Squad Status: 975min puzzle falling into place for Aussie defence

Bert van Marwijk has confirmed his extended 26-man Caltex Socceroos squad that will head to Turkey for a pre-FIFA World Cup training camp and he’s included nine defensive options.

With Matthew Jurman and Trent Sainsbury finally back to full fitness, albeit having played just 975 minutes of football between them in the last three months, van Marwijk has also opted for Milos Degenek and Mark Milligan to act as competition for centre back.

Yet the fullback spots look to be well and truly up for grabs, with Aziz Behich and James Meredith included as left back options, with Fran Karacic, Josh Brillante and Josh Risdon can patrol the flank on the right.

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Here’s the Squad Status of our nine defenders picked in van Marwijk’s Caltex Socceroos extended squad, looking at the form they’ll be carrying into camp ahead of Russia ...

Trent Sainsbury

Games played: 9 (705 minutes)

Games played in the last three months: 9 (705 minutes)

The story of his season:

Sainsbury was pivotal for the Caltex Socceroos, pushing through the pain barrier to help his country qualify for Russia in play-offs against Syria and Honduras. He then took a big chunk of this season out to have surgery and rectify a groin injury he’d been carrying for seven months.

Van Marwijk called Sainsbury into camp in March as he was nearing full fitness and soon after Sainsbury made his debut for Grasshopper Zurich in Switzerland, after joining from Jiansu Suning in January.

A run of nine games at the end of the season – including being handed the captain’s armband after just four run outs for his club – has also seen Sainsbury play in a holding midfield role as Grasshopper languished towards the bottom of the ladder. Sainsbury was able to get on the ball more frequently, with 48 passes per 90 minutes and he was also combative, with 13 duels per 90 minutes (with 63 percent successful).

Matt Jurman

Games played: 3 (270 minutes)

Games played in the last three months: 3 (270 minutes)

The story of his season:

Like Sainsbury, Jurman has missed a big chunk of this season with injury after he missed six months after minor knee surgery.

"We have two important players who trained this week for the first time but still couldn't play," van Marwijk said in March after Jurman was also brought into Caltex Socceroos camp as he returned to fitness.

The injury also meant Jurman missed vital AFC Asian Champions League fixtures against former club Sydney FC but the 28-year-old has since started three games for Suwon Bluewings in the K League, who have two games remaining before their season breaks for the FIFA World Cup window.

Mark Milligan

Games played: 31 games (2584 minutes)

Games played in the last three months: 14 (1221 minutes)

The story of his season:

He started the season with Melbourne Victory, then Milligan moved to Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia where he came close, but with no cigar in multiple competitions.

Al Ahli had a run of eight games without losing after Milligan debuted in the Saudi Pro League, helping to propel them within one point of Al-Hilal who went on to win the league. Milligan’s club also went deep in the Saudi King of Cup Champions, falling at the semi-final stage and this week went out of the AFC Asian Champions League in the Round of 16.

Milligan, who also scored one of the goals of the season in the Hyundai A-League before his mid-season departure, has proven to be a real hit for his club, admitting he can’t even go to the shops without being approached as he has become a fixture in Al Ahli’s starting XI.

Milos Degenek

Games played: 13 (1170 minutes)

Games played in the last three months: 13 (1170 minutes)

The story of his season:

It’s been a difficult start for Milos Degenek’s Yokohama F Marinos in the J.League as they sit 15th after 14 games of the new campaign.

Working again under Ange Postecoglou with his club team, Degenek has been a regular feature for Yokohama and has strong belief the team has the potential to turn things around after the mid-season break.

“Ange has said that a few times that it’s normal in his game,” Degenek told FourFourTwo. “It takes a bit of time for things to click. We need to trust the process. We’re doing our best, we’re trusting the process.”

Early signs suggest Degenek and his team are starting to understand the style of play Postecoglou is demanding – with an emphasis on a quick tempo and keeping the ball, with a recent 17-pass team goal going global.

Josh Risdon

Games played: 18 (1562 minutes)

Games played in the last three months: 6 (540 minutes)

The story of his season:

It’s been a long time without games for Risdon, with Western Sydney Wanderers’ Hyundai A-League campaign finishing in mid-April. This means the 25-year-old has played just 540 minutes of competitive action in the last three months, coming off the back of a season slightly interrupted by injury.

Josh Risdon and James Meredith
Josh Risdon and James Meredith in Socceroos training

Despite this, Risdon still proved to be a fruitful attacking outlet down the right for the Wanderers, with only Sydney FC’s Luke Wilkshire (3.4 crosses per 90 versus Wilkshire’s 3.5 crosses per 90) getting into crossing positions more frequently.

Where Risdon has also picked up competitive minutes recently, outside of club football, is in the international friendly against Colombia which means van Marwijk has had a glimpse of him in the flesh.

Fran Karacic

Games played: 27 (2243 minutes)

Games played in the last three months: 11 (990 minutes)

The story of his season:

Karacic’s call up to the Caltex Socceroos has caused big waves in his native Croatia – making the back-page of Croatia’s biggest sports newspaper, Sportske Novosti.

A right back by trade, Karacic has been a rock for club side Lokomotiva Zagreb in the Croatian top flight and has made over 50 appearances in the past two seasons. At just 22, Karacic is also the captain of his club side and has a penchant for headed goal from a set piece.

According to Caltex Socceroos assistant coach Ante Milicic, the man who scouted and put forward Karacic’s name, the youngster is “more naturally attacking than defensive: he gets a few assists, can take on his man and cross the ball and … he’s quite versatile too.”

Josh Brillante

Games played: 32 (2833 minutes)

Games played in the last three months: 11 (966 minutes)

The story of his season:

Brillante has come off another fine season in central midfield for Sydney FC, yet van Marwijk now views the 25-year-old as an option for right back.

Brillante has played there – back in late 2014 under former Caltex Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou for pre-AFC Asian Cup friendlies against Belgium, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – but it has been in midfield where he’s more familiar.

A key cog in Graham Arnold’s side, Brillante was an ever-present alongside Brandon O’Neill – acting as an energiser bunny and also rotated into a wide area to the right of the centre backs to allow Luke Wilkshire to advance up the pitch.

Aziz Behich

Aziz Behich

Games played: 34 (2983 minutes)

Games played in the last three months: 12 (1080 minutes)

The story of his season:

It’s been a productive season for Behich with Bursaspor, who avoided getting sucked right into a relegation battle late in the season.

With five goals and two assists from left back – also playing as a left wing back at times – Behich has played 12 full club games in the last three months, with one game still to play before he heads into Caltex Socceroos camp.

“I think a lot of people don’t realise how strong the league is until they come to compete,” Behich, who has now played over 100 games for the club, told beIN Sports of his season so far. “It’s a very physical and fast league.”

Behich added: “This year I think I’m in career-best form, not just because of goals or assists but because of the way we’re playing as a team which helps me as well.

“I know what to expect from this league and I know what I’m capable of.”

Tim Cahill and James Meredith for Millwall
Tim Cahill and James Meredith played this season for Millwall

James Meredith

Games played: 47 (4099 minutes)

Games played in the last three months: 15 (1330 minutes)

The story of his season:

It’s been a breakout 2017/18 season for Meredith, who will now battle with Behich for the left back spot.

After moving in the off-season on a free transfer from Bradford City, the 30-year-old quickly established himself as a permanent feature in Neil Harris’ starting XI. Only one other player in the Millwall team started every single Championship game, with Meredith clocking up over 4000 minutes on the park, including 15 games in the last three months.

He was also towards the top of the Championship tackle charts, making 110 with more than half seeing him directly come away with possession of the ball.

"I've been pretty comfortable this year,” Meredith told Millwallfc.co.uk. I've known for years that I can play at Championship level, so it was just waiting for that opportunity ... I think there's another gear in there for me and for a lot of other players in this team."