How the new boss may re-shape the Socceroos' formation

by Sebastian Hassett on Feb 19, 2018

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It's not long now until we get our first glimpse of the Socceroos under Bert van Marwijk, one of the few chances we will get to see the Socceroos before the World Cup in June.

With two matches in four days, the first game against Norway in Oslo on March 23 and another against Colombia in London, it's a good chance for the new boss to assess the array of talent at his disposal.

It's also a chance for us to analyse the Dutchman and to start working out how the team might shape up when it comes to the World Cup itself. So much has been written and said about what he might do - but let's cut to the chase about what is most likely.

To be honest, some of the mystery can be quickly removed because large swathes of the team pick themselves. Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, Maty Ryan, Tomi Juric, Aaron Mooy and Trent Sainsbury are all guaranteed starters if fit. You can probably add in Mile Jedinak.

There's no indication that van Marwijk would continue to play with a three-man defence favoured by his predecessor, Ange Postecoglou, even though the Socceroos did finally appear to grapple with it in their play-off matches against Syria and Honduras.

You'd have to assume that four at the back will come back into vogue and, given the attacking nature of the teams Australia are playing at the World Cup, that two midfielders are placed in the holding role.

The safe bet looks a 4-2-3-1, which probably suits van Marwijk, his new players and the scenario they're due to face. But exactly who fills out that formation - which Australia used in at the 2014 World Cup - is a massive question.

I've been toying with the idea for months now that Mark Milligan should be moved out of midfield and into right-back, killing two birds with one stone. Especially because there's no standout for the position - some have even suggested Luke Wilkshire should be recalled at the age of 36.

Milligan was ordinary with Melbourne Victory recently and is no longer an assured starter for his country. Perhaps his move to Saudi Arabia will refresh him, but I still think a return to defence makes complete sense.

This is for a few reasons. Perhaps most pertinently, with Leckie not occupied by defensive duties, Milligan, an excellent tackler, is the right man to anchor down that side.

I also think Milligan has the match intelligence to give the Socceroos real flexibility. If the left-back pushed up and support the attack - as needs to happen from time to time - he'd have the awareness to shift across into a back three.

Likewise, he could also drift up to cover Mooy if the Huddersfield star was given a box-to-box licence. In effect, if you play Milligan at right-back, you're opening up the kind of tactical flexibility that's required to be competitive at this level.

It would also mean that Tom Rogic could start, which would sync with van Marwijk's history. We all know about the Nigel de Jong-Mark van Bommel pairing in 2010, but it's worth acknowledging that Wesley Sneijder's work as a number 10 was equally critical.

The Socceroos clearly won't have the most talented squad at this year's World Cup, but with the right shape, they can give themselves every chance of outsmarting the opposition.