We’re at the halfway mark of an enthralling Hyundai A-League 2017/18 Season with champions Sydney FC setting the early pace at the top of the ladder.
Ernie Merrick’s Newcastle Jets have been the surprise packets and lead the chasing pack while there’s a logjam forming in and around the rest of the top six.
It’s been a gripping campaign so far with some breakout stars, classic matches and wonderful performances across the competition.
Here’s our report card after 13 rounds, starting with the current top five. Stay tuned on Thursday for the next five clubs.
Ladder position: first
Any thought of a potential championship hangover has been blown out of the water by the ruthless Sky Blues.
Led by peerless Pole Adrian Mierzejewski, the new recruits have fitted in seamlessly and the rest of the squad haven’t lost any of the hunger they displayed in their double-winning season in 2016/17.
Just one defeat so far, the best defence in the league and a nice little gap at the top of the table shows Sydney FC will be hard to dethrone.
And the scary part is they probably haven’t been at full throttle yet.
The start of their AFC Champions League campaign in February will test their fitness and mental strength but you’d be foolish to doubt them. On track to go deep into the finals yet again.
Report card mark: A+
Ladder position: second
What a fantastic job Ernie Merrick has done with this team.
They are playing entertaining, dangerous, attacking football while their defensive structures mean they are organised and tough to break down.
And to think they’ve done it will two of their best attacking players – Ronald Vargas and Roy O’Donovan – have missed much of the first half of the season out injured.
But we’ve seen the likes of Dimitri Petratos – possible 2018 World Cup bolter – and Andrew Nabbout really step up.
Unheralded midfield duo Steven Ugarkovic and Ben Kantarovski are playing the best football of their careers, while Nigel Boogaard and Nikolai Topor-Stanley are providing a solid platform at the back.
Surely this is the year they end their finals drought?
If they keep playing the way they are – plus throw in new recruits Riley McGree and Patricio Rodriguez – they won’t just make the finals but could make some real noise when they get there.
The Hunter region will be bouncing should the club make a dent come the big end-of-season matches!
Report card mark: A
Ladder position: third
Victory have set some incredibly high standards over the last couple of seasons and expect to be near the top of the ladder every campaign.
So Kevin Muscat won’t be happy with how the first half of the season has panned out, although they appear to be finding form on the back of three straight wins.
There’s been some criticism that Victory have become too predictable. But there can be no doubting that on their day they can be almost unstoppable.
With big game players like Besart Berisha, Mark Milligan, Carl Valeri, Leroy George and Rhys Williams in the squad, there is plenty of experience and quality to make them contenders again.
It’d be a brave person to say this team won’t be around when the silverware is being decided come late April, early May.
Report card mark: B-
Ladder position: fourth
Four wins out of four to start the season had City fans believing this was their year.
But it’s been a roller-coaster last couple of months for Warren Joyce’s troops since.
Just two wins from their last nine games has seen City lose touch with league-leaders Sydney FC and all of a sudden looking behind them at the chasing pack.
With attacking stars Tim Cahill and Fernando Brandan leaving the club, and Ross McCormack’s future unclear, there are questions whether City have the firepower to challenge for honours later in the campaign.
The impending return of Bruno Fornaroli and the acquisition of Dario Vidosic is a start but what kind of business they can do during the January transfer window could be key.
While their form slump is a concern, they are still in handy spot in fourth position.
But until they find a bit more consistency and cohesion in their game, the chances of going from pretenders to contenders appear remote.
Report card mark: B-
Ladder position: Fifth
With a new coach at the helm and a spate of injuries hitting the squad in the early stages of the season, Adelaide remain in a good position at the halfway point.
Marco Kurz has done a superb job with the Reds, instilling a hard-working and disciplined approach within his team and it’s clearly paying dividends.
While injuries have played a part, Kurz’s willingness to promote youngsters to the first team has proved an inspired move.
The likes of Ryan Strain (20), Jordan O’Doherty (20), Nathan Konstandopolous (21), Ben Warland (21) and George Blackwood (21) have all been significant contributors for the Reds this season.
Experienced trio Isaias, Daniel Adlung and Paul Izzo have been consistent performers all season and will remain crucial to the Reds’ chances of a top-six finish at season’s end.
With Baba Diawara struggling with injury, Ryan Kitto (5 goals) and Blackwood (3 goals) have been the main source of goals for Kurz’s side, who have managed just 15 in total for the season.
Will the return of fit-again Absalonsen and Diawara be enough for the Reds to find the back of the net with enough regularity?
Report card mark: B