3. When should you play out from the back?

Playing out from the back is not new. It was a philosophy introduced to the Matildas by Alen Stajcic and is being continued now with Milicic.

The purpose of playing out from the back is to keep control of possession from the get-go and to be able to change the angle of attack from the very base of the formation. However, a new rule was trialled during yesterday’s friendly that could affect the ways in which all teams play out from the back from now on.

“On a goal kick and a free kick for the defending team in their own penalty area, the ball is in play as soon as the kick is taken, so a player – or opponent, as long as they started outside the penalty area, or were not given the proper time to exit the penalty area – can play the ball before it leaves the penalty area.”

In the opening 15 minutes of yesterday’s match, the Matildas played out from the back several times – only this time, due to the new rule, the two central defenders of Kennedy and  Polkinghorne were almost square to Williams instead of being further up-field and wider.

Sitting deeper in the field meant that the press applied by the USA’s front three of Rapinoe, Morgan, and Heath was largely successful, forcing the Australian defenders to either make long, pointless clearances upfield or to kick the ball out of play, defeating the entire purpose of playing out from the back.

This is a rule change that all teams will have to adapt to.

Most interesting, perhaps, is that there is no longer the safety net of a defender being able to touch the ball inside the box when they’re under pressure, forcing the goal kick to be re-taken.

While the high press of the USA did leave space in behind them for Australia’s central midfielders to occupy, the inexperience of their defenders and the subsequent high press of the USA’s midfield meant that the ball was rarely retained by the visitors and played out through the central channels via Elise Kellond-Knight or Emily van Egmond.

Playing out from the back can work, but you have to have the players to make it work well.

These are the kinds of details that all head coaches will be paying attention to over the next two months in the lead-up to the World Cup. While the USA have four more international friendlies lined up, the Matildas currently have none.

One would hope that this is rectified as soon as possible so that Milicic has another chance to answer the many, many questions yesterday’s game asked.