics.
In the screenshot from the Cougars last game, it is important to note that they are kicking to the left of the screen at this point.
What is clearly evident is there desire to set-up more defensively and stream forward after winning the football. This is a repetitive concept that the Cougars go to, starting with their two wingers rolling to the back of the stoppage.
Both wingers provide defensive support at stoppage situations, helping to provide support and a safe outlet when Coldstream win the football in the contested situation.
The Cougars also hold a midfielder back as a sweeper in these clearance situations, helping to provide even more support on the defensive side of the stoppage. This can be seen from the below image, again taken from their most recent clash with Scoresby.
What this does is allows the other two Coldstream midfielders to be more proactive and aggressive around centre clearances. They are able to get on the move when the hit-out comes down, giving them the ability to get the ball moving forward quickly for more fluency ball movement.
It also gives them better insurance just in case they don’t win the ball.
When the opposition wins the ball out the front of the stoppage, they are met by a wall of Coldstream players who can pressure them as they exit and move forward. It means that they are able to stop any fast movement forward, often forcing the opposing side to hack a kick forward instead of being able to lower the eyes and hit a forward on the lead.
This is an important factor for Coldstream as they move forward this year, and one that the Waverley Blues will need to be aware of this weekend.
Switching focus to Waverley Blues and their midfield structure, the image above shows a completely different set-up to what Coldstream had in their game.
This image was taken less than five seconds after the ball was thrown up in the middle of the ground. What is clearly evident from this picture is the sheer weight of numbers that the Blues choose to take into the middle.
There are 10 Waverley players in this image, and all are inside the centre square just seconds after the resumption of play. That’s more than half of the Blues side in a reasonably confined area, creating far more congestion that what can be seen in the Coldstream footage.
It is important to note that this was from their clash with Glen Waverley which was a wet and miserable day for football. This was a low scoring slog, which at times helped to promote further congestion due to the compromised skill level.
Although the look and logistics behind this congestion don’t seem overly wise, it could be vital this week to stopping Coldstream’s midfield strength.
As mentioned, the Cougars love to load up on the defensive side of the stoppage and slingshot forward from that position.
The congestion that Waverley creates is started from the numbers they bring off both sides of the centre square. Most importantly, that includes two players from their forward 50 that push up into the middle and close up that side of the square.
This factor will be important to stop that defensive sided load up that the Cougars thrive on, pressuring them and forcing them to create plays in different ways.
Whoever can adapt their midfield plans and win that battle, will have the best chance at controlling the outcome of this game on the weekend.
Prediction: Waverley Blues by 10