Talking Points: Are Western United genuine Hyundai A-League contenders?

Western United are showing no signs of slowing down as the Hyundai A-League newcomers powered to another impressive win in Remembrance Round.

The mounting file of evidence grows further that Mark Rudan’s Hyundai A-League newcomers can be legitimate contenders for silverware in their inaugural season. 

Western Sydney Wanderers set the bar for debut campaigns when they raced to the top of the charts in 2012/13 under Tony Popovic’s inspirational stewardship. 

It was the Hyundai A-League’s second newest club that felt the effect of Western United FC’s momentum in Round 5 as the Green and Blacks came from behind to extinguish Western Sydney’s previously scorching-hot form.

Markus Babbel’s side rolled into GMHBA Stadium undefeated and it seemed like business as usual when Mitchell Duke continued his flying start to the season by slotting the Wanderers into a fifth-minute lead.

But the Western United FC juggernaut continued to pick up steam when Andrew Durante netted a rare goal from the talismanic Alessandro Diamanti’s precision set-piece.

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Rudan’s charges showed their poise in possession and ability to pick apart the staunchest of backlines when Kwabena Appiah-Kubi pierced a hole in the Hyundai A-League’s second-best defence (0.8 goals per game conceded).

The Kiwi-born forward came in for the rested Besart Berisha and created history on his first Hyundai A-League start since the 2017/18 Season, netting the winner in the club’s first contest with a Sydney team, much to the delight of the ever-growing Western Service Crew.

Western United’s first back-to-back wins have certainly not gone under the radar with FOX Sports pundit Mark Bosnich calling them out as Premiership-winning material.

“The number one thing is their spirit is quite apparent from their little huddle at the start, with Mark Rudan a part of it,” he said.

“You can see the idea is to have everybody together. The number two thing is their style of play that they’ve employed.

“Mark Rudan is very astute for such a young manager. He realises that when [Besart] Berisha starts, playing a ball over the top is not going to be in Berisha’s strengths, or Scotty McDonalds.

“They play and they are patient. [On Saturday] they have Appiah playing up front. All of a sudden you have got Western Sydney Wanderers dropping all the way back.

“What do they do? They play a similar type of way but they adjust their positioning. It’s very adaptable.

“We always say that team’s having a whole lot of new recruits and it takes time. Mark Rudan is blowing this out of the water.

“Thirdly, when I saw [Panagiotis] Kone come off, I thought this is going to be interesting. [Aaron] Calver came on, they moved [Connor] Chapman forward, it went seamless. That only comes from a lot of work on the training park.

“That squad is good enough to win this. Kone goes, it’s a seamless transition. Berisha didn’t play. Appiah forced Western Sydney another 15 metres back and second-half they got their just rewards.

“They have got a squad that can win this competition.”

Western United players celebrate with the Western Service Crew behind the goal at GMHBA Stadium.
Western United players celebrate with the Western Service Crew behind the goal at GMHBA Stadium.
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Melbourne City off to their hottest ever Hyundai A-League start

With all of the talk about Western United FC shaking up the competition, some may have forgotten that one team sits above them in the Hyundai A-League ladder.

And in the past two rounds, Melbourne City have been lighting it up without their lethal Caltex Socceroos frontman Jamie Maclaren.

Many expected the goals to suddenly dry up when Maclaren - who netted four goals in City’s first three league games - was sidelined with a hamstring injury. 

Erick Mombaerts’ men responded by scoring six times in back-to-back wins against Wellington Phoenix, 3-2, and Central Coast Mariners, 3-1, to rise to 13 points from the opening five rounds.

A goal-shy City only managed to score three goals or more on four occasions last season. They scored 39 goals in 27 games, an average of 1.4 goals per game in 2018/19.

Mombaerts’ troops have already scored 10 goals in five games in 2019/20, putting them on pace for 52 goals if they continued to score at a rate of two goals per game.

That upturn in production is testament to the French tactician’s approach of a possession-based game, featuring calculated off-the-ball movement and high-tempo passing in the final third. 

City are now undefeated in 18 games in Victoria and have shot off to the best start to a season in their 10-year history, which they celebrated in style after Friday night’s win at AAMI Park.


Mini Matches

The Troisi-McGree combination strikes again

Anyone who thought Riley McGree was simply ‘the Scorpion King’, was proved wrong when he delivered a stand-out season in 2018/19.

That haul of seven goals and four assists was a highlight for Melbourne City, but the 21-year-old is already on course for a career-best campaign after returning to Adelaide this off-season.

McGree proved to be the Reds’ match-winner in the Round 5 triumph against Brisbane Roar, netting his fourth goal of 2019/20.

Once again it was provided by fellow Adelaide-native, James Troisi, who is flourishing in a deeper role since moving to his hometown team.

Troisi’s smart pass put the ball on plate for McGree’s equaliser against Newcastle Jets last week. 

This week, Troisi produced the goods again, playing a one-two with Nikola Mileusnic before rolling it square for the simplest of tap-ins for his partner-in-crime in the 84th minute. 

The South Australian duo are enjoying a happy homecoming so far in 2019/20.

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Phoenix finally off the mark

Wellington Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay finally has his first Hyundai A-League point and it has been a long time coming.

It would be cruel to say the Nix deserved to be on zero points heading into Saturday’s trip to Melbourne Victory after some spirited performances in their first four outings. 

Defensive errors have been Wellington’s downfall during their opening run of games but the Kiwi club produced a steely display as they led Victory for more than an hour after Ulises Davila’s fifth-minute penalty kick.

Even without star striker Gary Hooper, Phoenix seemed set for a shock at AAMI Park until one a moment of magic from Ola Toivonen forced them to settle for a 1-1 draw.

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The stat pointing to a Melbourne Victory turnaround

The Ola Toivonen show

The Swedish marquee man laid down a marker of his quality in the 66th minute of Melbourne Victory’s 1-1 draw against Wellington.

With seemingly no way through a resolute Phoenix rearguard, Toivonen twisted and turned until space opened up before delivering a measured scoop to beat a diving Stefan Marinovic in the Nix goal.

Astonishingly, Victory’s captain has been involved in each of his team’s last eight goals and has racked up 20 goals for the club faster than any other player.

Victory icon Berisha did it in 36 games, Toivonen took just 32. 

He is already the club’s joint 10th highest Hyundai A-League goalscorer in only 27 league games and his last goal was a reminder that he is one of the best players in the competition.

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BEST OF ROUND FIVE: Hyundai A-League Team of the Week

Goals hard to come by for Roar

Once again, Brisbane Roar seem to do everything but score.

They may be coach by a Premier League goalscoring legend in Robbie Fowler and led by a dominant Hyundai A-League marksman in Roy O’Donovan, but the Queenslanders just cannot find the net in 2019/20.

Their frustrations showed again against Adelaide on Sunday as Brad Inman, Scott Neville and Macaulay Gillesphey were denied before a late McGree goal left Roar empty handed and sitting on two points.

It’s not all bad news in the River City. Fowler’s side have conceded the least amount of goals in the Hyundai A-League, three, and the least average goals per game, 0.75. 

But they need to find that golden touch before they can start thinking about climbing away from the foot of the ladder. 


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