As the Matildas embark on another Cup adventure, they will need to be flexible in their midfield light on numbers but plenty with options.  The Women's Game evaluates what Gustavsson has at his disposal to deal with this.

Matildas Asian Cup midfield

  • Of the 21-players confirmed in the final squad, only 4 are listed as midfielders.
  • Gustavsson has appointed a number of players capable of playing multiple positions.
  • Flexibility will be key should the final two positions not also be midfielders.

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Much of the focus in recent pre-tournament friendlies has been on the Matildas defence, but that has mostly concerned the side's depth. The emergence of Courtney Nevin as a true centre back against the USA has gone some way to address that, but the best midfield combination remains a work in progress.

Of the four designated midfielders, Emily van Egmond, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Clare Wheeler are usually used deep in midfield in the number-six position.

Cooney-Cross has shown encouraging signs in this role and van Egmond is a better individual footballer further forward. Only Clare Wheeler is a specialist in the position. It is what she does first, and what she does best.

Tameka Yallop is the other central player named, She plays her best football marauding through the middle of the field and timing her runs perfectly into attack. However, she has been used on the left wing or at left wing-back for the national side and on the right flank at West Ham.

The versatility of these players is a huge asset for Tony Gustavsson. Van Egmond and Yallop in particular give him multiple tactical options and Wheeler has hit the score sheet in for Fortuna Horring in Denmark.

However, Australia will be relying on players named in other positions in this tournament.

Aivi Luik has been named as a defender in the squad. It is where she played for much of the Olympic tournament and to great effect. Her work rate and experience make up for her lack of height at centre back. She has started almost every game for her club this season in defence.

However, she can push into midfield and has done so for the national team within the same game. With a tight schedule and the ever threatening spectre of COVID-19 hanging over the tournament, she will likely be needed to play further up the park again.

As a midfielder, Luik has had an excellent, long career. She has been a first choice player all across the globe and has been largely under-used in the national team until the Gustavsson era.

In years gone by, an injury to any defender or to Elise Kellond-Knight meant a re-shuffle in the Matildas' side to everybody who was not a goalkeeper. Luik can slip into a variety of roles in midfield or defence and prevent any major tactical changes.

There is a reason why Gustavsson asked the internationally retired Luik to return for the tournament. 

Apart from Wheeler, she is the only player listed in the squad that has played the majority of her career as a defensive midfielder. Although listed as a centre back for club and country, do not be surprised if she pops up elsewhere.

Mary Fowler is another who has been described by Gustavsson as a striker or a “10.”

She plays as a forward for Montpellier but has been impactful for The Matildas both in the box and when used deeper.

Fowler’s defensive game is still developing, In the Olympic quarter final against Team G.B she showed that she could be disciplined and in sync with the teams defensive structure but skills afre best used in the attacking half.

The Montpellier player can spot a pass and execute a through ball like few other Australian players.  She can shoot from outside the box and can ghost into space when Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord are the opposition priority.

Fowler was vital in one of Australia’s best goals of 2021, her turn inside and switch of play to Ellie Carpenter against Brazil opened up the play to end up in Sam Kerr finishing off a perfect team move.

The 18-year old is handy in midfield.  Fowler's movement, positioning and way of presenting for the ball recalls Katrina Gorry at her best.  However she is a striker by trade, she can do both.  Australia will need her to.

The other option is Hayley Raso.  The Manchester City attacker is listed as a forward for Australia and that is where she plays for her club.

For the national team, she has been used in a variety of role under Gustavsson.  Raso has been used at  -back and on the right of a midfield three.

In Tokyo, Kyah Simon occupied one of the spots as a wide forward and the trio of her Raso and Carpenter linked up well together. Cortnee Vine is listed as a possible inclusion for the final squad. If The Sydney FC winger is chosen it will be even more likely that Raso drops into midfield.

It is a position that suits her well.  She is more likely to receive the ball facing goal in midfield, she can carry the ball down the centre of the park and is more than happy to help out the defence.

Raso is listed as a forward but will almost certainly need to play in midfield.  The fan-voted player of the match in the draw with the USA needs to be included on game day. Australia have an abundance of forwards so Raso will likely be used similarly to the Olympic campaign.

Of the four players designated as midfielders, this is an important tournament for Wheeler and Kyra Cooney-Cross.

Wheeler has fast become a fan favourite. She does all the things you want a defensive midfielder to do. She chases, harasses, tackles and keeps possession.  Her last Matildas appearance was a game changing one off the bench.

However, she has yet to play a major tournament and has not proven herself over 90 minutes yet.  We all know she has the ability, but she will need to be at her very best in India.

Cooney-Cross is still just 19 years old. In the last few season’s she has grown from being a wide forward, to a playmaker to a box-to-box midfielder at club level.

Tony Gustavsson clearly sees her as a deep lying midfielder.  The defensive aspects of the game do not come naturally to her yet.  She is prone to committing fouls as her reaction is relied on more than anticipation.

However, she has a passing range matched only by van Egmond in the side.  She can switch play, deliver long passes to feet or into space and play the ball tidily in tight spaces.

Ideally, Cooney-Cross would be played beside Luik or Wheeler to give her the foundation she needs to build attacks.  She will always work back and defend, but she should not be relied upon to stop attacks. With the ball she is an incredible talent.  Without it, she is still learning.

Looking at Australia’s listed midfielders and potential options. Gustavsson has options.

The manager has always stressed that the finishing eleven players are as important as the starting eleven and the exact make up of the midfield remains a mystery.

Much of it will depend on the opposition. Against teams likely to fight for control of possession, a pure specialist “six” like Wheeler or Luik might be very important.  Yallop and Raso can be used almost anywhere while Fowler, van Egmond and Cooney-Cross will be deployed wherever the tactics dictate.

Australia’s squad is certainly light on designated midfielders, but there are players that can move into those roles if needed and they almost definitely will.


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