Well, the Christmas period has gone, as well as two thirds of the 2013-2014 Hyundai A-League season, so now might be a good time to take stock of the fortunes, prospects and failings of the top five clubs to date, starting with:
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS
As predicted in an earlier article, they are struggling to attain the consistent performance levels they reached in their inaugural season, but are still thereabouts. Sitting second on the table even after suffering three of their four season losses in the last month, and having picked up only nine points out of a possible 24 since December 28, they are still a force to be reckoned with. Although Sydney FC were sitting just behind them in third spot before Christmas. Western Sydney’s standing was justified on performance, unlike Sydney FC who were there under sufferance and their position on the table at present is more in keeping with their efforts. Injuries have taken their toll on the players available to Poppa at WSW week in and week out, but he has shown his belief in some of his junior players in giving them the opportunity to step up and be counted and in the main they haven’t let him down. With Shinji Ono leaving along with Aaron Mooy’s move to Melbourne Heart at the end of this season, WSW fortunes will diminish greatly if Poppa cannot find suitable replacements for next season. Even though I predicted that it would be nearly impossible to improve on their first seasons achievements, WSW will be firing come finals time and they are still capable of making it back to back titles, irrespective of which one they claim if not both this time.
Also as predicted, Sydney FC have struggled to find cohesion in the players performance, with Frank Farina making hard work of fine tuning his squad following wholesale player changes across the park. It is somewhat ironic that one of Sydney’s best performance this season, resulted in one of their losses to date when going down 1 - 0 to Central Coast Mariners just prior to the festive season. Having previously played far worse and won matches, as they did a week later against Melbourne Heart at Allianz Stadium. But Heart got their revenge two weeks ago in Melbourne, downing the Sky Blues after having one of their own red carded in the match. But after Saturday’s debacle against Adelaide United, what can one say to at least be constructive? The fans displayed their ire and vented their anger at not only the coach but the management and board also, with a mass walkout and a somewhat peaceful demonstration outside the stadium during and after the game. I must say the Cove’s support, their singing and chanting throughout the year have been brilliant and I have said for a long while now “They deserve better”.
Sydney FC’s performance overall this season has been woeful, and do appear destined for another “also ran” tag come March. Fans can only sit through so many stagnant minutes of professed football waiting for a few fleeting moments of genius from ADP if and when he is on the field, before throwing in the towel. Loyal fans and supporters or not.
Under the present makeup of the squad, if ADP were to leave the rest have very little to offer. I struggle to see any benefit in playing Nicky Carle as a defensive midfielder or Brett Emerton before he retired continually cutting inside from a right midfield position onto a left foot, which he didn’t possess. So it may still be worth paying Del Piero another million just to keep him here. He may be getting older but he is light years ahead of the rest of the crop, give or take a few. And, as highlighted in last week’s article, without him the crowds would dwindle along with the sponsorships, leaving the distinct possibility of playing in front of 6 - 8 thousand loyal fans at best.
For me they are the surprise packet, as I expected them to falter this season. But I am up for my fair share of humble pie as they go from strength to strength much to my surprise. They will obviously be around come finals time and under current form are the yardstick to measure the other team’s chances by. Their only problem could be in their mind set as they don’t appear to struggle against the better sides, yet in many cases make hard work of the lesser lights.
After losing Ange to the national team, I believe their fortunes have nosedived with Kevin Muscat and now Jean-Paul De Marigny assisting in what I believe an insurmountable task. Ange Postecoglou's demeanour oozed class and professionalism and I believe the players used that aura in their own personal motivation. Players the likes of Mark Milligan and Archie Thompson grew in stature under Ange and I think this loss will be long felt. Expect Victory to still struggle as the season progresses even though they have added Tom Rogic to their roster.
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
Following the departure of some key elements in the squad, they are still a force to be wary of. For me personally I think they play (along with Brisbane Roar) the most attractive football of all A League clubs. Their game is structured and entertaining and they for sure will be there when the “whips are cracking”. The departure of Arnie must have been a massive blow, but the professionalism and makeup of the club under Mike Charlesworth was sufficient to overcome that hurdle and move forward with new coach Phil Moss taking up the reigns without any pronounced hiccup. Having snared a couple of coup signings, I expect them to be there about in the top four with Brisbane Roar, WSW and Victory being capable of hanging on to fourth spot.
By the end of the 2013-2014 season my bold prediction on current form, I see Roar winning on 54/55pts, WSW on 47pts, CCM and Victory on 44 with Adelaide and possibly Perth vying for the 5th and 6th spot ahead of FC and/or Phoenix. That probably means a lot more humble pie on the menu, but these ratings are based on current form and I did mention earlier that miracles do happen.
My Biggest disappointments to date, have been Sydney FC, and up to last week Adelaide United. But after Saturdays game against Sydney FC where some of Adelaide’s set pieces and general play were world class, I am sure Adelaide are going to cause some major upsets by finals time and could also figure strongly in the big games. How good could Adelaide be with the genius of Del Piero in their ranks, having those players running off some of ADP’s classic touches? Then again how good would Del Piero look, if he was in a team that played every week as Adelaide did on Saturday?