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Jan 21, 2013

Del Piero leading the way

The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, analysing key talking points from the top-flight club competition Down Under.

Del Piero leading the way

Has there been a better individual performance than Alessandro Del Piero's four-goal extravaganza on Saturday? Possibly, but none will be remembered quite as fondly by the neutral supporter.

Sydney's form has undergone an astonishing turnaround in recent weeks. Spurred on by their come-from-behind win against Melbourne Heart last weekend, the Sky Blues claimed a 7-1 demolition of Wellington Phoenix to start a considerable surge toward the finals. Frank Farina's men now sit just one point outside the top six, and they have Del Piero to thank in large part.

The Italian icon dazzled a wobbly Phoenix defence, punishing the visitors' mistakes en route to a first-half hat-trick, capped by a fourth goal midway through the second stanza. Del Piero scored with both feet, took on defenders at will and found the top corner on three occasions, adding to a spot-kick he calmly converted.

All of this after arguably his worst performance of the campaign the week before. It would be too simplistic to claim Joel Griffiths' move into the starting line-up was the difference, but certainly Del Piero appears to enjoy playing off a more physically imposing No. 9. The pace and tenacity of Griffiths helped the Newcastle Jets win an A-League championship in 2008, and that winning mentality - coupled with Del Piero's class - seemed immediately manifest in Sydney's play.

For the Phoenix, their woes are inextricably linked to a demand from club owner Gareth Morgan to play a 'sexier' brand of football midway through the season. That directive placed on coach Ricki Herbert and his team has seen Wellington move from top-six contenders to bottom of the pile. They are now in real danger of missing their first finals series in four years.

There is a consideration here to analyse the subsequent change in the New Zealander's formation and tactics, but that would be to miss the point. The real impact is a psychological one, with Herbert's authority over the playing group undercut and the players convinced they are spending their time in a less than professional outfit. This kind of heavy-handed approach from club hierachy can so easily adversely affect the morale of the team, and on this occasion it has seen the Phoenix plummet.

Morgan's desires, though, are understandable. If you're spending millions of dollars of your own money on a football team, who wouldn't want them to play free-flowing football like Barcelona - or even Brisbane Roar in recent seasons? But that's not how this game works. Football is based on building a singular unit; an unstoppable structure without frailties in attack or defence. A team's style of play comes from that foundation, which cannot be achieved without a healthy group dynamic.

From that team spirit, leaders are born; 11 of them with any luck. On that point, Morgan would do well to watch Saturday's match again and, in particular, a guy by the name of Del Piero, who kept his head high during Sydney's down times to turn on a masterclass of the sexiest football imaginable.


The heat of the derby

The F3 Derby just isn't what it used to be. At the inception of the A-League, clashes between the Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets were some of the most highly-anticipated matches on the calendar. As evidenced in Saturday's 0-0 stalemate between the two sides, that is no longer the case.

At least, the encounters no longer feel as special as they once did, which has driven some of the passion and ferocity out of the contest. And it was certainly a sad sight to see the home supporter's end scarcely populated at the weekend.

That's not to be critical of the overall crowd. The Mariners achieve solid attendances - particularly once considered on a per capita basis - throughout the season, and a turnout of 11,249 on a rain-soaked evening is very good. But is there the same fire in the belly of fans, coaches and players as there once was?

Do the clubs play too often in pre-season or training matches, therefore watering down the rivalry? Have players and coaches become more cautious in their approach before and during the match for fear of igniting the other team? Or do fans, rather than the clubs, need to start playing a bigger role in making the F3 Derby on occasion filled with passion and civic pride?

If there was an easy answer it would have been solved already. For now, the derby has abated and the A-League is worse for it.

Western Sydney Wanderers have certainly built their rivalry with Sydney FC in quick time, and they continue to impress on the pitch with a 2-1 comeback win over Brisbane Roar on Sunday. The same spirit the Wanderers have shown against the Sky Blues was on show in the second half as Youssouf Hersi netted the winner to cement their place in the top four.

For Brisbane, they desperately need to rediscover their inner desire if they are to pull their season out of the fire. The back-to-back champions lacked the consistency to go on with a fine opening 45 minutes against Western Sydney, and coach Mike Mulvey must be considering dropping goalkeeper Michael Theo after he let in two goals at his near post.


A need for fresh faces

Do Adelaide United and Perth Glory need to dip into the transfer market while the window remains open?

The Reds slipped to a 2-0 loss away to Melbourne Heart on Friday evening, seeing them slip three points off the league-leading Mariners. John Kosmina's side have a host of injury troubles at the moment, particularly in attack. Bruce Djite, Marcelo Carrusca and Fabio Ferreira are all unavailable for this week's clash with the Central Coast, while Dario Vidosic is also in doubt with a bruised hip.

It would seem critical to Adelaide's chances to bring in some reinforcements, at least on a short-term basis. Kosmina was asked about that after the defeat in Melbourne and responded by claiming the club will use what players they still have.

"We will make do with what we have got for now," he said. "We have got Bruce coming back in a week and we have got Marcelo coming back in a week or two and we have got Ferreira starting training again on Monday. In three weeks we should be fairly healthy again."

Understandable, maybe, but the A-League title could be out of their reach by then, especially if they lack the firepower to make an impact on the impressive Mariners next start.

Perth, who lost 1-0 at home to Melbourne Victory on Saturday night, are yet to replace striker Billy Mehmet, who has departed for a stint in Thailand.

Links to David Beckham, Michael Owen, Harry Kewell and Eidur Gudjohnsen have garnered many column inches for the West Australians, but there must come a point when a significant investment is made.

Key striker Shane Smeltz has only displayed glimpses of his best form this term, but evidently he could use help from wide areas as last season's Grand Finalists have gone five matches without a win. Indeed, their current winless run has seen them drop just three points above bottom-placed Wellington.

What happened in negotiations with Kewell remains a mystery, but a fresh face certainly appears to be the most sensible way Ian Ferguson can inject some life back into his team's campaign.

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