The Wellington Phoenix have visions of playing more attractive football, but A-League statistics illustrate there is some serious work ahead.
After 12 rounds the Phoenix have completed the fewest passes of any team (3031) at the equal lowest efficiency percentage (76).
Surprisingly, the Phoenix also rank second last in tackling efficiency, ahead of only the Melbourne Victory at 73.7 per cent.
Of course, statistics can be misleading, and the best passing team, Brisbane Roar, were second last on the ladder before last night's game against Adelaide United.
The two-time defending champions had completed a whopping 5442 passes heading into round 13, at 85.6 per cent efficiency.
But while Brisbane's playing out from the back style remains easy on the eye, there has been a lack of a cutting edge up front, rendering much of their buildup play meaningless.
The Phoenix, at home to Melbourne Heart tonight, spoke pre-season about trying to knock the ball around better.
But they have reverted to type, often opting for long balls and using their pace out wide.
The recent debate around styles of play has been healthy but also highlights the huge differences in opinion about what is or is not attractive.
For some, entertainment is measured solely in goals and action, while others prefer patient buildup and an intricate, short-passing game.
Dani Sanchez, who retains his No 10 role in an unchanged Phoenix side tonight, said the stats were interesting but could also be irrelevant.
"Like you see the stats in Newcastle, they had 70 per cent of the possession, they had everything more than us and we win 3-0, you know," Sanchez said. "Against Adelaide, we had more crosses, more corners, more shots on goal and similar possession and we lose 3-1.
"It's important to have a good mix, a good balance and defend well and be strong. Up front, be positive, and don't be scared of a mistake. If we have to shoot from outside of the box, we have to do it and be positive and enjoy."
Sanchez is clearly enjoying his football after sitting out the opening 10 rounds recovering from pre-season knee surgery.
He has scored twice in the two games since returning and his comfort on the ball will be crucial if the Phoenix are to improve their passing game.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said the Spaniard was the club's answer to the league's elite playmakers such as Tom Rogic (Mariners), Marcos Flores (Victory) and Dario Vidosic (Adelaide).
He is not at that level yet but if his knees stay healthy then he may find himself in that company come the end of the season.
"I'm a different player, a playmaker, and I'm proud that Ricki said that about me. I'm really glad," Sanchez said. "Of course, if I'm fit, I believe in myself and I know what I can do.
"I know I can help the team and can play some good football for the team. I always try to play forward."
Three points is a must against a Heart side missing suspended centrebacks Simon Colosimo and Patrick Gerhardt, and resting Socceroos Richard Garcia and Aziz Behich.
Rookie coach John Aloisi said David Vrankovic and Steven Gray would start in the heart of defence, with Jason Hoffman and Sam Mitchinson likely to replace Garcia and Behich.
A win would lift the Phoenix level with the Newcastle Jets in sixth and give them a much-needed confidence boost heading into the new year.
Better crossing and set-piece work has been a focus at training this week.
- The Dominion Post
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