IT’S strange times for Fremantle at the moment with a mini-slump raising questions marks over whether they can be a major player come September.
The Dockers suffered a shock 72-point defeat at the hands of Hawthorn on Sunday, confirming suggestions that the club may be suffering from high-expectations given their form so far this season.
Even though travel and their poor recent record against the Hawks down in Launceston would have played a part in Sunday’s defeat, it’s still surprising how a side, so renowned for its defensive prowess can concede seventeen goals.
Despite all of this, Fremantle still remain a game clear on top heading into round sixteen and this means that Fremantle have the time and talent to meet the test of re-booting, if you can call it that, and returning to maximum form to qualify in pole position for the finals.
The Dockers need to start winning the ball back which is an area they have been struggling in recent times. Since the bye, they have been ranked 11th in disposal difference and against Hawthorn they finished with 185 possessions, 122 fewer than their opponents. This actually turns out to be the third biggest discrepancy since Ross Lyon took over the coaching mantle at Fremantle.
Keeping possession is arguably the best defensive tool ever invented, so getting that correct is vitally important for the coming weeks as well as the business end of the season.
A bit of pressure from Hawthorn proved too much for players such as Nat Fyfe, ranked no.1 in the AFL for clearances and David Mundy, ranked sixth for clearances. They coughed the ball up and the club ended up losing the clearance count 49 to 30.
Fremantle has been ranked seventh in terms of the gap in inside 50s against opposition in the past month, a key performance indicator of how their midfield group is performing and the number of marks taken inside 50 has steadily declined as well.
These stats are important due to the fact that defenders need time to set up and have a breather behind the ball in order to keep their shape. Just take a look at Geelong and their defence. In hindsight it’s a pretty decent back six, however, due to poor midfield performances, they have been made out as the scapegoat in Geelong’s poor recent form.
Fremantle does have proven quality in the middle and it’s an area that can be rectified if they meet the Hawks later in the season.
The Dockers’ transition from defence has also been a cause for concern, as it stalled against the Hawks.
On Sunday, the only time Fremantle managed a transition from defence to score was in the first half from a kick-in.
Its hard to know, but the Docker midfielders may not be spreading hard enough or wide enough to win the rebound. If this is the case, it needs to be fixed quickly.
The absence of key defender Michael Johnson has been truly felt and despite Alex Pearce’s solid showing since Johnson’s injury back in round 10, injuries to Alex Silvagni and Zac Dawson have aggravated the problem. Injuries to key defenders signals a need for team defence.
Against Hawthorn, team defence wasn’t there for the Dockers as they failed to create enough forward half intercepts, a stat that the Dockers usually rank high in. Winning the ball against the Hawks is difficult in itself, winning it back is a different ball game all together, so pressure needs to be extreme in order to have a chance.
The scoring will come once the defensive aspects tighten up, as they have shown they are better scorers when the basics are in place. It goes without saying, a champion side always builds from the back and that applies to many other sporting codes as well.
Ross Lyon needs to remind his team of the thoughts he had immediately following the 2013 Grand Final loss when he said: “It’s about the basics under pressure, dropped marks, missed targets, missed tackles, missed shots that separate quality.”
Improve in the basics and Fremantle can still have a genuine chance to claim their first ever premiership. Write them off at your peril.