Mark Rudan has paid plenty of respect to “championship favourites” Macarthur FC ahead of the first-ever meeting between the two expansion sides, but says the Bulls have aspects to their approach that his Western United are ready to exploit.
Thanks to Melbourne’s snap five-day lockdown robbing them of a chance to meet Sydney FC mid-week, Western heads to Ballarat this Saturday – Mars Stadium one of several venues the club are using as a home venue in 2020-21 – winless since their madcap, 5-4 triumph over Perth Glory on January 23.
The Bulls, in contrast, will travel to regional Victoria in red-hot form; coming off back-to-back triumphs over high-flying Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United – the latter a 4-0 route in which English striker Matt Derbyshire roared to life with a close-range hattrick.
Now only trailing Cinderella-story Central Coast Mariners on the A-League table, Ante Miličić’s side has increasingly found their footing as the season has progressed, while the improved form and integration of Spanish imports Beñat Etxebarria and Markel Susaeta with every passing game hints at greater things ahead.
“They were everybody’s favourite at the start of the year,” said Rudan. “We’re up against the championship favourite, that’s how we look at it.
“There was a lot of noise about the team that they put together… and they’re starting to get a couple of results lately as well.
“You can see what they’re doing, they like to have a lot of the ball and a lot of possession. We spoke about that – we spoke about being disciplined in our shape. They have more of the ball in their own half than anybody else and it doesn’t really affect us because they’re not penetrating us.”
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“They’re the championship favourites and we respect them and they have to do what they need to do and we’ll do what we need to do.
“It’s about what you do with it and how often you penetrate and I think that’s the most important thing. We want to have the ball as well. We believe there are areas that we can expose.”
Though he is most well-known as a coach amongst Australian football fans for his year-and-a-half-long stint in charge of the Matildas – which included guiding the group to the Round of 16 of the 2019 Women’s World Cup – Bulls’ coach Miličić arrived in Macarthur with a long-standing history in the Australian national team setup.
The now 46-year-old was an assistant with the Socceroos before taking on the Matildas’ role, and also served as a coach of the Olyroos and Young Socceroos – stints which saw him mentor several Western players such as Dylan Pierias and Ivan Vujica.
And according to Rudan, the influences that his opposite number carried from those years in Green and Gold – and the lessons he had taken from one individual in particular – were apparent in the way that the Bulls approach their game.
“It’s about understanding how they play and what they try to do, the Western coach said. “They try to wear you down with a lot of possession and drag you out of position. [It’s] not too different from the way that Ange Postecoglou coached as well.
“Ante is clearly a disciple of Ange’s and believes in the same values and philosophies.”
“We know that quite well and we’re not going to get sucked into them trying to wear the opponent down with the ball – particular when it’s not affecting you or hurting you and there’s no need to be pulled out of shape. They can have as much ball as they want in their half.”
As well as being a clash between two of the A-League’s sharpest footballing minds, Saturday is also the first-ever meeting between the two expansion sides – the Anti-History Rivalry if you will.
Having experienced all the growing pains that come with being a new club last season – which his side nonetheless managed to overcome and reach a semifinal – Rudan is well-placed to understand the challenges those in Campbelltown are facing in their debut.
“[I don’t have many conversations] with Tezza [Miličić], more with Sam Krslovic and Gino Marra; I know them quite well as well,” said Rudan “Whether they call or I call and they ask for advice or we just chat.
“Sometimes they’re [about] small things like washing machines and tumble dryers – because it’s the small things that matter.
“People don’t normally look at those kinds of things but they’re important when you’re setting up a club. When you are starting it’s not easy to win straight off the bat.
“Everyone wants results but it is tough and time is important, [as is] patience and trust with your coach and your coaching staff. That’s probably the biggest one, trust them.
“We almost look at them as a sister club because they’re starting new and they’ve had a good start.
“I will say, as well, we weren’t tagged with a lot of huge expectations like Macarthur are, it was very interesting to see how much noise, particular from up North, about them being the championship favourites.
“That’s going to be interesting because how do you deal with that pressure as well? They’re starting to get a couple of results now and they’re starting to look like the championships favourites people made them out to be.”
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