In 2014, David Natoli, aka DaVe86, returns to to file his famous, in-depth tactical match previews.

Since publishing his first report on Nick's Bulletin Board in early 2005, DaVe86 has become a weekly favourite among the passionate online Magpie Army receiving thousands of views for each article.

The articles are lengthy and have been published in their entirety as the club did not want to hinder DaVe86's creativity during the writing process.

The views expressed in DaVe86's previews are solely of the author and do not reflect the views of the Collingwood Football Club.

There is truly no other home and away game throughout the year quite like the Collingwood v Essendon ANZAC Day blockbuster. It is impossible to explain the feeling of 90,000 people completely silent during the playing of the Last Post, and the roar of the crowd at the conclusion of the National Anthem.

Although I could write an entire piece on the spectacle of the ANZAC Day clash, my article this week is solely focused on the game between the Pies and the Bombers. As has been the case in recent years, there is a lot riding on this week’s result considering both teams have finals aspirations.

Two weeks ago, Essendon was the toast of the town following a thumping win over Carlton and a competitive effort against Hawthorn. Collingwood on the other hand was languishing in the bottom half of the ladder and many experts were predicting the Pies to be the big sliders of 2014. Fast forward to round six, and the Pies are in red-hot form while the Bombers have had a fortnight of football they would rather forget.

Last week’s loss to St Kilda was a blow to an Essendon outfit that considers itself a finals contender. The Saints completely shut down Essendon’s run and exposed deficiencies all over the field last Saturday. It was also a particularly ugly game to watch as Essendon’s ball movement was very slow and the Saints had time to get numbers into defence.

Essendon coach Mark Thompson has a lot of work to do ahead of Friday’s clash to get his side playing the exciting brand of football that we all know the Bombers are capable of playing.

Collingwood, however, was very impressive against a North Melbourne side that was in great form leading into the match. The Pies had the game over by half time as they lifted their tackling pressure to a level which made the Kangaroos look second rate. The Magpies have endured a very difficult fixture to start the season, so a win against Essendon will ensure Collingwood is in a very strong position as it approaches the bye in round eight.

Recent History
Collingwood and Essendon played in two very contrasting games last season. The last meeting was in round 19 where the Magpies smashed the Bombers by 79 points. Luke Ball was deemed best afield with 22 disposals and seven tackles to go with a goal, while Steele Sidebottom polled two votes with 30 disposals and a goal. Ben Reid was given one vote for his three goal effort. Dane Swan was also prominent with 30 disposals, although Jobe Watson was the leading disposal winner with 31. Travis Cloke also kicked five goals.

Last year’s ANZAC Day clash was a different story, with the Bombers running out resounding 46-point winners. David Zaharakis polled the three Brownlow votes and also won the ANZAC Day Medal with 34 disposals and four goals, with Watson polling two votes for his 31 disposals and two goals. Sidebottom was again prominent with 31 disposals and a goal. Jason Winderlich also kicked three goals for the Bombers.

At the Selection Table
Both sides have some selection quandaries ahead of the big game on Friday.

Starting with Collingwood, and the big decision for coach Nathan Buckley is whether to bring back Nathan Brown, Taylor Adams and Sam Dwyer, or go in with the same side that has put together two very successful victories in the last fortnight.

Brown looked comfortable last week at VFL level but it will be hard to displace the in-form Jack Frost and Lachlan Keeffe.

Both Sam Dwyer and Taylor Adams were in the VFL sides’ best last week and are deserving of spots.

New recruit Pat Karnezis also returned to the VFL last week and booted three goals, while Paul Seedsman (hip) and Tim Broomhead (shin splints) could also make their return this round through the VFL.

Turning the focus onto Essendon, and the Bombers should be boosted by the potential return of medium forward Jason Winderlich.

The Bombers will be without Brendon Goddard and Tom Bellchambers, though, with the club ruling the pair out on Thursday morning.

Focus on Collingwood
There is a lot to like about the way the Magpies are playing at the moment. Defensively, Collingwood is structuring up really well. Collingwood is also spreading really well from defence which is another positive sign. That said, I still think the Magpies could still improve their inside 50 count and clearance work.

The only real negative from last week’s game was the inaccurate kicking for goal. Collingwood should have won the game by more than 10 goals, but just couldn’t make the most of its opportunities. Although the Kangaroos were never really close enough to threaten, the door was always left slightly ajar. This sort of kicking may come back to haunt the Magpies in future matches.

Who Does Macaffer Tag?
There are three options for Buckley this weekend. He could go to Jobe Watson, Brent Stanton, Brendon Goddard or Dyson Heppell. My tip is that he will tag Heppell. In my opinion, Heppell is a vital link in the chain. He is a hard runner and makes a lot of contests. Therefore, if the Magpies can shut him down as the Saints did last week, then it will stop a lot of forward ball movement from the Bombers. Stanton would be my other tip as he is in great form and is also a very hard runner.

Player Focus
Nick Maxwell –
He is back to his 2010 best, which is a huge achievement for a guy many thought would fade away this year. The thing about Collingwood at the moment is that most sides want to play an extra defender on Travis Cloke, which in turn allows Maxwell to be loose in defence. The Magpies are happy to allow their opposition a spare man in defence as Cloke is capable of competing against two opponents, whilst it allows Collingwood its desired structure of having Maxwell free to assist where needed. With such a young defence, the former skipper is leading from the front and ensuring he is giving his inexperienced team-mates a chop out where needed.

Alex Fasolo – Fasolo has played numerous good games for the Magpies in his short career, but to my mind, last week’s game was perhaps his best. He had over 30 possessions for the first time in his career, and he was a vital player across half back with his precision foot skills and creativity. Buckley has high hopes for Fasolo to one day become a midfielder, but is giving him a strong education as a defender. Fasolo has responded. It will be a challenge for him now as opponents start putting some work into him. He will need to continue to improve his defensive attributes and will need to start to learn to break a defensive tag. For now, it is just great to see Fasolo playing consistent football.

Luke Ball – Bally was given the substitutes vest last week. I believe this was with a focus for ANZAC Day to have him fit and firing. Expect a big impact from the veteran as he will square off against the in-form Jobe Watson at the centre bounces. It should be an enthralling contest.

Travis Cloke – It was a welcome return to form for Cloke last round with four goals. After a tough start to the season, Cloke may just be about to really hit his straps. He typically plays well on ANZAC Day and will be a real handful for Michael Hurley who is his likely opponent. Although he missed a few shots last week, Cloke seemed to be striking the ball well which should give him confidence. He often has to contend with two or more opponents, which makes his life difficult. But even if Cloke is not clunking marks, he is still making a solid contest, which provides crumbers with opportunities. Alternatively, with so much focus on Cloke, it is allowing guys like Jesse White to hit the scoreboard. As mentioned above, the fact that Cloke has multiple opponents means that Collingwood has the luxury of having a loose player behind the ball.

Focus on Essendon
I feel the Bombers have a few issues to sort out before Friday’s game.

The first major concern is the big question mark over Essendon’s forward line. Joe Daniher is going to be a star, but is not ready to lead the forward line as yet, while Jake Carlisle has so far struggled to make an impact on season 2014.

I believe Carlisle is a natural defender, but Michael Hurley seems to have locked down the full back position which means Carlisle may have to find his way in attack.

With such a tall forward line, St Kilda found it too easy to move out of defence last week without any pressure.

The second concern relates to ball movement. Essendon has played in 2014 with a high disposal game plan. At its best, Essendon is a very precise and quick football team that can be impossible to defend. However, the Bombers last week were slow and loose with their ball movement. The Saints got numbers back quickly and then outworked the Bombers going the other way. I feel Essendon needs to go back to its more attacking style of play if it is going to give its forward line any hope.

Player Focus
Michael Hibberd –
Hibberd is benefitting from the high possession game plan and is the player that the Bombers want to get the ball into the hands of. As a half back in 2014, Hibberd is averaging 26 disposals and marks marks, yet averages less than one tackle per game. He is responsible for a lot of Essendon’s rebound off half back and the Magpies may look to use a defensive forward such as Tyson Goldsack to help curb his influence.

Brent Stanton – Not many Bombers players can hold their heads up from last week, but Stanton was the one player who kept running all night. He had 29 disposals and also kicked three goals. His last quarter in particular nearly dragged his side back into the game. Stanton always starts seasons off well, and this year is no exception, averaging 26 disposals and 1.6 goals a game (he has kicked eight goals in the first five rounds).

David Zaharkis – It is hard to write an ANZAC Day preview without highlighting the one player who made his name on ANZAC day with a goal that will forever haunt Collingwood supporters. He is also the reigning ANZAC Day Medallist, highlighting the fact he is a proven big game player who always enjoys this occasion. Zaharakis has had a steady start to the season without necessarily dominating. He has averaged 23 possessions, but has only kicked one goal all year, which is unlike Zaharakis who is at his best when hitting the scoreboard.

Jackson Merrett – Merrett entered the 2014 season having played 14 games and not many football pundits would have known a lot about him. However, his first five games in 2014 have seen him breakout with most fantasy football fans trading him in due to the fact he is averaging just less than 100 points a games while remaining at an affordable price. Merrett is a nice accumulator of the football, averaging 22 disposals and eight marks, generally playing from half back or up on a wing. He is definitely a player to keep an eye on this Friday as a good young player just beginning to make his mark on the competition.

The Wrap Up
Collingwood will go in favourites based on recent form. But Essendon is capable of beating any side on its day and will be eyeing off this match as an opportunity to bounce back and re-ignite its season. Nathan Buckley has commented that he expects an ‘offensive juggernaut’ this week from the Bombers as they release the shackles.

Essendon typically plays better against the better sides so this should be a beauty. Collingwood, on the other hand, has put a solid month of football together and will feel that if it can bring its best defensive pressure that it can really trouble Essendon.

Collingwood by 11 points

Prediction for ANZAC Day Medal: Dane Swan

By David Natoli

Aka DaVe86