The ploy everyone’s missed in trying to stop rampant FC

Arnie ready for soaring Jets Players compete for the ball during the round seven A-League match between Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets
Arnie ready for soaring Jets Players compete for the ball during the round seven A-League match between Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets

FOOTBALL: Forget Sydney FC's two Rolls Royce attacking players for a minute.

The key to unlocking the A-League's runaway success story is to look a little further under the radar.

Appearing on Fox Sports' A-League Hour, former Socceroo Ned Zelic said that in order to defeat the all-conquering Sky Blues, their opposition must cut off the supply to creative forces Milos Ninkovic and Adrian Mierzejewski by first stopping the players feeding them.

Before you worry about the classic playmakers, worry about Josh Brillante and Brandon O'Neill.

That's the challenge facing second-placed Newcastle Jets on Wednesday night in Sydney as they look to ensure the Sky Blues don't extend their advantage at the top of the table.

"As an opposition team there certainly are solutions that can be found to trouble Sydney. And I still believe that really you have to win those midfield battles. You have to really cut the source off to players like Ninkovic and Mierzejewski and that's [Josh] Brillante and [Brandon] O'Neill, they've been so dominant in that midfield area," said Zelic, also a former Jets player.

Joshua Brillante, Brandon O'Neill and Milos Ninkovic of Sydney FC celebrate a goal in the Sky Blues’ 6-0 rout of Perth Glory
Joshua Brillante, Brandon O'Neill and Milos Ninkovic of Sydney FC celebrate a goal in the Sky Blues’ 6-0 rout of Perth Glory

"Not just with their defensive work and tracking back but the fact that they're just so smart when they do get the ball. They can play through the lines, just play simple passes as well they rarely lose the ball in those situations which is absolutely key for a defensive midfielder.

"So that's really as an opposition side where you have to go out and stop them first. And really get up on them and try to force errors and take rhythm out of their game."

Sydney FC's midfield pivots Brillante and O'Neill have started all of Sydney's 13 matches this season, and have proven to be the A-League's strongest central pairing, helping to mastermind their side's year of dominance.

This season, Brillante has completed more passes than any other A-League player (787), while O'Neill ranks eighth with a tally of 670 passes made.

The Jets succumbed to Melbourne Victory last start, but could have snuck a result had Jason Hoffman buried a late chance with his head.

Adrian Mierzejewski of Sydney FC
Adrian Mierzejewski of Sydney FC

Despite being second on the table there's still questions over their ability to ruffle the big boys with their enterprising, forward-thinking game plan.

They get another chance to show their ability at Allianz on Wednesday night. Their task appears daunting; with Sydney unbeaten since November 10 in the A-League and unbeaten against the Jets in their last 14 meetings.

Sydney FC have scored three or more goals in each of their last four fixtures, with a six-goal romp of Perth Glory on Saturday setting the Sky Blues up perfectly for this top-of-the-table clash.

The attacking threat of Graham Arnold's side is well publicised, with marquee men Bobo and Mierzejewski in sublime form, with the former becoming just the second player in A-League history to bag back-to-back hat-tricks after a treble against the Glory.

The Jets' attacking mindset cannot be underestimated.

Dimitri Petratos of the Jets (R)
Dimitri Petratos of the Jets (R)

They have scored just three less times than Sydney in the league this season, and despite missing leading scorer Roy O'Donovan through injury, Newcastle still pack a punch going forward.

Andrew Nabbout and Dimitri Petratos have been finding the net regularly, although they'll need to be at the top of their games if they're to trouble the league's most frugal defence, especially after being silenced by the Victory.

Sydney won 2-1 earlier this term via Bobo and Ninkovic but the challenge for the gallant Jets outfit, who should have Daniel Georgievski back, is to shake up Sydney's momentum with their engrained desire to push forward quickly, with direct play, while also somehow stifling the juggernaut that, in recent weeks, has been scoring goals for fun.

Topics:  a-league football graham arnold newcastle jets soccer sydney fc

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