Malthouse: Is Pies’ midfield unstoppable?
Collingwood's midfield is the best in the business. By far.
Steele Sidebottom dazzles as the Magpies' heartbeat. Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams and superstar Scott Pendlebury help form one hell of a driving force.
Throw in Tom Phillips on a wing with his ball-getting ability, Jeremy Howe's capacity to mark the ball anywhere, anyhow.
Jamie Elliott has been a sensation in the forward line since his return from a hamstring, Jaidyn Stephenson who can bamboozle the best defenders, revelation John Noble at half-back with his speed and delivery skills and Darcy Moore and Jordan Roughead - who are able to limit and almost eliminate any key forward's effectiveness - and you have a team that is in ripping form at the perfect time.
Collingwood has set its game structure and strategies for September in motion. Built on a massive injection of disposals through the middle of the ground, there is a deliberate attempt to maximise all six forwards instead of one or two key targets; to spread the workload as well as the scoring.
Like its midfield, there is an array of weaponry in the attacking arc and just when you think one goalkicker is beaten, another one pops up.
Its modus operandi is to control the football. The Magpies want the ball in the hands of their best ball-users, primarily the midfielders.
They prey on teams who want to overuse the ball backwards of centre. They cut off any lateral ball movement that could allow their opposition to transfer the ball from the backline out and around towards their forward line.
They force their opponent to overuse the ball, and the third or fourth disposal is generally the one that comes under the most pressure. Then they feast on the loose ball.
Collingwood's backline is miserly and quick. The Magpies' defence win the contested footy, but equally win the uncontested ball.
Collingwood is vulnerable to quick and long ball movement into its opponents' forward line. Moore, Howe and, to a lesser degree, Roughead, like to fall off their direct opponent to act as the interceptor. If the ball is moved quickly, it can catch them out.
Geelong didn't take its chances last week. Nor did Essendon in Round 23.
The Magpies' winning scores of 9.7 (61) against the Cats and 10.16 (76) against the Bombers were hardly huge totals, but when they defend well then opposition tallies of 7.9 (51) and 10.5 (65) respectively don't win.
The biggest mistake made by Collingwood's opponents this year has been when they made the assumption they can go head-to-head against its midfield.
In Round 22, Adelaide pitted its ball-getting midfield directly against the Pies' midfield and paid a huge price. Pendlebury amassed 34 disposals, Treloar 27 and Adams 24, while the work done by the Collingwood midfield limited the ascendancy of the Crouch brothers who finished with 24 disposals each.
Collingwood won by 11 goals.
GWS and North Melbourne both smashed the Pies during the home-and-away rounds by deploying the right type of player to curtail Sidebottom or Pendlebury.
West Coast quickly worked out in last year's Grand Final that it couldn't afford to let Collingwood's midfield run free and set Mark Hutchings the task of tagging Sidebottom. Hutchings completed his job to great effect.
Given that Collingwood must make at least two changes because of injury, this weekend off is a blessing.
The big question is who will come in for the hard-to-replace Levi Greenwood?
James Aish at half-back could do so without upsetting the team's game structure.
Jordan De Goey has already had a stint on the sidelines and while the Pies miss him, he hasn't been part of their recent revival. They can win without him.
Will they throw caution to the wind and recall Daniel Wells, or go with fall-back option, Travis Varcoe? It may come down to horses for courses.
The one thing about the Pies is that they are rarely, if ever, easily beaten.
They are a very, very good football team, and they will fight to the finish.