Jonathan Howcroft

Author's posts

Dec 09

A-League: Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC – as it happened

Sydney FC thrash Western Sydney Wanderers 5-0Adrian scores twice in player-of-the-match performanceSky Blues move eight-points clear at the top of the A-League 11.00am GMT The Sydney derby rarely disappoints and this magical fixture turned on the style…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/live/2017/dec/09/a-league-western-sydney-wanderers-v-sydney-fc-live

Nov 21

FFA Cup final 2017: Sydney FC beat Adelaide United – as it happened

Sydney FC beat Adelaide United 2-1 after extra timeSky Blues complete clean sweep of domestic silverwareMichael Marrone sent off after knocking over ball boy 11.41am GMT Related: Sydney FC’s FFA Cup triumph marred by melee after ball boy pushed over …

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/live/2017/nov/21/ffa-cup-final-2017-sydney-fc-v-adelaide-united-live

Oct 08

Newcastle off to a flier as Central Coast preseason’s fantasies prove short-lived | Jonathan Howcroft

Led by their creative trio, the impressive Newcastle turned their new coach’s tactics board into a counterattacking clinicThere’s something life-affirming about the giddiness that precedes the opening round of the season. The “it’s got to be our year!”…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/oct/09/newcastle-off-to-a-flier-as-central-coasts-preseason-fantasies-prove-short-lived

Oct 05

A-League: off-season recruitment augurs well for new season

Despite war between clubs and FFA and a summer full of big sporting events, A-League fans have much to look forward to

If the turmoil wasn’t so familiar it would be tempting to regard the 13th instalment of the A-League as cursed. On the eve of the new season clubs are at war with the governing body (again), the Socceroos are shredding nerves in a World Cup playoff (again), and the once clearish air of midsummer will be tested like never before with an Ashes series, an ascendant Big Bash League and the nascent AFLW competing for attention. Fortunately, the on-field product promises to be robust following one of the smartest off-seasons of player recruitment yet.

The season kicks off tonight with Melbourne City hosting Brisbane Roar at AAMI Park. City will be without Tim Cahill, who 12-months ago was almost single-handedly responsible for any hype around the competition. This time around he will be recovering from the first leg of Australia’s AFC playoff against Syria in Melaka and preparing for the vital second leg in Sydney on Tuesday.

Related: A-League 2017-18 season preview part one: the teams bubbling under

Related: A-League 2017-18 season preview part two: the outside chances | Jonathan Howcroft

Related: A-League 2017-18 season preview part three: the title contenders | Jonathan Howcroft

Related: Next Generation 2017: 60 of the best young talents in world football

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/oct/06/a-league-off-season-recruitment-augers-well-for-new-season

Oct 04

A-League 2017-18 season preview part three: the title contenders | Jonathan Howcroft

It’s the third and final instalment of our A-League season preview – AKA the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it edition. There’s no prizes for guessing which teams we reckon should be challenging for the championship and premiership during the 2017-18 campaign, with another Sydney FC vs Melbourne Victory ding-dong on the horizon.

Related: A-League 2017-18 season preview part two: the outside chances | Jonathan Howcroft

Related: Tony Popovic quits Western Sydney Wanderers on eve of A-League season

Related: A-League 2017-18 season preview part one: the teams bubbling under

Related: David Squires on … the governance crisis threatening Australian football

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/oct/05/a-league-2017-18-season-preview-part-three-the-title-contenders

Oct 03

A-League 2017-18 season preview part two: the outside chances | Jonathan Howcroft

The second of our team-by-team guides looks at three sides with bags of talent but hamstrung by obvious frailtiesPart one: the teams bubbling underIns: Mitch Nichols (Wanderers), Scott Neville (Wanderers), Jacob Poscoliero (Mariners), Jake Brimmer (Liv…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/oct/04/a-league-2017-18-season-preview-part-two-the-outside-chances

Oct 02

A-League 2017-18 preview part one: the teams bubbling under

Our team-by-team guide to the new season kicks off with the four sides least likely to make the finals this year

Wellington, Central Coast, Adelaide and Newcastle – if you support any of these teams you probably think what follows is a stitch-up or further evidence of some kind of bias. And the truth is, they could all equally go on to make the top four; this is Australian football we’re talking about after all, a universe about as reliable as a Trump administration spokesperson.

Yet there also happens to be some logic behind the decision to include them. This quartet occupied the bottom four spots on last year’s ladder, three of them have been hanging around there for the past two seasons, a pair of them for the last three years, and in the case of the Jets, seven seasons on the trot. So, while each can look forward to improved efforts, they still have plenty of ground to make up on sides above them.

Related: Tony Popovic quits Western Sydney Wanderers on eve of A-League season

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/oct/03/a-league-2017-18-preview-part-one-the-teams-bubbling-under

Jul 13

Sydney FC 0-2 Arsenal: Lacazette scores in pre-season friendly – as it happened

Goals from Per Mertesacker and Alexandre Lacazette gave the Gunners victory on their tour match at the ANZ Stadium

1.02pm BST

Job done then at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. Arsenal will face much tougher opponents in the next few months, but they looked very sharp for a first hitout.

Coquelin, Nelson and Ozil stood out in the first half in which all Arsenal’s players did their bit. Wayward final balls and the absence of a strong presence in the box meant the scoreboard never fully reflected the balance of play, but this isn’t the first or last time you’re going to read that about Arsene Wenger’s side.

12.55pm BST

A good night for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. Full house, strong performance and a debut goal for Alexandre Lacazette.

12.49pm BST

88 min: In a match that mattered Arsenal may well have howled louder for a penalty as Oxlade-Chamberlain hit the turf, but they’ll settle for a corner. That move the end product of another raking pass from the back. A noticeable change of approach between halves for Wenger, neat and central in the first half, direct and wide in the second.

12.48pm BST

87 min: 2-0 still flatters Sydney but they’re still plugging away, winning a corner and then almost fashioning a chance after it’s swung into the box.

12.45pm BST

That’ll do. Debut goal for Alexandre Lacazette. Swift attack down the right hand side, Lacazette times his run into the box to perfection to sidefoot home from eight yards. Exactly the kind of finish Arsenal have lacked all night. All about the timing of the run, no chance of marking that kind of movement.

12.42pm BST

81 min: Talking earlier about players maybe carrying an ounce or two of extra timber – Oliver Giroud doesn’t look as mobile as the rest of his teammates. Lacazette is one of those and he shows some nice footwork to buy a free-kick on the corner of the box. It comes to nought.

12.40pm BST

79 min: Ooooh, corner on the right for Arsenal and it’s clipped onto the post by Nketiah, lovely effort from the young substitute. Not long afterwards the ball pings around the Sydney box but the home side just about do enough to smuggle it clear.

12.38pm BST

77 min: The latest clip in Redmayne’s showreel comes courtesy of a diving save to push Oxlade-Chamberlain’s free kick away towards the corner flag.

12.37pm BST

75 min: Iwobi again with the chance, shooting from a narrow angle into the remarkable Redmayne. Where the first half was all possession and incisive through-balls, this half has been rapid, direct counterattacks. Still, only the one scrappy goal from a corner to show for it.

12.35pm BST

73 min: of the subs, Iwobi has been the brightest, operating to the right of the forward line and looking like he has a point to prove.

12.32pm BST

70 min: Lacazette, wearing the number 9 shirt is doing his best to get involved, dropping deep linking play, allowing fellow sub Giroud to lead the line.

12.29pm BST

68 min: I think that was all ten outfield subs for Arsenal. All you really need to know is Alexandre Lacazette is now on the field. What will he reveal in the final 20 minutes or so?

12.28pm BST

67 min: Saves at both ends, Redmayne’s routine, Martinez’s a bit tastier to keep out Lokolingoy.

An avalanche of subs on the way…

12.26pm BST

65 min: Decent spell for Sydney, fashioning some decent field position without creating a clear chance.

More subs: Iredale and Green on for Carney and Ryall for Sydney.

12.23pm BST

62 min: Not as many subs as you might expect. Lacazette still going through his paces, no sign he’s making an appearance any time soon.

12.22pm BST

60 min: And that man Redmayne’s at it again. Arsenal have had more joy down the left than the right this half and from that source Walcott enjoys time and space in the box but he can’t beat the diving yellow-clad superhero.

12.21pm BST

58 mins: This is probably Andrew Redmayne’s best ever game. A journeyman A-League benchwarmer turned one-man army. Well done young man.

12.17pm BST

Redmayne dives low to his right and keeps out Welbeck’s firmly struck spot kick. Cliche klaxon – it was a nice height for the keeper – but it was still a good effort from the Sydney stopper.

Justice!

12.16pm BST

And it’s a howler! Seb Ryall dived across to make a miraculous save as Walcott looked set to tap the ball into an empty net. For some reason Shaun Evans points to the spot, presumably thinking the ball hit the sliding defender’s hand, but it smacked into his back!

12.13pm BST

53 min: Redmayne again called into action, this time repelling Bramall’s volley.

12.12pm BST

52 min: Sydney have their second decent opportunity of the match, sub Zuvela shooting sharply from just inside the box, forcing Martinez into a smart save low to his left. Zuvela, by the way, is a big Arsenal fan, he shaves his legs the morning of each game, and his last meal would be lobster mornay. Now you know.

12.10pm BST

50 min: First decent chance of the half falls to Nelson after he’s picked out by Ozil’s panache. His shot is deflected, leading to the latest in a series of dangerous corners. That’s somehow cleared but Arsenal continue to press resulting in Walcott firing over when he should hit the target.

12.08pm BST

48 min: Really just on Lacazette watch now as the second half begins in pedestrian fashion, I’ll keep you updated.

Arsenal sub – Martinez on for Cech.

12.07pm BST

The disjointed second half has begun.

12.06pm BST

The second half is almost upon us, which means the cavlcade of substitutions is about to begin.

Sydney FC get us underway with a couple – youngsters Kuleski and Zuvela on for the more senior Zullo and Brosque.

12.04pm BST

A little bit on Reiss Nelson here – definitely worth the hype, based on one half of a preseason friendly against a sluggish Australian team.

Related: Next Generation 2016: 20 of the best talents at Premier League clubs

12.02pm BST

So it’s @mertesacker‘s goal that gives us the lead at half-time – but which player has impressed you most?#ArsenalinSydney pic.twitter.com/Y8fBKWlAZj

Nelson, Coquelin and Ozil for mine.

11.54am BST

One for State of Origin fans:

@JPHowcroft Second night in a row a NSW team has failed to do the basics right. This is going to get messy

11.50am BST

Arsenal dominated from whistle to whistle but only have one goal to show for it. Plenty of positive signs for Arsene Wenger though, not least the lively Reiss Nelson on the right hand side.

11.47am BST

44 min: Walcott accelerates from his marker and shoots from range, but it’s a scuffed dribbler. That final ball and shot letting Arsenal down on what has been an otherwise excellent showing.

11.45am BST

42 min: The timing of Arsenal’s runners is beautiful to watch. Both the run and the weight of the pass in behind has been spot on time after time, allowing Arsenal to turn Sydney’s defenders and threaten in the final third.

Willock the latest to force a save from Redmayne after a slaloming run through the middle of the park.

11.43am BST

39 min: Sydney have enjoyed a decent couple of minutes since that unexpected chance, retaining possession and forcing Arsenal back into their own half. Graham Arnold is growing visibly frustrated on the touchline though at the volume of errant passes.

11.41am BST

11.39am BST

35 min: Hang on! Out of nowhere Josh Brillante breaks the lines and darts past Mertersacker, forcing Cech into a good save low to his right. The rebound just forces Simon wider than he wanted and he fires the second chance into the side netting.

Arsenal go down the other end and force Redmayne into a couple of sharp stops.

11.36am BST

31 min: Big cheer for Alexandre Lacazette, um, warming up. He could still score a dozen in the second half mind you, Arsenal bossing this. Nelson again looking the business but his Ronaldo-like dazzling feet can’t fashion an opening.

11.33am BST

29 min: Another half-chance for Arsenal with Welbeck seeing his shot blocked after some incisive passing through the centre of the field. The pressure continues though and a Walcott drive forces a fumbly save from Redmayne at his near post. The resulting corner again causes mayhem in the Sky Blue box but Bielik can’t convert.

11.31am BST

27 min: Not a lot for Sydney to shout about so far. Last season was built on forcing turnovers high up the field but they just don’t stand a chance of getting Arsenal in their half. Coming out from the back the front two are isolated, slowing the game to walking pace just to retain possession.

11.27am BST

23 min: This is men against boys stuff despite the scoreline only showing one goal between the sides. Arsenal have looked very sharp for a first hitout, nipping into challenges with purpose and shifting the ball easily. The final pass remains a problem though, Walcott the latest offender.

11.24am BST

21 min: Another corner, another soft chance for Arsenal, Bielik this time. Quickly followed by a break down the left and a ball across the edge of the six yard box that’s just cut out by Jordy Buijs.

11.22am BST

19 min: Coquelin is another Arsenal player to have started brightly. His reading of the game to break up play and instigate counterattacks has stood out. From one such moment Nelson again shows his promise, jinking one way then the other before opting to pass when a shot was on.

11.20am BST

16 min: Almost a second for Arsenal. Reiss Nelson is a handful on the right hand side and he wriggles his way into the box only for Welbeck to take over and see his shot deflected wide. From the ensuing corner Walcott almost doubles the lead as Sydney again fail to defend confidently.

11.17am BST

14 min: Anyway, back to the live action, you haven’t missed much but Sydney are starting to get a foothold but they’re unable to string any passes together. The game already at walking pace.

11.16am BST

I knew I’d heard of this somewhere before – there’s even video evidence!

11.15am BST

A correction of sorts on Arsenal’s history in Australia.

@JPHowcroft Last time Arsenal were in Oz was 1988. I was there. https://t.co/deSVDiEle8 Rocastle,Thomas, Lukic, Smith, Davis, etc @guardian

11.13am BST

9 min: This could be a cricket score. Welbeck and Walcott are stretching Sydney’s defence like that gloopy sticky stuff you threw at the walls in school only for it to get covered in lint and lose its adhesiveness. Bramall and Nelson are the primary beneficiaries but the final pass is just lacking for now.

11.11am BST

7 min: Arsenal knocking the ball around like a training drill, building from the back, Kolašinac taking plenty of responsibility to bring the ball out. Further forward Sydney are chasing shadows, all Arsenal’s attacking players finding space and looking purposeful.

11.08am BST

Eurgh, that is ugly for Sydney FC. An Ozil corner is not dealt with and in the ensuing scramble the giant praying mantis Mertersacker smuggles the ball beyond Redmayne. Very very soft way to open proceedings here.

11.07am BST

3 min: First shot on target is a speculative long range effort from Welbeck. Arsenal settling into their passing nicely, Nelson and Bramall offering dynamism on the flanks.

11.05am BST

1 min: It takes just 40 second for Arsenal to carve open Sydney’s defence. Lovely work down the left from new boy Kolašinac creates a shooting opportunity for Walcott but it’s blocked.

11.04am BST

Arsenal, kicking from left to right for those playing along at home, get us underway.

11.02am BST

Out they come; Sydney in their recently released all-sky blue uniform (currently without a sponsor, which is a tad disappointing), Arsenal in their third strip of all black with fluro pink trim.

The referee tonight is one of Australia’s full-time refs, Shaun Evans.

10.59am BST

Not long to go before kick off now. Way more red and white in the olympic stadium than sky blue. It’s vital the A-League figures out a way of converting these football fans who have affiliations overseas into engaged supporters of local teams.

10.46am BST

TONIGHT’S blockbuster is officially a SELLOUT! The seats are filling up ahead of warm ups here!! #SydneyIsSkyBlue #ArsenalinSydney pic.twitter.com/OtHOrrrPcq

10.44am BST

The last time Arsenal were in Australia was for the World of Soccer Cup in 1977. This was a four-way tournament featuring an Australian XI, Red Star Belgrade, and eventual winners Celtic. It would be the last trophy won by Jock Stein in club football.

Terry Neill’s squad for that trip: Rimmer, Rice, Nelson, Powling, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Hudson, Macdonald, Stapleton, Armstrong, Rix, Mathews.

10.43am BST

You may notice a similarity between Sydney FC’s coach, Graham Arnold, and Bill Murray’s portrayal of the Wes Anderson character Steve Zissou. If you hadn’t, you now can’t unsee it.

10.39am BST

The Sky Blues starting XI is around half-strength from the settled side that dominated the last A-League season.

Arsenal’s centre-halves will be delighted the combative Matt Simon is starting up front – he will test the ‘friendly’ nature of this exhibition.

LINEUP | Here’s how we shape up for our first pre-season clash v @premierleague giants @Arsenal! Thoughts? #SydneyIsSkyBlue #ArsenalinSydney pic.twitter.com/Nwkei46UlU

10.37am BST

The headline news is Lacazette will begin on the pine, which is a bit of a shame.

There’s an early look at Bosnian international Sead Kolašinac who will start on the left of a back three as Wenger persists with the formation that Antonio Conte so successfully trolled the Premier League with last season. Cohen Bramall, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock all make their senior debuts.

The teams are in – let’s do this, lads #ArsenalinSydney pic.twitter.com/qkxL7NtJto

10.36am BST

10.33am BST

We meet again. Just 47 days since Arsenal brought the curtain down on a turbulent campaign by lifting the FA Cup, the Gunners are in action again.

Arsene Wenger’s 21st preseason in charge begins against Sydney FC at a sold out ANZ Stadium. It may seem like the first and most insignificant step in a marathon of a season to residents of N7, but to Australian-based Arsenal fans this is their first opportunity in 40 years to see their heroes in action.

2.06am BST

Jonathan will be here shortly. One man who isn’t in Sydney tonight is Alexis Sánchez, the want-away striker who hasn’t travelled to Australia amid something of a transfer standoff. Have a read of David Hytner’s analysis of that particular situation:

Related: Arsenal, Alexis Sánchez and the question of who will blink first

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/live/2017/jul/13/sydney-fc-v-arsenal-pre-season-friendly-live

Jun 18

Big-money Aaron Mooy move sets alarm bells ringing in A-League | Jonathan Howcroft

Manchester City will bank what is set to be an Australian record transfer fee as pure profit after they signed the midfielder for nothing from Melbourne City

The City Football Academy in Melbourne’s north is one of the most impressive sporting amenities in Australia. Architecturally, the complex funnels the attention of staff towards the training ground, as a permanent reminder of the site’s purpose. Those pitches use state of the art hybrid grass technology and their most recent occupants included Lionel Messi, with Argentina using the centre as a training base for the recent SuperClàsico. The facility cost its owners, the City Football Group (CFG), $15m. For context, they acquired City’s A-League licence for $11.25m.

On a tour of the centre shortly after it opened I was taken from the reception atrium into the inner sanctum. One of the first things to emerge behind the security doors was the communal lounge where staff and players ate lunch and played video games. In the corner of the room a noisy table tennis contest was taking place. Among the participants was Aaron Mooy.

Related: ‘We want to win it, mate’: Postecoglou aims high at Confederations Cup

Related: David Squires on … a busy week for Australian football and aeronautics enthusiasts

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/jun/19/likely-big-money-aaron-mooy-move-sets-alarm-bells-ringing-in-a-league

Apr 23

Melbourne City’s desperately timid ending is a microcosm of their slump | Jonathan Howcroft

Six wins in 20 games tells its own story, but even those damning numbers hide constipated play and an uncertainty in tactics and selection

Perth Glory and Brisbane Roar progressed from contrasting elimination finals to move within one game of the A-League championship decider, but it was Melbourne City’s abject capitulation against the former that grew into the story of the weekend. Uncertain in possession, apathetic without the ball, the home side looked overawed by the occasion at AAMI Park. It was a desperately timid end to a campaign that could hardly have begun with greater fanfare.

Related: Perth Glory post rare away win to move within a game of A-League grand final

Related: Brisbane Roar knock Wanderers out of A-League finals on penalties

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/apr/24/melbourne-citys-desperately-timid-ending-is-a-microcosm-of-their-slump

Apr 16

A-League premiers plate proves Graham Arnold to be an oblique strategist | JP Howcroft

There is nothing much left to say about Sydney FC’s winningest A-League season, but Graham Arnold’s methods are worthy of unconventional appraisal

Congratulations Sydney FC. The runaway premiers enjoyed the first of what should be two presentation ceremonies this season on Saturday, hoisting the premiers plate aloft after a typically methodical dismantling of Newcastle Jets.

It’s good manners in moments like this to laud the best team in a competition, especially one a record margin ahead of its nearest challenger. But what more is there to say about the winningest team in an A-League season that hasn’t been said already? We’ve talked up the coach, drooled over the marquee No10, and marvelled at the collective ability to seize the moment. Anything else you care to factor into Sydney’s peerless achievement has been raised somewhere between October and now during the 27 unbroken weeks the Sky Blues have topped the ladder.

Related: A-League: 16 goals as Glory beat City and Brisbane pip Wellington

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/apr/17/a-league-premiers-plate-proves-graham-arnold-to-be-an-oblique-strategist

Apr 02

Western Sydney emerge as unlikely title contenders with Antonis pulling strings | Jonathan Howcroft

Heading into the finals, the Wanderers are the only team with both the current form and the head-to-head record to suggest Sydney FC can be stopped

Only Sydney FC have picked up more A-League points than Western Sydney Wanderers since Terry Antonis first appeared on one of Tony Popovic’s teamsheets. The three points earned in Newcastle on Saturday keep the Wanderers in the hunt for an Asian Champions League qualification spot, a remarkable turnaround after winning only two of their opening 15 matches.

The Bankstown-born Antonis, on loan from Greek Superleague side PAOK, is not the only variable to factor into the Wanderers’ upturn in fortunes. The anguine Vedran Janjetović has corrected a glaring pre-season oversight in goal, while Brendon Santalab’s finishing has deserved the many headlines. But it’s Antonis’s role greasing the wheels in between that has provided the platform for the Wanderers to emerge as an unlikely championship contender.

Related: Canberra City: a blueprint for current A-League expansion hopefuls | Joe Gorman

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/apr/03/western-sydney-emerge-as-unlikely-title-contenders-with-antonis-pulling-strings

Mar 19

Melbourne City give reminder that for football to flourish it has to entertain | Jonathan Howcroft

Watching City briefly reach a level comparable to last season brought home how many A-League teams have stagnated or declined year on year

On Saturday night, a funny thing happened: Melbourne City entertained their home crowd for a full 90 minutes. The 4-0 rout of Newcastle Jets was only the second time City have scored more than twice at AAMI Park this season and the first occasion they’ve won at home by more than a single goal.

Related: A-League: Tim Cahill sparks Melbourne City rout of Jets

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/mar/20/melbourne-city-give-reminder-that-for-football-to-flourish-it-has-to-entertain

Mar 05

Graham Arnold the architect builds impressive Sydney FC machine | Jonathan Howcroft

The Sky Blues coach deserves credit not only for his tactics but also his squad-assembling after his side effectively secured the A-League’s Premiers’ Plate

The best team in the A-League defeated the second-best on Friday night to, barring the most spectacular of late-season implosions, confirm the destination of the Premiers’ Plate. The premiers-elect have won the most games this season, scoring the most goals and conceding the fewest along the way. The latest win was the third time in 18 weeks Sydney FC have overcome Melbourne Victory.

Related: A-League: Bobo strike seals Sydney FC victory in Big Blue

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/mar/06/graham-arnold-the-architect-builds-impressivel-sydney-fc-machine

Feb 12

A-League is providing the thrills, but FFA’s inertia is cause for serious concern

A-League should be gearing up for all-action climax to the season, but the absence of hype is demoralising and momentum is being lost

Living near Australia’s east coast, the first thing I do in a morning is pour myself a steaming hot mug of bias. This fuels the daily search for A-League news, which consists of an exhaustive trawl through sources from Victoria all the way to New South Wales. But today, to my surprise, I was confronted by a disturbance in the force, the unavoidable presence of Perth Glory.

Under the cloak of west coast anonymity Glory have won four of their past six matches to move level on points with fourth-placed Melbourne City, just two behind next week’s visitors to nib Stadium and occupants of the third and final Asian Champions League qualification spot, Brisbane Roar. During this run Glory have scored at least twice in every match, culminating in the season’s biggest shellacking on Friday night.

Related: A-League: Castro nets twice as Perth Glory thrash Adelaide

Related: Sydney FC looking like A-League Invincibles after emphatic Phoenix win

Related: Depleted Melbourne City come back to earn draw against Brisbane Roar

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/feb/13/a-league-is-providing-the-thrills-but-ffas-inertia-is-cause-for-serious-concern

Jan 22

Sydney FC’s premiership procession rolls on while A-League falters

In a season for the true believers, the A-League delivered a round full of certainties, but there is a fine line between dependable and boring

Good old dependable A-League, there when we need it most. While a skittish world fixated on events in Washington D.C. Australia’s professional football league delivered a comforting round full of certainties.

Sydney FC won (of course), Adelaide United and Central Coast Mariners lost (as they’ve become accustomed to) and Melbourne Victory continued their miserable run of form against Perth Glory (now eight games without a win). There was an unjust game-changing red card, Liam Reddy saved another penalty, and Kenny Lowe rattled off enough post-match zingers to warrant his own Netflix stand-up special. Sweet reassuring familiarity.

Related: David Squires on … fan behaviour at the Sydney derby

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/jan/23/sydney-fcs-premiership-procession-rolls-on-while-a-league-falters

Jan 08

Michael Valkanis dressed for success on Melbourne City coaching debut | Jonathan Howcroft

The caretaker boss ditched his tracksuit as he took his bow in charge of City against Western Sydney – and the symbolism was impossible to ignore

Given the opportunity, would you be a tracksuit or a business suit football manager? This dilemma used to be a schoolyard staple, and I can recall arguing the relative merits of the unkempt groundsman look of Brian Clough, a man of the people in his green sweater, compared to say the aristocratic tailoring of George Graham, stiff-backed and dapper, on a state of permanent readiness for a royal visit.

A University of Portsmouth research team published a paper in the International Journal of Sport Psychology in 2010 investigating the competing merits of the two sartorial approaches on football teams. The lead researcher, Dr Richard Thelwell, revealed: “We have found that the clothing that coaches wear can have a direct effect on the players’ perceptions of the coach’s ability.

Related: Defenders shine for Melbourne City in victory over Western Sydney

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/jan/09/michael-valkanis-dressed-for-success-after-melbourne-city-coaching-debut

Dec 11

Melbourne Victory’s football made at times to look elegant in its simplicity | Jonathan Howcroft

The neatest build up play, dominance of possession and tactical nuance is irrelevant without a killer pass at the end of it

For the second time in a month Tony Popovic won the tactical battle against Kevin Muscat but lost the war. Two 3-0 scorelines in five rounds against the same opponent indicates a gulf in class, but in both encounters Western Sydney Wanderers enjoyed more possession, attempted more shots, and appeared the side in greater control of the mid-pitch exchanges. But history is written by the winners, and Melbourne Victory’s ruthless efficiency in front of goal is a story worth telling.

It’s a tale that will deservedly focus on Besart Berisha. The Albanian is the most decisive player in A-League history. At Brisbane Roar and now at Victory he has set a peerless goalscoring pace. On Saturday night he bagged a perfect hat-trick, one with his left foot, one with his right, and one with his head. It’s that header that excited me the most.

Related: Besart Berisha puts Wanderers to the sword, new Nix era starts brightly

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/dec/12/melbourne-victorys-football-made-at-times-to-look-elegant-in-its-simplicity

Nov 13

Can the real Wanderers please stand up: Western Sydney facing identity crisis | Jonathan Howcroft

This season’s team may sport the same crest on their shirts, but that’s about all they have in common with the side Tony Popovic created four years ago

Almost from day one Western Sydney Wanderers assumed a distinctive identity. Thanks to Tony Popovic the red and black hoops quickly came to represent hard work, organisation and resilience. Shinji Ono shone as a marquee playmaker but even he bought into Popovic’s mission. “We work tirelessly on our formation and our defence, and that all comes out of his mind,” the Japanese international said in 2013.

In their first A-League season the Wanderers conceded the fewest goals in the competition. The following year they conquered Asia through sheer bloody mindedness. This season’s squad may sport the same crest, but that’s about all they have in common.

Related: Debutant Max Beister seals Melbourne Victory win over Western Sydney

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/nov/14/can-the-real-wanderers-please-stand-up-western-sydney-facing-identity-crisis

Nov 06

The Big Blue: strutting alpha clubs in battle of wills as much as football | Jonathan Howcroft

The game was always going to be the first major test of Sydney FC’s campaign – one they passed – while it feels like Melbourne Victory’s season is yet to begin

Immediately after full-time, the post-match analysis of Saturday’s Big Blue began with a dissection of Rhyan Grant’s absent-mindedness in the buildup to Melbourne Victory’s goal. Shortly afterwards Sydney FC’s right-back was deservedly named the man of the match. It was a topsy-turvy night.

It was as much a battle of wills as it was football. A pair of strutting alpha clubs and their headstrong coaches refusing to take a backward step in an interstate pissing contest. But what at times may have seemed like posturing and hot air mattered nonetheless.

Related: David Carney double gets Sydney FC past Victory, Krishna fires Phoenix

Related: FFA to review pitchside equipment after Michael Zullo’s table collision

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/nov/07/the-big-blue-strutting-alpha-clubs-in-battle-of-wills-as-much-as-football