A-League review: Sydney show strength; finals race puts pressure on Melbourne Victory, Western United
It's Monday, so here's the good, bad and ugly from Round 16 in the A-League.
Sydney ... so strong right now
Sydney FC's 3-0 win over Melbourne Victory on Friday night was strong. In reference to Alexander Baumjohann's celebration for Sydney's third goal -- after the presence of mind from Milos Ninkovic to put the ball on a plate for him -- a literal and figurative flex on the rest of the A-League. In yet another example of their behavioural strength, how they immediately responded to Ola Toivonen not equalising for Victory early in the second half was distinct. Things happen in football and not everything goes according to some plan, however much coaches would like to profess what happened in a given game was by design. It was a tense first half at AAMI Park on Friday, and one could get the sense Sydney were able to exhale with that Toivonen miss. Funnily enough, Kosta Barbarouses doubled the margin only moments later for the reigning champions, effectively putting the result beyond doubt.
To do that takes a collective focus, concentration and ample mental strength. Especially in games like Friday, it matters. Then add to that, the fact Sydney have maintained winning form by doing just enough in recent weeks.
Pace and Power are undefeated
Despite what the scoreline suggested, Adelaide United should have won comfortably against Western United on Sunday at Whitten Oval. It was a strange but ultimately understandable sight, as both coaches were visibly upset walking back into the change rooms at half-time. From Gertjan Verbeek's perspective, the match was still in the balance, despite a sizeable disparity in attacking threat and defensive effectiveness. Meanwhile for Mark Rudan, the first 45 minutes were not at all encouraging. That disparity was arguably contributed to with his own decision making, though. Even by A-League standards, Adelaide could be a hall of fame Pace and Power team. They are fast, have bags of energy and they know it.
Now, there are two ways to approach PnP. You can either try to match it, or suppress that speed and physicality with the ball. Rudan went for the former, while the most effective player in relieving pressure on the ball in midfield for Western United -- which can then also act as a defensive mechanism -- was left out of the squad. So it likely would not have been pleasing for him to see Panagiotis Kone and Jerry Skotadis trailing play, as Nathan Konstandopoulos scored the winner.
Melbourne City, and watching paint dry
What an utterly predictable snooze fest. Much like in the first game between the two at AAMI Park this season -- well, even last season too -- Tony Popovic's Perth Glory were more than content to let Melbourne City have the ball. Because they knew if they maintained positional awareness and communication, City would not open them up. Coming away from Melbourne with a point at a minimum. Only this time, there was no glaring defensive error from City to hand Perth the lead. So it finished 0-0.
In terms of footballing ideals, such pragmatism is not exactly something that would stir positive emotions. But what Popovic and Perth did was rational, not to mention the fact that giving Perth the ball can be just as sleep inducing. Chances of actual substance were few and far between. What is of note though, considering changes to City's starting XI from that first game, their inability to penetrate against Perth has just as much to do with the matchup as personnel and Erick Mombaerts' implementation.
The finals race
A lot will change in the next 13 rounds, but it just feels acceptable to talk it about now, past the halfway point of the season. Suddenly, Melbourne Victory and Western United are behind the eight ball, without breathing room on the ladder and having played 15 games. Wellington Phoenix were assured against Newcastle Jets on Friday night in their 2-1 win, despite the fortune that came with Ulises Davila's eventual winner. Brisbane picking up three points against Central Coast via a Corey Brown winner also puts them back in the frame, but sustainability with regards to the Roar is worth consideration. Both Wellington and Brisbane have games in hand along with Adelaide, now in the top six with Sunday's win over Western United. Side note, that Corey Brown is scoring winners immediately upon returning to Queensland is just *chef's kiss* perfect.
Outside of Sydney streeting the regular season, though, it's still going to be kind of fun to watch it all unfold. As removed that sounds from the purity of being first past the post.
The Olyroos, and perspective
The Olyroos qualified for the 2020 Olympics, after defeating Uzbekistan in the third-place playoff at the AFC Under-23 Championships. So, naturally, it has been used as a vehicle to argue who really wants the best for the Australian game, who deserves respect, etc. As is usually the case in Australian footballing discussion, reason has flown out of the window. Primarily, those who will play in Tokyo will get to experience something they can treasure for the rest of their lives. Australia have not qualified for the men's football tournament at the Olympic games since Beijing in 2008. Those are positive points, but multiple things can be true at the same time.
It's youth football, so looking at the result of qualification as justification and proof would miss the point. The fact is Australia limped to the line in Thailand, while the logistical and interpretative causes for that are both worth extensive consideration. Is qualifying for the Olympics a good thing? Yes. Does the standard of football need to improve across Australian youth football? Also, yes.