ABC Pod: Garb, Cornthwaite ask - have Sky Blues 'hit that mental peak' in 2020/21?

As the A-League season rolls on, it's looking increasingly unlikely that back-to-back Champions Sydney FC can make it a three-peat in the 2020/21 campaign.

The Sky Blues' inconsistent form throughout the opening stage of the season combined with the emergence of three exceptional Premiership contenders in Central Coast Mariners, Adelaide United and Melbourne City has made the challenge for Steve Corica's side to win a third-consecutive Championship all the more difficult as each Matchweek passes by.

Speaking on the ABC Grandstand Football Podcast, Daniel Garb and Robbie Cornthwaite pondered whether yet another season of dominance in the A-League is too big of a stretch for the men in Sky Blue, or whether the current crop of players simply aren't up to the challenge currently being thrown down by a raft of improving teams.

Read on as Garb and Cornthwaite discuss all things Sydney FC, and ask the question - is the top six now set for the remainder of the season? 

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Sky Blues are in the hunt - but how far can they go in 2020/21?

"There (are) signs they are starting to decline a little bit."

At the end of Matchweek 14, Sydney FC sit in sixth on the A-League table - seven points of the Mariners in top spot. 

With a game in hand on three of their top-six rivals, there's no reason the Champions can't mount a charge up the table to contend with the current front-runners, but while the league's top sides have put together impressive runs of form the Sky Blues have faltered, not once notching more than two results of any nature in a row throughout their first 13 games of the season. 

"There (are) signs they are starting to decline a little bit," Cornthwaite said.

"I still think they’re more than capable of making the top six... are they as good as what we think they are, Daniel?"

"Look at their last four seasons: (finishing) first, first, second, first on the table... I wonder if they’ve hit that mental peak, and now there’s a bit of a drop-off.

"You hear players and coaches speaking about it all the time. After three, four years, you can have a dip mentally. 

"You’ve been at the top for so long, you’ve driven your team for so long that you get to that point where it’s just a subconscious mental lapse, if you’d like. 

 "You’re talking (Alex) Wilkinson, (Rhyan) Grant, (Milos) Ninkovic, several others of course... just maybe it’s been a bit more difficult to stay up at that intense level this season.

"But, maybe it will just be a first half of the season lapse, and they can get it going in the second. I think they’ve still got the quality to do something in this campaign, but perhaps that’s the reason for it."

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The Sky Blues have won 5, drawn 4 and lost 4 in an inconsistent opening 13 games this season
The Sky Blues have won 5, drawn 4 and lost 4 in an inconsistent opening 13 games this season

Cornthwaite added: "looking at the Sydney FC side: (Alex) Baumjohann has played very little football this year compared to last season (when) he was starting games and coming off at the 60th minute - now he seems to have lost his place.

"(Andrew Redmayne) was in career-best form last year and the year before - he’s dropped off a little bit. We expect him to get back to those heights of previous seasons, but you know what? He may not. 

" (Adam) le Fondre is obviously gone which is the biggest loss, and the biggest hole in their side. They’ve only scored 16 goals so far this season, we know their finishing has been a problem.

"Ninkovic has been very good but (against) Adelaide, extremely quiet. He has had more quiet games where he hasn’t been as involved. We know Kosta Barbarouses is down on confidence, Rhyan Grant’s missed a couple of games and obviously the left-back position is King’s but he’s still young." 

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Top six takes shape after Matchweek 14

"Are we set? Is the top six as close to set as it could be? "

As the 2020/21 A-League season rolls into Matchweek 15, Garb and Cornthwaite are seeing the cream rise to the top.

From the Mariners in first to the Sky Blues in sixth and the four teams in between, current form suggest to the pair of Australian football pundits that we may just see the same six teams progress to the Finals Series at the conclusion of the regular season.

But, as always, there are teams below looking up ready to cause a stir should the opportunity arise - should any member of the current six relinquish their spot with a poor run of form.

"Are we set? Is the top six as close to set as it could be? Are we going to see much movement?" Garb pondered.

"Central Coast you’d imagine - short of something remarkable happening in a negative sense for them - are locked in.

"Adelaide, with their form line, you can’t see them moving. Melbourne City are the hottest team in the league.

"Western Sydney have the squad depth, Macarthur have snuck up on us but sit there in fourth.

"Then you’ve got Sydney FC the back-to-back Champions in sixth and Glory in seventh. It’s hard to make a case for any of Brisbane, Wellington, or Western United to make the finals at the moment, and the Jets and Victory are gone pretty much.

"Can you see any movement in that top six? Can you see any change, or are we locked in?"

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"I think when you look at current form, you probably start to lean towards the fact that the teams that are doing well are all in the top six," Cornthwaite replied.

"Adelaide have won six in a row but before that they lost four out of five. We know in this league if you go on any sort of a run, whether it’s two, three or four games in a row, then you can really go up that table quite quickly.

"Of the teams that are currently not in the six, I think probably Wellington are the one that is capable of going on some sort of a run - obviously that loss against Macarthur in terms of points was a big one.

"I think Perth and Brisbane have a couple of games in hand as well on a few teams. 

"Even if they win just one of those, they can close the gap but it’s looking more and more set that those are going to be the top six. 

"I think one team could potentially push on, but then who misses out? That’s the big question."

"I’ve got one here: I think Perth will sneak in," Garb said.

"I think their attack is good enough, they’ve got a string of home games coming up that will help them as well, and their defence showed some big signs of improvement on the weekend.

"They’re building in that regard, and they’ve still got players to come back in that sense."

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"So who drops out, Garby?" Cornthwaite asked.

"That’s the hard call," he replied.

"If I had to pick a team right now, I’d say Macarthur. But they’ve got a bit of a points gap there. But then you’re talking about Sydney FC, and maybe the Wanderers. That would be a massive story if either of them dropped out. 

"I can’t see City, Adelaide or Central Coast of course, so you’re looking at one of Macarthur, Western Sydney or Sydney FC. That’s going to be an interesting tale to see how that plays out as the season goes on. 

"I can see Perth going in though, if I had to pick one now I’d say Macarthur drops out, if not them then Sydney FC - which would be something else considering their last two seasons."