A-League review: Sydney still nine points clear despite Ninkovic's absence
It's Monday. Here's the good, bad and ugly from Round 13 in the A-League ...
Sydney and cognitive dissonance
Following their 2-1 win over Adelaide United on Saturday at Kogarah Oval, Sydney FC remain nine points clear atop the A-League ladder. That they won on Saturday without Milos Ninkovic, Brandon O'Neill, Rhyan Grant and Michael Zullo speaks to Sydney's behavioural strength and, despite the system's susceptibilities, the recognition of set roles within Arnieball. Sydney have been so clinical in front of goal, however, they really have not needed to dominate games this season. Collectively, the Sky Blues are good enough and have the strength of personnel to win games in moments, like it was on Saturday and the week before that against Melbourne City.
Despite the fact players can come into the Sydney starting XI and carry out a defined role, though, the second half on Saturday night still highlighted just how important Ninkovic is. Adelaide's full-backs grew less hasty, following Anthony Caceres and Alexander Baumjohann, relative to a detrimental first half. Someone needed to relieve pressure on the ball as Adelaide started to control the rhythm of the game, and the reigning champions did not have that outlet.
Wellington's winning streak
Speaking of the Arnieball system, Wellington are improving on a weekly basis. The Phoenix bossed Central Coast in their own 2-1 win on Saturday. Mariners coach Alen Stajcic adopting the same tactics that saw Western United lose to Wellington the previous round warrants scrutiny, but the scoreline was not entirely reflective for Ufuk Talay's side. In a positive way, that is. Not to labour the point, but Alex Rufer's return from injury really does loom over this squad, because there is such harmony with attributes at the moment. With Cameron Devlin acting as the yin to Matti Steinmann's yang at the base of midfield, the Phoenix were a team in every sense.
Now undefeated in eight games, the gulf in compatibility from Devlin and Steinmann to the Mariners' Gianni Stensness and Giancarlo Gallifuoco was sizeable, and something that naturally extended to the collective. For Gary Hooper's opening goal, playing from one side of the pitch to the other, Ulises Davila and David Ball worked off that base. With matches against Brisbane and Western Sydney to come, though, Ball's injury provides room for further examination.
City do what they do best
Melbourne City pressed and pressed relentlessly, before showing lethargy with the ball, in their 3-2 win over Western United on Friday. For the second time this season, Erick Mombaerts devised a plan that stifled Western United's phases of possession. United contributed to their own downfall in this respect, but City astutely highlighted Dario Jertec as the key for United to get out of their own half. Whether it came down to the starting positions of Connor Pain and Sebastian Pasquali or their recognition of moments to move into space, City players not necessarily needing to change direction in their pressing allowed one defender to cover two on numerous occasions.
Even at the start of the season, the slightest change to personnel caused something more than a ripple effect for Western United. With Scott McDonald on the outer, Panagiotis Kone injured, Connor Chapman now in K-League 2 with Daejeon Citizen, and other defensive stocks decimated -- with Ersan Gulum, Brendan Hamill, Aaron Calver and Josh Risdon all unavailable -- United coach Mark Rudan has been forced into trial and error. Their ceiling remains high, but like Jertec himself, there seems to be a high fluctuation between the good and bad.
Petratos and the relationship between attack and defence
As Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick admitted, following his side's 4-0 thumping at the hands of Melbourne Victory on Sunday night, Dimi Petratos does not have a great deal of defensive responsibility. In this age of football, that someone can be relieved of such responsibility and that a team does not have to defend and attack as a unit is a defiance of logic. As such -- however much Robbie Kruse playing as a false nine warmed the heart -- one cannot ignore the reality that logic tends to emerge triumphant in these situations. This relief of defensive responsibility significantly contributes to the fact the Jets have conceded the most goals in the A-League so far this term, with 25.
On a weekly basis, Newcastle are effectively defending with a player less and the question remains: Is Petratos really that good to warrant putting his feet up when the opposition have the ball? In the 20th minute at AAMI Park, Ben Kantarovski was instructed to sit deeper in the Jets midfield, but it was not the root cause of the problem. In a game where for once, the midfield did not create opportunities for the attack to spurn, the scoreline eventually became more reflective with Victory's second-half blitz. Petratos repeatedly coughing up possession made Merrick's tactical implementation even more illogical. If the collective is to show any sign sustainable improvement, Petratos needs to stop cheating in defence.
The Wanderers and Roar ... yikes
Not for the first time this season, Western Sydney and Brisbane Roar dished up something of a footballing answer the Ludovico Treatment. Somehow, goals were scored. Somehow, Brisbane emerged 2-1 victors. In the words of Diego Maradona, football is a game of deceit. The Wanderers and Roar might not be the two worst teams in the A-League -- because what does that even mean, anyway? -- but they are the most predictable in possession, in this sense. Mirza Muratovic's recent introduction for Brisbane is a positive one, but it does not compensate for collective inertia.
There was a sense that, following Mitchell Duke's opening goal, Western Sydney would allow Brisbane back into the game with the ball. Which they did. But the referee is at fault, like every other week. As long as Wanderers coach Markus Babbel looks dapper on the sidelines, all is well.