Sydney FC might be even better this season

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

 , , ,

37 Have your say

    On a perfectly palatable Leichhardt Oval pitch, on a night sinking into a premature summer balm, the FFA Cup quarter finals staged a rematch of last season’s FFA Cup final.

    Sydney FC and Melbourne City, the latter victorious in this competition last year, met as two teams both entering the final stages of their preparations, although with one team significantly more at ease than the other.

    Sydney have had to replace three significant players this off-season; Rhyan Grant, Danny Vukovic and Filip Holosko, all automatic starters last season, are all no longer in the team, due to departure or, in Grant’s case, long-term injury.

    For a club for which continuity is so evidently valued – Sydney re-signed almost all of their key players over the break – this was a problem. But, as we’ve seen, a problem that was solved quickly and effectively.

    Luke Wilshere, Andrew Redmayne and Adrian Mierzejewski have been brought in, and all started this FFA Cup quarter final. Wilshere and Redmayne, two experienced Australian journeymen, have slotted in as unobtrusively as might have been expected.

    But Mierzejewski, an unknown asset, quickly took this game as an opportunity to show that he won’t just replace Holosko on the right-hand side of the Sydney attack; he’ll damn well show Holosko up.

    The opening half, one that Sydney controlled, saw Mierzejewski spray at least three 30 metre passes to teammates on the run, landing the ball with the appropriate backspin, on the exact patch of turf he needed to.

    He was dropping deep into midfield to collect the ball, interchanging short passes with Milos Ninkovic and Brandon O’Neill, even roaming to the opposite flank, causing havoc as he went.

    Holosko’s role last season was one that involved a whole lot of running, often hugged up against the sideline, more the receiver of passes than the distributor of them. He was a diligent, disciplined winger, who made off-the-ball runs that were vital, not just for scoring goals, but also for the creation of space for his teammates.

    It was assumed that Sydney would find a like-for-like replacement when he left; why change a formula that secured them a dominant double last season? These assumptions, much like the Melbourne City defence last night, were shredded by Mierzejewski’s performance.

    He was described during the build-up to this match as “another Ninkovic”. While starkly less hirsute than the original, Mierzejewski certainly looked as much.

    Milos Ninkovic celebrates for Sydney FC

    (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

    City have just one hole to fill, but it’s a big’un; Bruno Fornaroli went down in the last FFA Cup round with a serious ankle injury, and will be out at least until the new year.

    Needless to say, losing a goalscorer and creative fulcrum as talented as Fornaroli has hurt City, who are actively looking for a marquee replacement.

    As far as the goal-void goes, Tim Cahill is an obvious short-term alternative, but City manager Warren Joyce opted against taking that avenue in this match. He sent out a highly unusual 3-5-2 formation, with no recognised striker on the pitch.

    Bruce Kamau and Nick Fitzgerald – both more at home on the wings – were the most advanced players, and were squeezed inward by the presence of wing-backs Manny Muscat and Scott Jamieson.

    The most attack-minded central midfielder, Stephen Mauk, was being marshalled expertly by his Sydney counterparts O’Neill and Josh Brillante; there was no coherent route forward for City, apart from the occasional fortunate punt up-field.

    Meanwhile, Sydney had already taken the lead via Jordy Buijs’ venomous free kick, whipped in over the wall from just outside the box. Ninkovic and Mierzejewski were tracing paths over the full width of the pitch, dropping deep and pushing forward in syncopation, dragging the City team into awkward shapes. Michael Zullo was enjoying a spell of significant possession on the left flank, and Redmayne had hardly been tested.

    The fact one team was playing in a highly familiar formation – with additional weapons attached – and the other was forced uncomfortably into a foreign one – with their main weapon removed – was patently obvious.

    One of Melbourne City’s three centre backs was rendered redundant by Sydney’s fielding of a single striker; the Melbourne team was outnumbered as a result in midfield, where Ninkovic and Mierzejewski were running riot.

    Osama Malik and Neil Kilkenny were frazzled, having to cover an amorphous blur of blue shirts, with Alex Brosque drifting threateningly as well. Nothing about the first half should have indicated to Joyce that his system was coping.

    Joyce duly changed it at half time, to a back four defence, and brought on Tim Cahill for Nick Fitzgerald. Something resembling a 4-3-3 was assembled, with Iacopo La Rocca stepping into midfield, and Mauk pushing forward into the attack. Immediately City looked an improved team, fashioning by far their best chance of the match early in the second half, wasted regrettably by Jamieson.

    But then Sydney scored a sumptuous second goal, with Mierzejewski at the heart. A poor pass from Malik was controlled by Mierzejewski, who then looped a perfect chipped through-ball to Brosque.

    Still with considerable work to do, Brosque headed back across his marker, an unlikely change of direction, and lofted the ball over Eugene Galekovic with his left foot, a perfect lob that snuck in under the bar.

    It was a sequence draped in finery, and it was a brutal reminder to City that the beginning of the second half is a little late to be finally feeling their way into the contest.

    The small gust of wind City had caught in their sails was quashed, and Sydney again took complete control. Zullo was crucifying Muscat on the left wing, with the City defender twice fouling Zullo egregiously, leaving the Sydney fullback writhing in pain. Marcelo Carrusca, City’s new signing, was brought on to spur the attack into action.

    Every Sydney pass stuck; they were maintaining possession with ease, and City were beleaguered and quickly getting frustrated. Brosque, nursing a worrying knock, was removed in favour of David Carney. City, perhaps egged on by the sight of the Sydney captain and second goalscorer departing the contest, lifted a little. The Sky Blue defence, imperious as always, simply eased back on their heels, rolling with the pressure.

    The game slipped away, with City’s late salvaging efforts falling well short. The opening half, and the confidence and one-goal margin Sydney took from it, set an authoritative tone.

    One wonders exactly how Warren Joyce imagined things working for his team with that starting system in place; Joyce has only had three head coaching jobs before this, one as a player-coach at Hull City – in the lowest professional tier of English football at the time – in the late nineties, then for two years at Royal Antwerp in 2006, then finally last year at Wigan, a tenure that ended after four months when he was sacked.

    It isn’t exactly the senior managerial pedigree befitting of a team under City Group ownership, but judgement should be reserved until a sizeable sample of matches have been played.

    What was clear here is that, even if Sydney have downgraded slightly at right-back and goalkeeper, it seems as though they’ve made a significant upgrade in Mierzejewski.

    They’ve knocked out the team that beat them in the FFA Cup final last year, and have secured a place in this year’s semi-final.

    “We want to win everything again,” Mierzejewski said post-match. Consider the A-League forewarned.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

    This video is trending right now! Submit your videos for the chance to win a share of $10,000!

    Have Your Say

    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (37)

    • Roar Rookie

      September 14th 2017 @ 6:23am
      Stevo said | September 14th 2017 @ 6:23am | ! Report

      Well pretty much spot on Evan. I can’t think of much that got me excited about our season ahead. We couldn’t string passes together, our midfield was not in the game and neither was our attack. To think that we don’t having a serious attacking option apart from Bruno just speaks volumes about our recruiting. Watching Kamau and Malik going through their paces is about exciting as watching paint dry. Timmy coming on added not much but Carrusca is a good addition. Sydney just continued from where they left off last season. Warren Joyce. Hmmmm

      • September 14th 2017 @ 6:57am
        Waz said | September 14th 2017 @ 6:57am | ! Report

        You might have a coaching problem coming up?

        But the strong rumours were repeated last night on Fox that City are signing two new players, one of whom is meant to a “blow your socks off” signing so presumably CFG are seeing what we all see.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 9:16am
        pauli said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        Timmy’s anonymity in an FFA Cup match doesn’t bode well for the national team.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 6:54am
      Waz said | September 14th 2017 @ 6:54am | ! Report

      Luke Wilshere will be 36 when the season starts but apparently he’s an asset for SFC and part of the reason that makes them “stronger than last year”; yet had he have signed in Brisbane his age would have been a problem. just sayin’ …

      • September 14th 2017 @ 7:26am
        punter said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:26am | ! Report

        Reading ino things that is not there Waz, such a shame.

        Wilshire was no bombing down the wing fullback like Grant, but he was strong & steady & highly technical.

        In Adrian Mierzejewski, Sydney FC has a player as good as Ninkovic.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 8:29am
          Waz said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:29am | ! Report

          The same player doing the same things but in Brisbane would be written off as too old. That was my point. SFC showed what you can do with an old squad last year – it’s not age but ability that matters … unless you’re in brisbane ?

      • September 14th 2017 @ 7:31am
        AGO74 said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:31am | ! Report

        In these days of sports science age is not as much a factor so I agree with you. I find Evans description of Wilkshire as a “journeyman” a little surprising given he has carved out a successful career in quality leagues for over 15 years now.

        As for you guys, Personally I think maccarone will do well – but the guy I am interested to see is your new French winger. Rarely has a player arrived in Australia with such a strong pedigree – 10 years of regular French top flight football – at a still comparatively young age of 30. He could be a revelation for you guys.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 8:56am
          Lionheart said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

          Let’s hope so – he’s rippin’ them apart in my FIFA team.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 7:45am
        j,binnie said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:45am | ! Report

        Waz – Based on what you saw last night you have to ask the question,was Wilksire a bad signing when in fact it has to be remembered he could probably be best described as a “replacement signing ” to cover for the badly injured Grant,who undoubtedly was one of Sydney’s better performers last season.
        I thought Wilkshire showed all his experience in getting through the game and will be surprised if there is a left winger in this years HAL who could possibly “take him to the cleaners”.
        The other Sydney signing, Mierzejewski. is a player from another planet as far as the HAL is concerned. He is all class and as the writer of the article indicates is actually a huge improvement on Holosko, who was not a “dud” in anyone’s eyes.That is the secret of good recruitment,always trying to better what was there previously. Cheers jb.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 8:30am
          Waz said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

          I agree with you jb.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 7:53pm
          punter said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:53pm | ! Report

          I was there last night JB & all you write is 100% correct.

          SFC was outstanding in the 1st half & Mierzejewski & Ninkovic were running the midfield, O’Neill & Brillante doing a great job, Melbourne City didn’t have a chance, but only issue with SFC was they just grinder in the 2nd half instead of going for the kill.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 7:33am
      AGO74 said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      Very excited to see Adrian play last night. He looks a step up from holosko based on his distribution- early days though. Looking forward to the new season.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 7:38am
      Fadida said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      “one hole to fill?” Muscat, Malik, Fitzgerald. There are holes everywhere in his City team, and that’s even without talking about an unproven English coach

      • Roar Rookie

        September 14th 2017 @ 8:40am
        Stevo said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:40am | ! Report

        And that’s not mentioning the holes La Rocca will create because of the string of Red cards he’ll accumulate LOLz 🙂

    • September 14th 2017 @ 8:21am
      Nemesis said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      The only meaningful information I ever glean from a particular match is the result & the form of players in that particular match.

      If the results & form continue for the majority of the season, I can start to make assumptions about the future results and form.

      Sydney never looked troubled last night. City looked awful.

      If we have the same observations by Christmas 2017, we can make blanket judgements. Having said that, in a 10 team competition with 27 matches played, even a poor to average 18 matches can be turned around with 9 consecutive wins.

      But, this is football and, every time a team wins, I expect someone to write an article suggesting that team will be Champions.

      And, every time a team loses, I expect to read: team in trouble, “cattle not good enough”, coach will be first sacked.

      If people are confident SydFC will better this season, Bet365 is offering odds of 3.25 for Sydney to win the Premiership & same odds to win the Championship. Borrow all the money you can & capitalise on your football knowledge. Even if you borrow against your Credit Card, with interest rates of 20% p.a., you’ll be making a fortune if your football knowledge is of value.

      • Roar Rookie

        September 14th 2017 @ 9:23am
        c said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

        fuss a wise person such as yourself should not be promoting gambling particularly borrowing to gamble I am disappointed

        • September 14th 2017 @ 10:07am
          Nemesis said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

          I’ve never gambled on a football match & never will. That’s because I know football is an uncertain outcome sport. Anyone making predictions in preseason about how good a team will be after 27 matches is ridiculous. Which is why I made an equally ridiculous suggestion to throw all your available cash at the prediction. If people think I’m serious & follow ridiculous suggestions like this, they’re unlikely to survive in the real world.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 10:11am
          Onside said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:11am | ! Report

          Tedious niggle . Move on.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 2:20pm
            c said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

            we are old mates os 🙂

    • September 14th 2017 @ 9:00am
      Lionheart said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      City were disappointing, let’s hope they’ve got more in the shed. SFC looked classy at times, but not under much pressure.

    , , ,