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Australian Column: Champions of Asia, David Villa departs & more

A brand new feature on this website is the introduction of weekly & fortnightly columns focusing on various leagues, countries and regions across the World. Andrew Cussen documents the latest talking points in Australian football.


This past weekend saw eight of the ten Hyundai A-League sides take to the pitch in action, while the Western Sydney Wanderers played the second leg of their Asian Champions League final. The top three continue to show why they are where they are, but what other talking points were there from this round of A-League action?

Western Sydney, Champions of Asia

The Western Sydney Wanderers are a no frills football team; there is no flash for the sake of it, and they are unashamedly all about churning out results. And that is exactly what they did this past weekend as the Wanderers fought and scrapped for a goalless draw that saw them crowned the best club side in Asian football.

Leading 1-0 after a Tomi Juric goal in the first leg, Western Sydney protected that lead with everything they had – they registered just one shot on target while their opponents Al-Hilal had 22 efforts in total. The Wanderers’ gameplan is not overly complicated but it is clearly effective. Despite only having 30.5% possession over two legs, a stout defence and some luck saw them lift the Champions League trophy, the first Australian club to do so. They will now face Mexican side Cruz Azul in the Club World Cup in December.

Arnold outfoxes his protégé

Graham Arnold’s Sydney FC defeated Phil Moss’ Central Coast Mariners 2-0 on Sunday afternoon, a match which saw Arnold pitted against his former assistant in Moss. The duo lead the Mariners to their only Grand Final win in 2013, but Arnold was lured south by the Sky Blues during the offseason, after a brief stint in Japan with Vegalta Sendai. It was during this time in Japan where Moss took charge of the Mariners, guiding them to a third place finish and preliminary final appearance last season.

Arnold enjoys a reputation as one of the league’s smarter operators and he has proved why in successive weeks. A 2-0 win over possession heavy Brisbane last week with only 30% of the ball was followed by a 2-0 over the Mariners this weekend, where Sydney dictated play against a more defensive outfit. Sydney scored in the 21st and then 25th minutes to effectively kill the game off, and Moss was left unable to change things to significantly trouble his former mentor. Sydney now lie joint-top in the table.

Important wins for Adelaide and Melbourne Victory

Along with Sydney, Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory made up last week’s top three and thanks to wins this weekend, they stay there for another week. Adelaide United defeated Melbourne City 2-1 on Friday night despite conceding an eighth minute goal to former Leicester and Leeds defender Patrick Kisnorbo. The goal came from a set piece, the area where United’s defence appears to be most vulnerable.

But the Reds rallied to equalise through a stunning goal from Bruce Djite, who headed home a pacey cross from fullback Tarek Elrich, a candidate for the league’s most improved player in the opening four rounds. 19 year old Bruce Kamau came off the bench in the second half and won United a penalty when he was tripped up by City goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne. Adelaide’s star playmaker Marcelo Carrusca stepped up and slammed the spot kick home to give the Reds three valuable points.

Melbourne Victory hosted Wellington Phoenix on Monday night in what is becoming an annual pre-Melbourne Cup fixture. The Tuesday is a public holiday in Victoria and with no work the next day, over 23,000 saw the Victory win 2-0 thanks to goals from Gui Finkler and substitute Connor Pain.

The opener came from a free kick as Finkler whipped in a ball from the left that evaded players from both sides and found its way into the back of Phoenix keeper Glen Moss’ net. It was a good delivery from the Brazilian born playmaker but the visitors will have been very upset to concede such a sloppy goal. A tactical change at halftime appeared to have the Phoenix in the ascendency until the Victory caught Wellington out, with Pain sealing the game just moments after coming off the bench.

A disappointing result for the Phoenix who have a terrible record away to the Victory, but a great one for the hosts who were without a number of first team players through injury and suspension. Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United stay level with Sydney FC on ten points from four matches.

David Villa departs, with more unanswered questions

Melbourne City fans have probably seen the last of star striker David Villa, at least until next season. Having originally signed on a ten game ‘guest player contract’ (loan deal), the City Group owners have decided Villa’s starpower will be better served if used in promotional activities for New York City FC. There are suggestions that Villa could return for a couple of games before his original contract was set to expire, but it seems highly unlikely.

Whilst it was fantastic to have a player of such talent and reputation on Australian shores, there are two big questions that fans are asking – why the deception over the length of the loan and why was Villa not played centrally?

It is tough to come up with any answer for the first question other than marketing hype. A ten game guest stint sounds a lot more impressive than four matches. Ten games suggests that the player will have a real impact on his team’s fortunes and could make a difference; after all, the season is only 27 matches long.

The second question is a more troubling one because with the new financial resources that the club has, they have to ensure they squeeze every drop of benefit from those dollars in a salary capped league. Melbourne City cannot rise up the table by just spending as their owners did with Manchester City, the right coach must be in charge to maximise their potential. After two draws and two losses in his opening four matches, City coach John van’t Schip is under pressure to deliver wins. Even more so when you consider that perhaps the best goalscorer the A-league has ever seen was relegated to a spot on the wing. Yes Villa performed well in that position for Barcelona and Spain but he was clearly the best finisher and most potent dribbler in the City lineup, and should have been deployed centrally to ensure he was in front of goal as often as possible.

Talent Radar Round-up of the week

As previously mentioned, Adelaide United youngster Bruce Kamau made a big impact from the substitutes bench on Friday night, winning a penalty which won the match for his side. The 19 year old made his professional debut earlier this season in the FFA Cup against Wellington Phoenix after joining from local side Adelaide Olympic, and looks to have a bright future ahead of him. The man he replaced was also 19 years old, Awer Mabil, who started his first A-League match of the season after coming off the bench last weekend. Mabil is seen as a player with great potential by United coach Josep Gombau, who has started the winger in all three of the side’s FFA Cup matches this season.

Sydney FC’s crop of youngsters continue to impress with both Corey Gameiro and Terry Antonis playing 90 minutes in the win over the Mariners, with the latter opening the scoring through a terrific strike from outside the area. Antonis also had three other shots on target, won all three of his tackles, both his aerial duels and beat his man four times. Not bad at all.

With Daniel Georgievski suspended after being sent off in the FFA Cup last week, Melbourne Victory started 19 year old Dylan Murnane at left back, with Scott Galloway, also 19, on the other flank. Murnane was a solid performer all night, winning all seven of his tackles, while Galloway was efficient in possession, completing 83% of his passes.

Much to the delight of Perth Glory supporters and football fans across Australia, Daniel De Silva was handed a start against the Jets on Saturday. The 17 year old attacking midfielder will join Italian giants AS Roma at the end of the season and impressed midweek off the bench in the FFA Cup. A player of imagination and pace, he scored during the week and had another two shots on target during his 76 minutes against the Jets.

Another player who impressed Perth fans this week was 21 year old Jamie Maclaren. The striker came off the bench with the Glory a goal down and within four minutes they were a goal to the good. Two strikes from inside the box, one headed and the other with his left foot gave the Glory the win. Maclaren didn’t feature much last campaign but he looks primed for a breakout season, and appears to have formed a nice understanding with teammate Andy Keogh. With Perth coach Kenny Lowe mostly playing two up front so far this season, we could see a strong partnership in the making.

Written by Andrew Cussen

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