Talking points: How Honda is blowing Johnny Warren Medal stats out of the water
It’s hard to remember anyone making a better start to their Hyundai A-League career than Melbourne Victory marquee Keisuke Honda – and the numbers back it up.
In a dominant Victory display against Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday night, Honda was on another level.
The Japanese legend scored the opening goal with a thumping header, while he constantly thrilled the fans with numerous touches of class.
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ANALYSIS: Victory lay down impressive marker as Honda sparkles again
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Honda’s goals, performances and overall influence have lit up the competition over the first six rounds, with many already anointing the Japanese legend as this season’s Johnny Warren Medallist.
And when you compare his first six games to previous recipients of the Hyundai A-League’s Player of the Season award, it’s hard to argue.
Only Sydney FC star Milos Ninkovic in 2016/17 can match Honda’s four goals and three assists after Round 6.
His 20 chances created is the most of any of the previous Johnny Warren Medallists to this point of the campaign since data started being recorded in 2012 (Thomas Broich was next best with 16 in 2013/14).
Honda also leads the way in passes (374), successful passes (313) and pass accuracy (84%) when compared to the Hyundai A-League's best from over the past seven years.
It's not only with the ball at his feet Honda is exceeding the achievements of his peers. He also leads the way in duels won (64%), while only Nathan Burns in 2014/15 had as many shots on target as Honda's nine through six games.
And the fact Honda still isn't satisfied and feels he and Victory can improve should be a worrying sign for their title rivals.
Opportunity knocking for Roar starlet?
Brisbane Roar have relied on the goals of Adam Taggart so far this season, with the 2014 FIFA World Cup striker netting five of their seven goals in the first six rounds.
But after a groin injury ended his game early against Adelaide United, coach John Aloisi may need to look to a fresh-faced youngster to lead the line if Taggart is forced into a spell on the sidelines.
Dylan Wenzel-Halls signed for Roar earlier this year after a prolific couple of years with the Western Pride in the Queensland NPL, where he scored 40 goals in just 29 matches.
The 20-year-old has made two substitute appearances in the Hyundai A-League, including a late cameo in Friday night’s 2-1 loss.
And he made quite an impression, constantly getting in behind the Reds’ defence and setting up Roar’s goal for Henrique.
“I thought he did well…his pace caused them problems and he set up a good goal for Henrique,” Aloisi said of Wenzel-Halls, post-match.
“He ended up linking well with other players around him and I thought he had a positive impact for us.”
The youngster might get his chance from the start when Brisbane head to Newcastle Jets on Sunday and his energy and exuberance might be just what Roar need to kick-start their campaign.
Mariners edging closer to first win
The football gods haven’t smiled kindly on Central Coast Mariners over the last couple of weeks, with nothing to show for encouraging performances against Perth Glory and then Sydney FC on Saturday.
Mike Mulvey’s side were excellent against 2017/18 Premiers Sydney FC on Saturday, dominating for much of the clash in Gosford as their pressing and harrying forced the Sky Blues into plenty of errors.
Despite dominating for long periods and firing off more shots than the visitors (14-11), the Mariners fell to another agonising defeat after Brandon O’Neill’s 30-yard rocket midway through the second half.
While they are yet to register a win and have now lost four in a row, Mulvey will take heart from the way his troops have pushed two of the competition heavyweights over the last fortnight.
If they can reproduce those types of performances against an out-of-sorts Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday night, perhaps Central Coast will finally get the reward they are after.
Change of approach from City?
Much of the talk about Melbourne City in the early rounds centred on their inability to turn lots of possession into goal-scoring chances.
But perhaps the 3-0 win over Newcastle Jets on Sunday points to a slight tweak which just might spark their attack into action.
Warren Joyce’s side had just 52.1% of possession against the Jets, easily their lowest amount over the last five games, especially compared to the matches against the Roar (63.8%), Sydney FC (59.9%) and the Mariners (62.1%), all matches they failed to win.
It was evident City displayed a more direct approach against the Jets, showing a tendency to go forward quicker than they have in recent games.
And it paid off handsomely with a big win to get their season back on track and ease some of the pressure on Joyce and his squad.
“That was the message during the week, we need to be more positive in the front third,” young attacker Lachlan Wales revealed after the match.
“We have been a bit passive at times in that front area. The goals came and we were more dynamic in that area.”
Castro ready to be unleashed from the start by Popa?
The speed and goals from the likes of attacking stars Andy Keogh, Chris Ikonomidis and Joel Chianese has been a key factor in Perth Glory’s brilliant start to the season.
But the return of Spanish star and skipper Diego Castro off the bench over the last fortnight gives coach Tony Popovic a pleasant selection headache heading into Saturday’s home match with City.
Castro turned the game in Perth’s favour when he came on 25 minutes from time against Wellington, scoring the equaliser and tormenting the Phoenix defence with his classy touches and ability to find space around the box.
While he doesn’t offer the speed and movement of a Chianese or Ikonomidis, Castro’s quality on the ball gives Perth a whole new dimension in the front third.
Wanderers boss won’t tolerate repeat performance
Western Sydney Wanderers boss Markus Babbel was pretty scathing of his team’s effort in Saturday night’s mauling at the hands of Melbourne Victory.
The German described the contest as “men against boys” and conceded his players just weren’t good enough in the 4-0 drubbing at Marvel Stadium.
It looms as a line-in-the-sand moment for the side, who will be desperate to turn things around before they are in danger of falling off the pace for the Finals Series.
A home clash on Friday night against fellow strugglers and the winless Central Coast Mariners could be pivotal.
If the Wanderers are to be serious finals contenders, this is a match where a positive result – and performance – is a must.