Last season Siroki finished the regular portion of the Bosnian season in 7th place. As with the SPFL, the Bosnian Premier Division is a 12 team league where the league is split for the last round of fixtures.
Siroki were therefore in the relegation playoff section. They finished the season at the top of the relegation mini table and were successful in winning the domestic cup which awarded entry into the Europa League qualifying round. To clarify, Aberdeen will be facing the 7th best side in Bosnian football last season.
When the draw was made for the second qualifying round and Aberdeen were drawn to face either Siroki or Ordabasy of Kazakhstan I think that many Aberdeen fans were dreading a trip to the former Soviet Republic. As it turned out Siroki were comfortable winners 2-0 on aggregate having scored both goals in the first leg at home.
Shape and tendencies
Siroki spent a large portion of the tie with Ordabasy in the defensive phase, not as a result of the quality of Ordabasy, but as part of a gameplan to sit deep and try to access the final third through quick counter-attacks.
The defensive shape for Siroki is a passive 4-1-4-1 where they sit in a deep block and wait for the opponent to make a mistake. The 25-year-old Croatian midfielder Luka Begonja sits as the shield in front of the back four and displayed promising spatial awareness in his positioning.
Other than with Begonja all other roles are relatively static. The lone striker for Siroki is 34-year-old Ivan Krstanovic who tends to spend the defensive phase recovering physically and is not active on pressing or dropping deep in front of the ball.
In the defensive structure, the two full backs tuck in slightly to condense the back four and take away any gaps that could be easily exploited. This does, of course, have a payoff and the wide areas are left free with little in the way of relative cover.
With the exception of Begonja in the central zone, there is little in the way of depth in the defensive structure with both the midfield and defensive lines remaining static and horizontal.
Here we have Siroki in their defensive structure with passive pressure as the opposition look to attack. You can see the narrow and compact defensive shape, there are two key weak points within the structure that can be exploited though. Firstly, on the far side, we see a central player has dropped into space between the lines and is not being tightly marked, given the positioning of the central defensive midfielder and the unwillingness of the defensive line to press up this space can be exploited. Secondly, there is space to play in out in the wide areas of the field, aside with pace in the wide areas will be able to exploit the width and move in behind the defensive structure with relative ease.
Another example of the narrow and compact defensive block from Siroki. On this occasion the defensive structure is about to be unbalanced and broken, as the easy pass is played out to the wide area the Siroki left back will shift over to engage the ball. As he does so he effectively leaves the opposition player in front of him unmarked and in space.
This space can be exploited by either a quick bounce pass back to the original ball carrier to play into space or via a more difficult lateral pass into the central area from the wide player.
This lack of defensive balance when pressured is something that Aberdeen should keep in mind as they build their attack, particularly with the likes of Kenny McLean and Graeme Shinnie who are able to occupy the spaces in and around the defensive midfielder.
In the attacking phase, the shape from Siroki changes to something approaching a 3-4-3 but without the attacking penetration normally associated with the system.
The aforementioned Luka Begonja typically drops in and splits the two centre backs forming a loose back three and allowing the fullbacks to advance forward. The two central midfielders remain relatively passive and take up more supporting roles as opposed to joining the attacking line. In the attacking phase, Siroki have a clear preference for attacking via the right-hand side of the pitch with the dangerous 20-year-old winger Luka Menalo cutting inside to link with the lone striker.
I fully expect to see Siroki content to sit passively in the first leg, they will then look to access the final third via Menalo using direct counter attacks.
Ivan Krstanovic is a dangerous player in the penalty area although at 34 his movement is limited. Menalo will look to use the striker as a focal point as he looks to burst forward and take layoffs down the channels.
If, as expected, we see Andy Considine retain his position as left back then Aberdeen will be well served to have him play a defensive role to counter the threat of Menalo.
Here we see an example of Siroki in the attacking phase. Krstanovic is isolated in the front line as the second line of attackers is slow to penetrate the penalty area.
This time we clearly see the width that Siroki look to play with in the attacking phase. Both wide players are tight to the touchline but there is little depth in the attacking organisation. Two singular attacking lines in the opposition half make it difficult to progress the ball in possession, instead, Siroki will rely on individual errors or physical pace to break through.
Siroki are technically strong as you would expect to see from a Bosnian side but they lack the tactical ability to use this technical advantage properly.
Another aspect of the Bosnian side that Aberdeen will need to take into account is their tendencies from set pieces. Having watched both legs of the first qualifying round as well as the last three matches from last season from Siroki I have picked out three routines that deviate from what would be classed as the ‘norm’.
All set pieces are taken by the Croatian left winger Dejan Cabraja.
Twice Siroki ran the same routine with contrasting results. The man on the front post moves out to the corner taker and empties the space at the front post, the ball is then whipped into this area where two or three Siroki players will attack that zone. One attempt was cleared easily whilst the other one resulted in a strike at goal that hit the woodwork.
Having a defensive player assigned to the near post zone should negate this threat.
This time the routine is different. As Siroki threaten to overload the near post zone a loan player peels off into the edge of the penalty area where the ball is cut back for an attempt at goal. I would not expect to see this routine used more than once, it relies heavily on the element of surprise to be effective.
In the first leg of the first qualifying round, Siroki won by two goals with the first being a penalty converted by the striker Ivan Krstanovic. I have looked back over his last five penalties to identify trends in his technique.
With each attempt, Krstanovic starts a straight run towards the ball before stuttering his step before striking the ball. His striking is lazy and almost poor as he stutters in order to wait for the goalkeeper to make the first move before rolling the ball in the opposite direction.
If Joe Lewis is to face a penalty over the two legs then the smart move would be for the goalkeeper to hold his stance for as long as possible to put doubt in the mind of the striker and force him to make a decision. With the lazy nature of his strikes, this should put Krstanovic at a disadvantage.
Three players stand out when looking back over recent form. Luka Begonja in the midfield, Luka Menalo wide right and Ivan Krstanovic up front.
Begonja is a technically proficient midfielder who combines well with both defensive and midfield players. His passing is neat and accurate although he has a tendency to play sideways or short instead of looking to break lines with vertical passes. In the defensive phase Begonja shows strong positioning, he has a tendency though to remain static in the central zone intent on shielding the central defenders, this can allow for space to the left and the right to be exploited.
Menalo is a very dangerous attacking threat. His capacity to travel with the ball and willingness to isolate and attack defensive players can stretch the Aberdeen defensive unit. He displays good to very good pace with tendencies to mix his attacking runs to attack the wide area as well as the central area, this keeps his immediate defensive counterpart off balance. There is real danger when Menalo is able to combine with Krstanovic in tight areas around the edge of the penalty area.
Krstanovic is an entirely different problem. At 34 his physical capacity is diminished but he makes up for that with intelligent movement around the penalty area. Over short distances, Krstanovic is dangerous with his physical frame making it difficult to push him off of the ball. He offers short options to link in the attacking phase although these opportunities to link come predominantly from the right-hand side and Menalo. He will prove a handful for the Aberdeen central defenders.
The most important thing on Thursday evening is that Aberdeen display patience in trying to break down the Bosnian side. Penetrating through a disciplined low block is no easy feat, combine this with the fact that Aberdeen are still very much in their preseason and it may take time for the breakthrough to be made. That patience will also have to come from the fans who are not known for being the most patient in Scottish football.
With the 4-1-4-1 defensive shape, the key for Aberdeen comes in creating width in the second phase of the attack. I expect that Greg Stewart will start on the right and he will have to move into the half space or central area to create space for Shay Logan to move forward and attack, this mechanism should provide the best chance for Aberdeen to break through in the early stages.
Centrally Graeme Shinnie and Kenny McLean should be freed to move into advanced areas to unbalance the defensive coverage offered by Begonja at the base of the midfield.
In the defensive phase, I expect that Shinnie will play on the left of the central midfield three to help neutralise the threat of Menalo. Combined with Considine and either Ryan Christie or Scott Wright from the left wing they should be able to nullify the space that the young wide player has to attack into.
Of course, the biggest threat of all for Aberdeen is that they enter this match poorly prepared in the way that St Johnstone did, here’s hoping that is not the case.