Down to the Wire
With just 2 rounds remaining we still don’t have a clear picture of which teams will be playing in week 1 of the finals, and which teams will have the bye. The Premiership race may be the most exciting in the A-League’s short history, however it is potentially going to cause some serious headaches for Fantasy A-League coaches.
We at least do know that Central Coast, Newcastle and Wellington are eliminated from finals contention, while it is highly unlikely Sydney FC will steal 6th spot from the Victory. The Victory only require a point from their final 2 games to seal a playoff spot; Sydney would need them to lose both games and also defeat Adelaide and Perth at home. So if you have any players from those four teams, it would be wise to move them on as soon as possible.
Another comforting near-certainty is that it is highly likely Melbourne Victory will be playing in the first week of finals. The only way they can miss out is if they lose their remaining games (away vs. Wellington, home vs. Brisbane) and Sydney win theirs. They cannot finish in the top 2 so there is no chance they will have a bye if they qualify for finals.
Otherwise, it’s down to guesswork as to how the remaining 5 positions will be filled – with the teams ranked 1st and 2nd having week 1 of the finals off. Even 5th placed Perth Glory can still claim the Premiers’ Plate, though a loss or draw at home against table-toppers Melbourne City this weekend would likely mean they’ll finish outside the top two.
We’ll take a look at the contenders and their remaining fixtures later on in this article.
We do receive 6 free trades for the first two weeks of finals, which eases our worries somewhat, however coaches wanting to avoid carrying any ‘doughnuts’ in week 1 should already be adjusting their teams with the information we have available.
As noted in the previous edition of the Fantasy A-League Focus, goalkeepers could be a concern for some teams heading into the finals. With popular cheapie Paul Izzo‘s (10.5% ownership) Mariners eliminated from finals contention, and Adelaide reserve John Hall (31.9% ownership) sitting on many benches, some coaches may be facing a problem – no finals playing keeper, and no money to replace a cheapie with.
However, in the past 2 weeks a pair of candidates have emerged – Jamie Young ($175k) and Laurence Thomas ($145k) have seemingly claimed the gloves at Brisbane and the Victory respectively. Many coaches have pounced already, with Young being traded into 196 teams over the last 2 rounds, and Thomas into 21 teams last week.
Neither player is exactly ‘nailed on,’ however. Young took the spot back from Michael Theo due to the latter’s injury concerns, so we don’t know for certain that he is now Aloisi’s preferred choice. Also, Brisbane are currently 2nd on the ladder and are a solid chance of missing week 1.
Thomas’ Victory are near-certainties to play week 1 of finals, but again we don’t know if Thomas is locked in as Muscat’s goalkeeper for the rest of the campaign, or if Danny Vukovic is just being ‘freshened up,’ with a difficult season and ACL participation weighing on him.
In both cases though, it’s better to be playing than watching on the bench – because so long as neither makes a mistake, there’s not a conclusive case for them to be dropped.
My advice here if you have picked up either, or are thinking of doing so, is ‘proceed with caution.’ Keep in mind everything I’ve discussed above, as this sudden rise in luck for some coaches could just as easily turn back on us if Young or Thomas have a shocker.
Melbourne City (currently 1st) – Perth away, Adelaide home
City sit atop the table with 44 points, the same as 2nd placed Brisbane, but with a vastly superior goal difference. If City can hold their nerve and defeat two contenders in Perth and Adelaide then no one can stop them from claiming the Premiership – and a week off. City’s previous trip to Perth in Round 15 ended in a 2-2 draw, a game in which the Glory twice came from behind to level the scores, before being forced to play with 10 men for the last 27 minutes after Jacob Collard was sent off.
City have recently added a previously unseen resolve to their defence (1 goal conceded in the last four rounds; 3 of their 4 clean sheets this season have come in that time) but it will get a stern examination from Perth, who haven’t been held scoreless home or away since Round 9, and not at home since Round 7.
Against Adelaide, City will take plenty of confidence that they can defeat the Reds after shutting them down for a 1-0 success in Round 23 at Coopers Stadium, where they also crushed Amor’s men in a 4-2 Round 5 win. Adelaide are a tough prospect on the road though, having gone 8 games unbeaten away and keeping a clean sheet in 5 of those trips. City’s front three of Bruno Fornaroli, Harry Novillo and Aaron Mooy (who returns from Socceroos duty this week) can be irresistible but they’ll need to be firing on all cylinders to help City overcome these two tests and take out the Plate. Win, draw or lose, Fantasy A-League coaches can nonetheless rely on those City attackers – only once this season have John van’t Schip’s men been held scoreless (Round 6 by the Wanderers).
Brisbane Roar (2nd) – Newcastle home, Victory away
It’s fair to say that John Aloisi has surpassed all expectations this season, and with 2 weeks remaining his Roar side are level on points with the ladder leaders. If not for Fornaroli and Mooy’s exploits, Jamie Maclaren would probably be the story of the season.
On paper, we’d expect Brisbane to have no problem beating the Jets at home this week. However, Newcastle have an amazing record at Suncorp Stadium, winning 9 of their 15 matches there (60%, which is a better record than the Roar’s at their own ground) and drawing 3. The previous encounter at Suncorp this season ended in a 2-2 draw, with an own goal from Enver Alivodic rescuing a point for Brisbane. The Roar did defeat Newcastle 2-1 at home in Round 27 last season, with a late goal from Lachlan Jackson (now at the Jets) earning the 3 points for Brisbane. It is worth remembering though that the Jets were abysmal in 2014/15.
Victory away also looms as a more daunting task than it would have a few weeks ago, when a disorganised Victory were dismantled 5-0 by Aloisi’s Roar. Muscat’s men will have been lifted by their 2-0 win over the Wanderers on Friday, and a win against a poor Wellington side could have them ready to ambush the Roar – a side they smashed 4-0 at AAMI Park in Round 15. Brisbane will at least have the luxury of knowing how 2 of their main rivals in Adelaide and Melbourne City have ended their seasons (as they play each other on the Friday night) and what they will need to do – if anything – to finish above them.
Adelaide United (3rd) – Sydney away, City away
If Adelaide are to win the Premiers’ Plate, they’ll need to do so away from the comforts of Coopers Stadium with both of their remaining games on the road. Though, as mentioned previously, Adelaide are quite tough to beat away from home.
The Reds would be expected to take 3 points against a Sydney FC team that hasn’t won since Round 15 and is now likely focussing most resources on progressing in the ACL. Adelaide did lose on their previous visit to Allianz Stadium, a 4-1 hammering in last season’s finals series, however they had won on each of their prior 3 trips there (or 4 if we count the FFA Cup win in 2014).
Adelaide have already been defeated twice by City this season, both times at Coopers Stadium, and their most recent away game against the current leaders ended in a 3-1 loss, in Round 19 last campaign. The Reds haven’t found it easy to win in Melbourne against either Victorian side lately, and their previous 6 visits to face City / Heart have resulted in 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats.
Western Sydney Wanderers (4th) – Central Coast home, Wellington away
The Premiership is no longer in the Wanderers’ hands, however with two favourable fixtures remaining they are still a massive chance to finish first.
Unsurprisingly, Western Sydney accounted for the Mariners in the two previous meetings this season (both in Gosford), 2-0 in Round 8 and 2-1 in Round 16. The most recent clash between the teams at Pirtek Stadium resulted in a 0-0 draw, in Round 15 last season. At home the Wanderers haven’t lost to the Mariners since their Grand Final defeat in 2012/13, with 2 goalless draws last season and a pair of 2-0 wins in 2013/14. The Mariners are winless in their last 8 games (7 of which were losses).
Wellington’s form is better than the Mariners’, winning 3 of their last 7 games (and losing the rest). They have proven to be spoilers, beating Sydney, City and of course the Wanderers in that run. Although, as Monday night’s dismal display against City showed, Wellington are capable of playing some really awful football as well. Which Wellington will show up in Round 27? One motivated to send Ben Sigmund out on a high, or one that knows the season is done and that the team is in desperate need of an overhaul?
The Wanderers are yet to travel to New Zealand this season; their last visit was back in December 2014, where they lost 1-0. The other trip to Wellington that season also ended in a 1-0 defeat. Perhaps a small concern for Popovic is that his team has only triumphed once away to the Nix, back in Round 16 of the 2012/13 season when they won 2-0.
Perth Glory (5th) – City home, Sydney away
Perth are an outside chance to take out the Premiership, though stranger things have happened in football. It is remarkable enough that they are locked into the top 6 after a dire start to the season.
At home to City, expect them to score – but will they score more than City and their destructive trio of Mooy, Fornaroli and Novillo? Andy Keogh has scored in each of his last 7 games (8 goals total) to tie Marc Janko’s A-League record for consecutive scoring games. If somehow you don’t already have him, you seriously need to consider bringing in Keogh.
Perth’s record at home against City / Heart is quite strong, with 4 of the last 5 meetings ending in a Glory win (the other being the 2-2 draw from Round 15 this season). City have won only once in Perth, a 2-1 success in Round 12 of the 2011/12 season.
The Glory have already beaten Sydney at Allianz Stadium this season, triumphing 2-1 in Round 19 with goals from Keogh (who else?) and Chris Harold. Perth have won on their last 2 visits to the Sky Blues’ home, both 2-1; prior to that, however, they had not tasted success there since Round 16 of 2008/09 when they won 4-1. In the 7 games between, Perth drew once and lost 6 times at Allianz.
It’s unlikely that Perth will fail to hit the back of the net against Sydney, given that the Glory haven’t been held scoreless since Round 9 and that Sydney haven’t kept a clean sheet since Round 14. Should Keogh score against City he’s every chance of keeping the record run going into the finals.
Melbourne Victory (6th) – Wellington away, Brisbane home
The Victory can’t finish in the top 2 and are all but assured of a finals spot, so there is some risk of them resting players in the last two rounds – especially considering they also have a crunch ACL game against Suwon in South Korea coming up between Rounds 26 and 27.
This is somewhat problematic for Fantasy A-League coaches, given that Victory are the only team that we can almost guarantee will be playing in week 1 of the finals. Gui Finkler and Fahid Ben Khalfallah more than likely won’t be rested given they aren’t part of the ACL squad, but both are having indifferent seasons. Kosta Barbarouses however is, and would have to be a prime candidate to miss the trip to Wellington and / or the Brisbane game.
Victory aren’t as strong on the road as they are at home, losing 6 times outside of Victoria this season – one of those defeats was to Wellington (2-0 in Round 9), albeit in Auckland. The win over Western Sydney would have imbued the Victory with some much needed confidence, but this remains a tricky trip. We also don’t know which Wellington is going to turn up!
Victory’s recent record in Wellington is good, with 4 of the last 5 visits yielding wins – the other being a 5-0 hammering suffered in Round 15 of 2013/14. On paper, Muscat’s men would be expected to take the points there.
Against the Roar in Melbourne, Victory also have a good record – since a 2-0 loss in Round 6 of the 2008/09 season, the Victory have lost just once to the Roar at home (3-0, Round 13 in the 2013/14 season). Of the last 4 games played in Melbourne between the two sides, the Victory have won 3. Victory do seem poised to once again spoil a team’s title charge, much like they did to Western Sydney last Friday.