Ok so after 15/16 Weeks of the A-League it is time for a little Mid-Season Review. Some teams have played as many as 19 games so far, while others have played as little as 15. This in my opinion, coupled with the ridiculous inconsistency in home and away matches, has to be fixed by the FFA in time for the next season. To play 5 consecutive away matches is an absolute joke really.
I’ll go through every side in the League, look at their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their future prospects for the current season. If you can’t be fucked reading all this, just scroll down the bottom for my final predictions. Sick. While the predictions are based on current form, anything can happen in this league. If any club strings a few wins together they can be back in the finals mix easily.
CLUB BY CLUB
They have been the talk of the A-League, with their smooth, fluent, attacking football bringing fans to their feet and producing some fantastic goals. Last weekends 5-1 thrashing of an in-form central coast also highlighted just how good they are. While other sides have had ups and downs the Roar haven’t really faltered since they were given a lesson by Melbourne Victory in a 3-0 loss back in September. Ange Postecoglu has proved the doubters wrong who said his team would struggle without the goals of Sergio van Dijk and the youthful enthusiasm of Oar, Zullo and Sarota. While Thomas Broich has definitely been a revelation for the Roar, Kosta Barbarousses and Matt McKay have also been essential for the type of football Brisbane play, as well as the emergence of striker Jean Carlos Solorzano.
The Reds have also been the surprise package of the season, with a wooden spoon last season a distant memory. In Rini Coolen they have captured an International standard manager and his tactical nouse is second to none in the A-League. They recruited well, bringing in Boogard to shore up the defence, Sergio van Dijk to bring the goals and also made an astute signing through Marcos Flores. The Argentinian could arguably be counted as the most successful import this season, his silky skills and ability to find an impossible through ball for teammates shown time and time again this year. The signing of van Dijk has also paid dividends with the Dutchman scoring 6 goals so far. With Mathew Leckie also having a blistering start to the season, one can only imagine how the Reds would have gone had he, as well as captain Travis Dodd, remained fit for the rest of the season. In his place though, Iain Ramsay is proving another great signing with his performances this season. With two games in hand on Brisbane, the race to the title is going to be very tight.
Gold Coast United
The Gold Coast have been criticised this season for their negative football tactics, however they have gotten on with the job quietly and were undefeated in 11 matches until their loss against Adelaide last weekend. With virtually the same squad as their debut season last year, the Gold Coast have proved a tough side to break down and in recent weeks have started to play some decent football with Jason Culina pulling the strings in midfield. If Bruce Djite (their replacement for departing striker Shane Smeltz) and Joel Porter can stay fit and firing, there is no doubt this side can take out the title. Having played four games less than league leaders Brisbane Roar, winning all of them would sit them one point behind. With Michael Thwaite ensuring the Gold Coast boast the meanest defence in the A-League (conceding 12 goals), if goals follow they could go all the way. With two games against Roar and one against Adelaide, they could be the games which determine their season but they really need their strikers fit in order to keep their finals chances alive.
central coast mariners
The Mariners have been a surprise of the season for me. While it could not have been expected that Brisbane and Adelaide would storm up to the top of the table, it was equally unlikely that the Mariners would be sitting pretty in 4th position under Graham Arnold. What has impressed even more however, is the manner in which they have done it, playing entertaining football. I’m a self-professed Graham Arnold hater, but I have to praise him for his work this season. With no big names in his team, and the fact that their new signing Patricio Perez has only played 3 games this season, the side have done really well. Mustafa Amini has replaced Perez as the playmaker for the Mariners and looks better and better with each game he plays. The team also has that physical presence, with Matt Simon and Daniel McBreen up front and Adam Wilkinson has been impressive as the captain marshalling the back line.
Despite losing 5-1 to Brisbane Roar last weekend, really it is more a reflection of how good the Roar can be when their whole team preforms. While their style of play is exciting and has produced some great matches, including two 3-2 scorelines, it could prevent them from going further than 4th spot and maybe even suffering a run of bad luck. While attacking sides are welcomed, they more often than not fail to reach the heights that Brisbane Roar have. While they should make the finals I wouldn’t rule out an end of season slump.
The Heart have had a mixed first season, as their players continue to learn more and more about each other and coach John Van’t Schip realises his strongest line-up. Just when they looked like they were starting to click they faced both Brisbane and Adelaide within a week and lost out on both occasions. In both games they pretty much matched their opponents, with the first half against the Roar an absolute domination. Consistency is the key for the rest of Heart’s season, and in truth I think their second half will bring about a lot more points. Aloisi has had a few injury niggles, while Alex Terra is a great talent but needs more pitch time to ensure he stays sharp. Meanwhile Colosimo made a great return to the starting line-up last weekend, and when Matt Thompson returns hopefully Schip puts him back in midfield. Rutger Worm has been a revelation this year, and his injury for 2 weeks is a massive blow, his ability to take on players and deliver pin-point crosses is invaluable. Another import, Gerald Sibon has also impressed, with his big frame and ability to hold the ball and bring players into the game a massive asset. Expect the Heart to not only make the finals but I would put money on them to take out the Grand Final. Big ask though, for a new franchise.
Melbourne Victory have won only 4 out of 16 games and for the first time in their history are in a fight to make the finals. Usually comfortable in the A-League and up there fighting for a top 2 spot, the Victory are struggling to even ensure they have a place in the finals. The return of Archie Thompson and his partnership with Robbie Kruse should ensure they make it, but they now need to shore up the defence which has leaked too many goals in the past few matches. While they had three consecutive 0-0 draws in September, they are now struggling to keep them out, with individual mistakes costing them dearly. If Ernie Merrick can find a balance between attack and defence, Melbourne should make the finals and could even take the Grand Final, as they are known to perform on the big stage. A top four seems very unlikely and only the poor form of other teams will provide them with a top 6 finish. Archie Thompson is key here, as is Kevin Muscat, who needs to sort out the defensive side of his side’s game
After a decent start to the season and a strong home record, the Phoenix looked on target to reach the top 6. However after Brisbane ruined their impressive home record with a 4-0 defeat, they subsequently lost 3-0 at home to central coast. Coupled with the fact that they have only won once away from home and the finals don’t look realistic for Wellington. The positive news is that Paul Ifill has halted his goalscoring rut and is back in the form which earned him the Golden Boot last season. With a good backline, including Durante, North and Ben Sigmund it is a mystery why they have the second worst defence in the A-League (conceding 28 goals) and perhaps a rethink in tactics in needed from Rickie Herbert if the Phoenix are to challenge for the finals. Don’t rule them out, they definitely have the talent and in Nicky Ward and Simon Elliot they have experienced players who have been there and done it.
Newcastle United Jets
The Jets have been woeful at times this season, with negative tactics away from home and poor finishing from their front men a cause for concern. In recent games they have looked brilliant, as Jeffers has given them someone who can start attacking moves through his clever runs and also brings others into the game with his experience and ability to hold the ball up. Marco Jesic has been a player transformed since the arrival of Jeffers and he has obviously taken the English frontman’s advice on how to play the game. The Jets strength is most certainly in defence, where Topor-Stanley and Milicevic arguably the best defensive partnership in the A-League. The obvious weak link is D’Apuzzo and why Taylor Regan hasn’t been drafted in to try and fill that left back slot is unknown. He isn’t a natural left back but surely he couldn’t do any worse? As it stands the brilliant Kantarovski is constantly covering D’Apuzzo when he goes forward only to trip over his own feet or send in a wayward cross. Sort it out Branko. Wehrman is also key, his position at the base of midfield cannot be faulted. He’s strong, confident and his passing is spot on, while his tackling is extremely solid. If Jeffers stays fit for the rest of his stay, and then Bridges returns with the imminent arrival of Ryan Griffiths, the Jets can definitely make a push for the finals. They’ve played only 16 games, so they can easily catch up on the current teams taking up the top six spots. They’re performances against Brisbane and Adelaide (only one loss in six games) will encourage them, as will the fact they don’t have to play them again this season. Should get there…
Perth Glory have struggled since a promising start to the season, and their slide doesn’t look like stopping. While injuries have played a part with Mile Sterjovski missing bits and pieces of the season, as well as Andy Todd and Jamie Harnwell, the problem has to be in the management.
The dismissal of Dave Mitchell to an upstairs role was understandable given the team’s poor run of form earlier in the season. However, the decision to appoint assistant manager Ian Ferguson as head coach was a huge mistake. He hasn’t brought any new direction to the side, and his management of the team must come into question.
Fowler has started to bang in the goals which is essential for the club to make a late push for the finals, yet the teams’ lack of discipline is extremely worrying. In their last 7 games the club has received an astonishing total of 7 red cards and 19 yellow cards. That is a joke, and perhaps it is evidence that Ian Ferguson has lost control of his players and they are no longer listening to his instructions. If the players can’t stay on the pitch then they have no hope of getting to the finals. I give them no hope, and a wooden spoon is looking most likely. I would love to see them sort out their problems however, their fans definitely deserve it. I hope they can do it, but I find it unlikely.
Sydney FC have to be the failure of the season so far with a shocking record seeing them notch only three wins all season. However they have recently started to slowly get their act together and have a record of 3wins-2draws-1loss in the past 6 matches.
Having played a few games less than most of the other clubs above them, Sydney could make a late push for the finals if their strikers start firing and they shore up their defence. A massive ask, though it’s not impossible. They are, however, playing Brisbane, Adelaide and the central coast all within the next month so performances against those clubs will decide their season.
Brosque has started to hit form and if he and Bridge can stay fit and provide some attacking thrust Sydney could get back to their best. They are struggling at the back without Colosimo and Clint Bolton and are also sorely missing the talents of the retired Steve Corica, while letting Aloisi and Chris Payne leave has left them fairly bare up front. That said Bruno Cazarine has scored a few already.
The recent news that start marquee signing Nicky Carle may be out for the season is also a huge blow to their finals chances, after the playmaker has only managed 543 minutes in a side he was supposed to lead in attack. Don’t see them getting to the finals, though if their players remain fit it could happen. Never rule this side out, I see them as a better finals chance then Melbourne Victory anyway.
North Queensland Fury
Poor North Queensland. They have been heralded for their positive football time and time again yet their defence has let them down. It’s almost embarrassing watching how bad they are at defending. The team has only managed to shut out the opposition once and have also been on the wrong end of 3-2 scorelines no fewer than on three occasions. Two successive draws have stopped three consecutive losses, yet their inability to score a couple of goals against Perth last weekend was astounding. Two men up with 25 minutes to play and they just couldn’t find the back on the net.
It is uncertain whether the off-field troubles surrounding the club are affecting the players, but with the club unable to offer new contracts to players it must be having some kind of impact. Isaka Cernak and keeper Justin Pastfield have already signed pre-contract agreements with other clubs and there is no indication that other players won’t follow their lead.
Their exciting play, down to not just their intent on attack but their deficiency in defence, is the only positive of the season, as is David Williams’ form (who has been outstanding). Oh, and Franz Straka whose enthusiasm and commitment to the game deserve a lot better, and have lit up the A-League at times. If Franz can get his team together I can see them making a late push. It’s only halfway and with their attacking talent it is hugely possible they aren’t down and out. I’d like to see them there or there abouts..
START OF THE SEASON
Now I’m not going to pretend I saw any of these current standings happening, this was my prediction at the start of the season:
1) Perth Glory
2) Melbourne Heart
3) Wellington Phoenix
4) Newcastle Jets
5) Sydney FC
6) Adelaide United
7) Melbourne Victory
8.) Gold Coast
9) North Queensland
10) Brisbane Roar
11) central coast
Wow. Perth top? Shows what I know. Anyway after a quick rethink this is my prediction…
MY FINAL PREDICTIONS
1) Brisbane Roar
2) Adelaide United
3) Gold Coast
4) Melbourne Heart
5) Central Coast
6) Newcastle Jets
7) Sydney FC
8.) Melbourne Victory
9) Wellington Phoenix
10) North Queensland
11) Perth Glory
So Brisbane will take out the title, followed closely by Adelaide and perhaps the Gold Coast.
Central Coast will lose out on 4th to Heart who will improve as the season goes on.
While Jets will fight out a close 4-way battle with Sydney, Wellington and Victory for the last finals spot.
Perth and North Queensland will fight it out for last place.
But there’s still a lot of games to go and as I said any team who string a few wins together are in the mix again. I think Perth are out to be honest, I hate Ian Ferguson and don’t see him inspiring his troops. North Queensland are a better hope at making the finals but they need to shore up the defence or at least take their chances better. Heart and Gold Coast should stay strong, while I’m hoping the Jets make the finals. I can’t see Rini Coolen or Ange Postecoglu letting their teams fall out of the top two either.
For the sake of the A-League and its popularity I want to see Victory and Sydney in the finals, if only because they bring crowds, though it would also be amazing to see both of them fail. The fact that Gold Coast are so good with an average crowd of 3,000 hurts though.
And that’s it.