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Why the Socceroos are 'stuck in the middle' with Valeri and Jedinak

by Paddy Higgs on Jun 17, 2011

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Just over a week after the Socceroos’ 0-0 draw with Serbia, the feeling remains the same.
It stood out like a sore thumb, just as it did at times during the Asian Cup. It contributed as much to holding Serbia at bay as it did to Australia’s own scoreless outing.

Because with Carl Valeri and Mile Jedinak in central midfield, the Socceroos are – to borrow a line from the classic Stealers Wheel tune – stuck in the middle.

Fellow GGArmy.com blogger Steve Horvat took to Twitter soon after the final whistle to rue Australia’s lack of skilled players, having watched Serbia’s midfield of Dejan Stankovic, Zoran Tosic,, Zdravko Kuzmanovic and Adem Ljajic demonstrate how to play their way from defence to attack.
In contrast, the Socceroos own deficiencies were obvious.

Carl Valeri was one of his country’s better performers at Etihad Stadium, showing the benefit of increased playing time in the latter half of Sassuolo’s Serie B season with an energetic and positive display.
His passing range has improved, as had his timing in the tackle.
Partner Mile Jedinak was, of course, one of the Socceroos success stories of the 2011 Asian Cup, having showed the benefits of a greater licence to roam with club side Genclerbirligi by scoring two crucial goals in the tournament.

He is better than Valeri in the air, though shares his teammate’s tenacity to scrap and fight for every inch.

But for all Jedinak’s heroics in Qatar, his passing still leaves plenty to be desired. His penchant for a misplaced pass was sensed by Serbia early in the second half, and the visiting side began to close him down far quicker to good effect.

Against a country more polished in attack his turnovers would have been punished.

The belief is that – while they are far from the same player - the strengths of Valeri and Jedinak are too similar to put together in Australia’s midfield.

Neither have the ability to continually play their way out of cramped areas or possess that killer pass.
If that is the case, what are manager Holger Osieck’s options?

Jason Culina is likely to slot straight in to the position when he returns to full fitness, but his absence has highlighted the need to identify more players to fill the role.

Neil Kilkenny has been considered a positive addition to the national team after a long absence, and he has quickly emerged as one of the best passers of the ball at Holger Osieck’s disposal.

But the 25-year-old lacks mobility – a quality his manager appears to hold dear – and he also requires a wary midfield partner when his occasionally risky passes do not find its mark.

Matt McKay looks to be Osieck’s favoured left midfielder, while the talented Rhys Williams is capable of playing in several positions for his nation but seems set for a future in defence.

Perhaps the international career of Mark Bresciano – used in a role far more central and deeper for Lazio in the latter half of the 2010-11 season – may not be over, as many assume it is.

Other options, such as James Holland, appear some seasons from coming into serious contention.
Osieck seems aware of the problem, as evidenced by his decision to bring Kilkenny in from the cold and the amount of midfielders called into the national team training camp in Germany in March.
It remains to be seen if Osieck is, in fact, a Stealers Wheel fan. But the sooner the Socceroos get that catchy little ditty out of their heads, the better they will be.