The current European Championship qualification structure must be reformed.
Five more matches to close out the round, so let’s get into some of the Talking Points for the end of Round 11.
Christmas and New Year’s football is fantastic
The scheduling of Round 10 meant that the regularly scheduled annual New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day games fell just after the weekend (Monday and Tuesday to be precise) – so with the round kicking off on Friday, the last game of the round came five days after the first.
One game every day, for five days, followed by the re-scheduled Jets vs Roar game on 2 January, Thursday without football, and the now concluded round 11. And all these on the back of round 9 spread out over 21 to 26 December.
By my calculations, that was 16 games spread out over 17 days.
I actually enjoyed it.
In a league with five matches every round, over the holiday period, Round 10 in particular was good fun.
Five days of sport, I maintain, is not a bad thing (it’s one of the reasons I enjoy Test cricket over any other form of cricket), and what I found with a game a day for the A-League was that it allowed each game to be considered and appreciated in its own right.
Essentially, no A-League game was competing with any other A-League game for attention, whether it was in the build-up, during the game, or in the post-match review.
The great thing about football is that for 90 minutes (plus stoppage time), every game has its own story to tell, and there is no better time than the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period for the A-League to allow each game to tell its story on its own.
Now, as I raised during the Round 9 talking points, to much accolade and widespread praise amongst readers, the A-League finds itself in still intense competition during summer, and it runs the risk of losing out in vital coverage to other sports during the same period.
One thing that the BBL and NBL do quite well is to schedule games almost every day for extended periods.
In fact, the BBL has a game on essentially every night of its entire 6-week ‘season’ (I maintain, BBL is much more of a ‘tournament’ than a ‘season,’ but I digress).
During that two-week period over Christmas and New Year’s, why can’t the A-League schedule a match every night?
Or, given that there are five matches a round, play three rounds over 15 days?
15 days of football gives football the opportunity to saturate the marketplace for two solid weeks.
And if the quality of the matches over this round and the preceding two is anything to go by, 15 days of football will ultimately speak for itself.
There were some great matches during Round 11, with some great stories to tell, not least of all the continuing rise and true grit of Wellington, and the battle at the top of the league between Sydney, Perth and Melbourne Victory.
The A-League has a product that it should be proud of, and what better way to show it off than to have games played back to back to back to back to back, times three?
Friday night extravaganza
Speaking of every 90 minutes telling its own story, no match this round perhaps summed that up more perfectly than Sydney and Central Coast on Friday night.
Mariners in the lead, then losing a man, Sydney putting the foot down, scoring five, Le Fondre setting a record for the fastest to reach 10 A-League goals, Sydney momentarily going top, Mariners still on course for a vincible season.
If Bill Lawry commentated football, he would have said: it’s all happening.
Credit to coach Steve Corica in Sydney.
It’s almost humorous to think that leading into the second Sydney Derby, there were question marks about his coaching, and Western Sydney went into that match as expected to win.
Fast-forward to Round 11, Corica has stayed the course, he has a striker in red-hot form, and his team fighting it out in a top-two scrap.
And at the other end of the table, Mike Mulvey goes back to that oft-used drawing board, seemingly having to start again.
Central Coast remains without a win for 317 days at last count, and with every passing game and day without a win, the pressure weighs heavier.
Mulvey also has to now contend with the return of Ross McCormack to the UK (and at whose request that departure was, we may never know).
But in the end, that was one thing that set the two sides apart: discipline.
Central Coast took the lead, but ill-discipline lost them a player. Sydney, on the other hand, maintained their discipline, stayed true to themselves, scored five, and sealed the win.
And the two sides find themselves at opposite ends of the ladder.
Home doesn’t seem to be where the heart is
How come Adelaide can’t win at home?
That’s a genuine question as well, I’m not even being funny.
In seven games at home out of the first 11 rounds, Adelaide have managed to draw, draw, lose, win, lose, draw, now draw again.
That’s one win out of seven, while away from home, they have three wins and a closely fought loss to Melbourne Victory.
Heck, Adelaide even managed to defeat Wellington in Wellington 3-1 earlier this season, yet couldn’t score a single goal at the comforts of Coopers Stadium.
And Saturday’s game presented a great opportunity, in particular when Wellington went a man down.
Fortunately for Adelaide, they have plenty of time this season to turn things around at home, but Marco Kurz must be scratching his head about how to get a few more points at home (currently only garnering seven points out of a possible 21).
Adelaide are also lucky that their away form is carrying them into the top six at the moment, but they can’t rely on that for too long.
The longer you go without a win, whether away, at home, or anywhere, it starts to weigh heavily upon you.
Just ask the Mariners.
Important win for Melbourne Victory
The win in Western Sydney was an important one for the Victory, both in terms of maintaining their race for the premier’s plate, as well as from a team mentality perspective.
Coming off back-to-back one-all draws, both without Keisuke Honda, amid news that he would now be out for a month, Melbourne would have enjoyed a win not so much to salvage their season, but certainly to remind themselves they are a good side without their Japanese import.
Whatever you might think of Western Sydney at the moment, winning on their home turf isn’t always easy, so regardless of ladder positions, you cannot simply show up to the Wanderers ground and lock in three competition points.
Western Sydney are also playing without much luck at the moment, having 24 shots to Victory’s 8 in Saturday night’s game.
The point being that a win, any win, against Western Sydney should still be valued.
Victory taking the three points thanks to an Ola Toivonen double, especially after the Wanderers leveled things through a Baumjohann penalty, was a solid result for them, especially without their best player.
Victory not only got the win that keeps them in the top two, but should give them much needed confidence going into the next month without their Japanese superstar.
Handball is in the eye of the beholder
Now, the timeline for this is really important, so let’s go through it minute by minute.
In the 20th minute, with a one-goal lead, Newcastle bellowed for a penalty against Melbourne City, saying that a City defender had committed a handball offence in the area.
The referee said no penalty, upheld by the VAR.
In the 22nd minute, Nathaniel Atkinson was deemed to have handballed in defence, in open play, in fairly similar ball-to-hand circumstances, for which he earned a yellow card.
Then, in the 25th minute, referee Kurts Ams did award a penalty, this time for Melbourne City, for another similar ball-to-hand handball against Ronald Vargas, to which the Venezuelan earned a yellow, his second, and a resulting red card.
Three handball calls, all contentious, within five minutes of each other, with entirely different outcomes.
It is a strange rule the handball offence, particularly when you consider that it really should be such a straight-forward rule.
If a player deliberately handles the ball with his hand, it’s an infringement.
Yet here in Melbourne, within the space of mere minutes, the same rule was applied three times in a row, but only two players ended up with cards, and only one penalty was awarded.
I heard somewhere in the ether that the International Football Association Board is reviewing the handball rule, and interpretation.
Not in time for this game, of course, but hopefully the outcome will result in a bit more consistency.
There’s nothing like showing off your championship qualities away from home
At 2-nil down, away from home, I would imagine that Tony Popovic was setting out a few home truths to his charges about what it takes to win matches and championships.
Brisbane in Brisbane really should have been a regulation win for Perth, given that they are two matches into an interim coach and sit second from bottom.
Yet come out firing did Perth, and while Brisbane’s collapse assisted (two penalties, a sending off, and an own goal), it still takes a team of championship calibre to come back from two goals away from home to win.
Brisbane have a lot of work to do, there’s no doubt.
And to be sure, during that first half, I would imagine John Aloisi would be looking on at Brisbane Roar since his departure, and wondering why the exact players under his charge are playing with so much more intensity and application under interim coach Darren Davies.
But that is why football games are decided over 90 minutes, not just 45.
It’s all good and well to have a cracking start, get two goals up, and go into the half-time break with the wind in your sails.
But it takes a team looking to win championships to come back from two goals down, and instead be ahead come the final whistle.