Almanac Socccer – A- League 1,000: The Nearly Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the semi-finals of the A-League. After a penalty shoot-out triumph at home last weekend Brisbane travel to Melbourne but before that Perth head to Sydney having seen off this season’s FFA Cup winners on Sunday evening.

Sydney FC v Perth Glory, Saturday – Allianz Stadium
The time has come for Sydney FC to deliver on their promise and results of the home and away season by brushing aside Perth and then kicking their heals before the second semi-final is played on Sunday afternoon. A key playmaker is well rested from injury, their opponents have criss-crossed the nation six times in nearly a month, they have beaten them every time (four) they have met this season and scored 13 goals in doing so across the three A-League games and one FFA Cup fixture.

It’s no surprise Sydney FC dominated the last-ever National Soccer League winners during the campaign as Graham Arnold’s side swept all before them in the regular season claiming the Premier’s Plate by a whopping 17 points from second-placed Melbourne Victory with 20 wins, six draws and one defeat. Perth got half as many wins, drew nine times and lost on eight occasions. Interestingly Perth scored only two goals less than Sydney FC in the regular season netting 53 goals, but they conceded as many which was 41 more than Sydney’s 12 goals conceded.

Both sides should be close to unchanged if not having the same starting 11 with no major injury worries. Sydney’s Milos Ninkovic returned to full training on the weekend after he was collected by Jets midfielder Ben Kantarovksi in the final round of the regular season back when the Sky Blues won 2-0 over Newcastle.

Big game for: Expectation. Last time these sides met, Lucian Goian conceded an own goal in his debut for Perth. However, despite conceding four goals two weeks ago, he has slipped into central defence well with Dino Djulbic last weekend for what was Perth’s second clean sheet away from home in the A-League season (and their fourth in total). So perhaps Kenny Lowe’s team has finally worked out their defence? Or perhaps it was the Melbourne light blues’ ineffectual attack in the final third. Either way coming into a semi-final having won 2-0 is better than not.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Having said that, metronomic midfielders who can blast into creative brilliance with one change of pace should be enough for the home side to win. Ably supported by a quality defence anchored by Alex Wilkinson former Central Coast Mariners boss Arnold should return to the pinnacle game of Australian domestic football like he did in April 2013.

Melbourne Victory v Brisbane Roar, Sunday – AAMI Park
Unlike the other semi-final fixture it has been a mixed bag to a degree for these two sides in season 2016/17. A draw to open the season in Brisbane in October was followed by 3-2 triumph to the Victory in Melbourne in January before Brisbane won in March in the Queensland capital 1-0. Jamie Maclaren’s lone goal in last month’s fixture was the first time all season the Roar have lead the Victory so Brisbane should take some form of confidence in that regard.

The match will be played under the spectre of the Victory knowing they will (probably) be losing Socceroo James Troisi and are (definitely) losing Fahid Ben Khalfallah. Coach Kevin Muscat was unimpressed when Daniel Georgievski announced recently he would join the Jets next year and it will be interesting to see how the title-winner as a player and coach reacts to the exit of the Tunisian. In an intriguing scenario Khalfallah wasn’t picked by Muscat during the season for almost a month as it would have triggered an extension. This is a scenario of Muscat’s making moreso than the departure of Georgievski but it’s an interesting backdrop.

The home side are at full strength with the return of Georgievski. The Jets-bound winger missed the 1-0 triumph over the Mariners due to suspension in Round 26. For the visiting Roar, though, the team news is plenty with injuries and travel after their Asian Champions League defeat in Thailand on Wednesday night. Goalkeeper Jamie Young received a cut in his arm due to a rusty piece of equipment on the goals and has had 26 stiches on his right arm. First choice shot-stopper Michael Theo injured his knee during the dramatic elimination final and won’t play again this season– so come on down Tomislav Bilic. The 19 year-old Roar NYL/NPL keeper is a hope to start but Young has been included in the squad (however, that may only be until a replacement keeper is called up.) Elsewhere the likes of Brett Holman, Jamie Maclaren, and others that didn’t travel for the ACL game will feature as they did last weekend plus skipper Matt McKay is one of the significant returns from injury.

Big game for: Home expectation. Even allowing for Brisbane’s heavy travel schedule the match isn’t as easy for the home side as it may appear. The navy blues have won only twice since Round 23, when they beat Perth 4-1, and this period includes Brisbane’s last triumph over them. The Victory (15) won four more times than the Roar in the regular season but, similar to the other fixture, both sides are close in the goals count with 43 to Brisbane and 49 for the home side. With 31 let in over 27 games the Victory conceded six fewer than the Queenslanders who conceded once in their elimination final triumph over the Wanderers.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Penalty shoot-outs. It’s the Roar in a semi-final so it will be dramatic. However as we had reaffirmed to us by the Guardian’s Jonathan Howcroft if you win the toss in the penalty shoot-out kick first! The data tells all.

The betting bit – One serious one not
I think Sydney win the first semi-final and Melbourne ($1.35) progress on Sunday, but I think we will get ‘bonus football’ as the kids say to go with some comical banner from the Victory fans poking fun at their city rivals who have a free weekend.

Record: 8/28
Profit: -$111.10 (yeah I know not great but 2015/16 was good)

This football preview first appeared on From the sideline of sport

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

Comments

  1. Dennis Gedling says:

    Here’s hoping my lot can cause an upset. Was lucky enough to see the Cats win then head across Melbourne to see Glory put away the cheap nasty franchise quite easily. Great time to be in Melbourne. Hopefully will be back there next week.

    Victory v Roar will be intriguing but it’s Victory’s to lose.

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