Only in the A-League can a late rule change confound pundits, players, coaches and fans alike!
As Melbourne Victory closed out another impressive win – this time in the Original Rivalry against Adelaide United – their fans celebrated with New Years gusto at the thought of being top of the table for the New Year.
Someone forgot to tell them (and everyone else, it seems) about some new rules that came into the competition for this season!
At the other end of the table, Victory’s cross-town rivals Western United lost once again. Is the clock ticking on John Aloisi?
All this and more in this week’s A-League Alert!
So, who is leading the A-League?
Had you been watching Melbourne Victory’s 2-0 triumph over Adealide United on Saturday night, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were heading into the New Year sitting on top of the table, courtesy of Wellington Phoenix’s 3-1 loss at the hands of Sydney FC.
Victory’s win saw them match Wellington’s 20 points after 10 games, and as is the norm almost everywhere else in the world, it was assumed that Victory would sit top thanks to their superior goal difference.
That’s certainly what the commentators and analysts thought.
However, a tweet from a parody account on X – which ironically impersonates Wellington Phoenix Coach Giancarlo Italiano – pointed out a strange new rule:
Turns out in the A-League, it’s the number of wins a team has that is counted before goal difference in ascertaining who sits above who when two teams have the same number of points, and in this case, Wellington’s six wins surpasses Victory’s five.
The reality is, however, that it really is a case of splitting hairs at this point in the season.
Both Victory and Wellington have had seasons to be proud of, given the context of their past 12 months.
Wellington entered the season with a new, seemingly no-name coach in Italiano. A coach with plenty of experience as an assistant and certainly well-liked by his peers, but without any professiona head coaching experience.
Victory endured a torrid season last year, completely sabotaging themselves with poor recruitment and seemingly worse management. Credit to Tony Popovic – he’s completely turned it around.
Whilst Zinedine Machach is a player who blows hot and cold, there’s no denying his hot is off the charts in the A-League. He’s simply unplayably on his day.
His form has been crucial to Victory’s ascension to the (almost) summit.
Victory and Phoenix represent two very different footbaling heritages and styles. Wellington under Italiano looks a side that can get the job done in a variety of ways, whether it’s playing on the front foot or counter-punching their opponents, whereas this Victory side is a team very much moulded in Popovic’s image.
Extremely disciplined at the back, but fluid in transition and devastating when the space is to be found. Question marks remain about how they go about breaking down a set and disciplined defence – such as the one Wellingon presented when they beat Victory 1-0 earler in the season.
It will also be interesting to see how Victory cope without top scorer Bruno Fornaroli, who departs the club to form part of Australia’s Asia Cup campaign for the next month.
Whilst we wait and see how the season pans out, there’s little denying that these two sides will be big protagonists at the business end of the season.
One player who won’t be departing our shores for the Asia Cup is long-time Socceroo striker and Melbourne City star Jamie Maclaren.
And boy, isn’t he letting us know about it.
By his own lofty standard, Maclaren was not quite having the goalscoring season he and City have become acustomed to.
Before City’s 8-1 drubbing of Brisbane Roar on Friday night, he had just four goals in nine games.
Another hat-trick later, and Maclaren is upm to equal second on the scoring charts, with seven in 10 games.
It’s also worth noting that in his last outing for the Australian national side, Maclaren scored a hat-trick.
Still, with a pressing deadline and the naturalised Fornaroli in magnificent goalscoring form compared to Maclaren’s slow start, Socceroos coach Graham Arnold opted for the Victory forward over City’s star man.
The decision highlighted the cut-throat nature of international selection, and whilst I’m sure Maclaren will wish nothing but the best for his country at the Asian Cup, it’s clear that he feels like he merited his spot.
His hat-trick for City may have been too little, too late for his international hopes, but it’s a clear warning to the A-League competition. With a renewed fire in his belly, Maclaren is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
Best of all for City, he’ll be remaining in the competition, where many of the league’s other best players – Victory’s Fornaroli included – will be away.
City have ground to make up, and Maclaren is the perfect striker to help them, particularly if team-mate Marin Jakolis, can build on the creative display he put on against Brisbane, where he laid on two assists.
Jakolis leads the competition for assists and has seven so far this season, including four in his last five games.
Adelaide United v Wellington Phoenix
Adelaide United need to start finding wins – and fast. Despite sitting atop of the table, Wellington have looked a team that in moments can throw games away. The problem for their opponents is that they are usually able to scrape through their worst moments to get a win. As the table shows, they don’t draw often, so it’s hard to tip this one as a draw. Wellington are playing much better away from home this season than they usually would, so whilst this is a tough game to tip, I’m backing the Phoenix.
Macarthur v Newcastle Jets
It feels like every game in the A-League is a tough game to tip, and this one is perhaps the hardest one of the lot. The two have identical from over the last six games in terms of results, the difference is that whilst they’ve both lost three games, all three of Macarthur’s losses have come in the last three rounds. Newcastle enjoyed a good win over Western United last week, but winning away at Macarthur – even a Macarthur side in poor form – is a very different proposition.
Western Sydney Wanderers v Central Coast Mariners
Western Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast Marienrs have both shown good form in recent weeks, making this another exciting clash for the neutral. Central Coast are clearly the side in the stronger form, however, and they have not lost in their last six games. In fact, they’ve scored 19 goals in that run, meaning that if Western Sydney are to have any chance, they’re going to need to find a way to blunt this razor sharp offence.
Brisbane Roar v Sydney FC
Brisbane Roar are in a low moment after such a promosing start to the season. Their 8-1 defeat against Melbourne City last week set all the wrong records for the club, following the shock departure of their former Head Coach, Ross Aloisi. His replacement has been confirmed as Ben Cahn – an internal promotion from within the club who has exceptional body of work in the National Premier Leagues (Australia’s state-leagues) and he’d love to start his time at the club off with a big win over Sydney FC. Frankly, it’s a big ask of Cahn first up, as Sydney FC look to be finding their feet under Ufuk Talay.
Perth Glory v Melbourne Victory
Perth Glory have not had much go right for them this season, but if there was a time to play Melbourne Victory, it would surely be on the end of one of the biggest plane rides the league has to offer without their main goalscoring threat in Bruno Fornaroli. Hard to see past Victory, but if I had to pick the best chance for an upset this week, it’d be in Perth.
Western United v Melbourne City
Western United need a miracle to repeat their herocis from earlier in the season that saw them defeat Melbourne CIty. They have won just once in their last six games, whilst City has only lost once, and are coming off a record-breaking 8-1 thrashing of Brisbane Roar. They are without Azie Behich, who leaves to form part of the Socceroos squad, wadding to a lengthy injury list that already incldues Andrew Nabbout and Mathew Leckie. Still, hard to see anyone other than City winning this one.
Adelaide United v Wellington Phoenix – Wellington to win
Macarthur v Newcastle Jets – Macarthur to win
Western Sydney Wanderers v Central Coast Mariners – Central Coast to win
Brisbane Roar v Sydney FC – Sydney FC to win
Perth Glory v Melbourne Victory – Perth Glory to win
Western United v Melbourne City – Melbourne City to win