Sydney FC opened their Asian Champions League Group H campaign with a goal-less 0-0 draw against South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai at Jubilee Stadium on Wednesday night.
The match was one that struggled for highlights, though Sydney had the better of proceedings but could not muster up any clear-cut opportunities with their dominance in possession.
Ulsan, also known as the Tigers, appeared more concerned with losing rather than trying to win, and conceded the ball to Sydney without threatening to make any inroads themselves.
The Sky Blues will regret those missed chances, but a draw is not the worst start they could have had; for that they only need to look at their Australian counterparts Melbourne Victory who fell to Daegu the night before.
Sky Blues fail to make their chances count
Sydney go into this group with quite little expectation from the general public. The Chinese and Japanese champions, as well as Ulsan, all promise their own tough tests. With that kind of context, a draw is not a bad result, however manager Steve Corica will know that, for the most part, his side was on the front foot and he will be ruing the inability to make it count.
Ulsan looked more focused on remaining resolute at the back and defending a draw rather than look to win and risking themselves on the counter. There were some dicey moments to do with the goalkeeper’s distribution, powerless in the battle against nature as the wind dragged the ball closer to his own goal than the halfway line.
They pressured the opposition defence and limited the opportunities that the Koreans had, with most of their strikes being taken from distance. Sydney’s key men of the likes of Milos Ninkovic, Reza Ghoochannejhad and Adam Le Fondre all had shots at goal, but lacked the clinical touch to find the back of the net.
Although they got into the right positions, as Australian teams will know quite well, the ACLis a competition in which teams need to make the most of the slimmest of margins. Sydney were unable to do that last night and it is a part of their attack they will need to fix before their next match against Kawasaki Frontale.
— Sydney FC (@SydneyFC) March 6, 2019
Wing-backs fail to make chances
Both the Sky Blues and the Tigers rely on their wing-backs providing width and creating overlaps to create numerical advantages in wide positions. It was likely then, that the performances of the widest defenders would be an indicator of how the match would pan out.
The full-backs were unsuccessful in finding dangerous positions, with Ulsan’s being unusually defensive while Sydney’s Rhyan Grant and Michael Zullo were not able to find the final ball for their forwards to latch on to.
Early on, it appeared that this might not be the case after Zullo found Le Fondre for a clean header, but the Englishman missed the target and that was to be the best opportunity the pair would create.
The Australian wing-backs had to do much better in the final third. If they are to be a true attacking threat, they need the wide pair to be at their best.
Focus now on Japan
The Sky Blues will be encouraged by their performance and how they dominated proceedings throughout the day, even if they failed to achieve the ideal result. A draw at home is not a bad result, but it does enhance the importance of their next match as the Australian minor premiers will meet Kawasaki, the Japanese champions, in Japan next week.
Travelling away has always been an issue for Australian teams, though Sydney did show some improvements last season as they took four points from their three games. A poor display at home is what resulted in their failure to make it out of the group, so this year they will need to replicate those strong performances on the road while finding points at home, too.
Kawasaki will almost certainly be a bigger challenge for Sydney than Ulsan, and the back-to-back J1 champions will be eager for a positive showing this time around in Asia having failed to win a group game last campaign.
However, if Sydney play like they did at Jubilee but create just a couple of clear chances that the forwards can put into the back of the net, Corica will know his team can leave Japan with a positive result.