It is early days in the 2019/20 English Premier League season but already the league table is starting to take a familiar shape.
The international break has come and gone, and that has allowed the domestic football to take centre stage once again.
There were some table-defining and championship-influencing results over the weekend, so let’s get straight into those Round 23 talking points.
The international break is a drag
Last season the thing about the international break was that the A-League didn’t have one, which meant that championship-chasing teams were playing without some of their best players and losing important games, sometimes upwards of two or three games in a row. So the FFA bowed to pressure and implemented international breaks in the competition, bringing the competition into line with the rest of the world.
What happened this season when the international break came round? That’s right: no A-League players, at least none of any significance, were called up to international duty. The Socceroos didn’t play and there was no local interest to be had in terms of football for two weeks.
Around that time the NRL and AFL seasons were in full swing and the A-League all but forgotten.
Look, it’s a tough call for the FFA, and I’m not going to blame them for doing the right thing by putting in place international windows to put the league on hold while international footy is on. I kind of have some sympathy for them.
Those two weeks without A-League felt like an eternity, and the lengthy break feels like it has just broken up all momentum in the run to the finals. What’s more, there was a couple of teams over the weekend – and we will get to them – that seemed off the mark despite having big games to play.
You can’t help but wonder if the two-week gap has once again played its part in shaping the finals race. Again, I’m not blaming the FFA for doing the right thing and I’m not even sure what the answer is, but the long and short of it is that the international break was simply no fun at all.
Siem de Jong does his Zelic impression
Brenton Speed once again summed up a spectacular goal simply but perfectly: “Oh, brilliant!”.
With the ball on the byline and the goalkeeper charging at him, Siem de Jong summed up his options to perfection and managed to do the unthinkable. He could have blasted and hoped. He could have cut it back. Heck, he could have even tried to go round the keeper himself.
What did he do? He chose none of those options – they would have been too easy – and he instead threaded the finest of fine needles, and with millimetres of space to work with he had the ball in the back of the net.
I remember back in the early 1990s waking up to footage of a mulleted Ned Zelic in Holland threading the ball in almost exactly the same fashion and scoring what was an Olympics-qualifying goal for the Socceroos. De Jong’s finish has been rightly compared to that iconic moment.
You can’t teach that. You certainly don’t train for it. That was a moment of impulse, instinct and intricate precision.
And boy oh boy was it a moment of beauty to savour.
In a word: brilliant.
Wellington belong in the finals
Well, to paraphrase Verbal Kint from Usual Suspects, just like that, it’s gone. That’s how you describe the finals chances of the Newcastle Jets, who watched their top-six hopes evaporate within two minutes thanks to David Williams.
But enough about the losers. Sit back and enjoy the winners thanks to a reinvigorated and enthusiastic Wellington Phoenix and a hat-trick to David Williams.
When you think about it, this weekend was the weekend for the spectacular, with Williams’s curling effort into the top right corner topping off his hat-trick, and he was indeed saving his best for last.
Credit to Wellington, who were on song from the get-go – again, literally. Make no mistake: if they finish in the top four, which looks likely, they will shake up this competition.
Shout out as well to hat-trick hero Williams. It is easy to forget how long he has been around, and there was a hint about last-chance saloon for Williams at Wellington. Well, he’s making it work, and here is hoping he has a great finals run to boot.
The Melbourne City bus wheels are coming off
If you live by the sword, you invariably die by the sword. Melbourne City were a strong defensive unit, so much so that at one point they barely conceded a goal per game. Sure, they weren’t scoring, but it didn’t matter, because they were making the one-nil wins pile up.
Now? Not so much, and if not for a Newcastle team that refuses to take its opportunities, City’s place in this season’s finals race would be under much more threat.
The thing is, though, that we continue to hear the line that Warren Joyce knows what he is doing and has the full backing of the City Group hierarchy. They backed him to the hilt with Bruno Fornaroli, even as the Uruguayan was unveiled by Perth.
As the finals approach and Melbourne City get worse, it continues to be hard to see what Joyce is doing right.
At this rate City simply don’t look like winning a championship anytime soon, and as a Wanderers team with very little to play for dismantled the City Blues, you started to wonder how City would go against teams above them when it mattered.
True, the Wanderers are in rare form at the moment. But against the likes of Perth, Victory and Sydney, Melbourne City will be also-rans. And being also-rans is not why Joyce was brought on board.
Liam Reddy: The landmark man
Once again the Victory played in front of a packed house in a huge marquee game, and Melbourne delivered.
Firstly, massive credit to the people of Perth. No, you didn’t get the result you wanted, but the atmosphere and occasion were top notch and entirely befitting a match where the soon-to-be premiers plate winners were taking on a contender.
But of more significance than championships, premierships, and big crowds? Landmark goals, that’s what.
This is what I love about the internet, but going into last night’s match the league was sitting on 4999 goals scored, meaning goal 5000 was more than likely going to be scored.
But here’s the thing. Of the first, 1000th, 2000th, 3000th and 4000th goals conceded, Perth’s Liam Reddy was the player who has conceded most of them. In fact, no, he hadn’t conceded the 2,000th, but he did concede the 2,001st.
So in the 25th minute of the marquee match-up between Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory, as Ola Toivonen lined up the free kick, trying to open the night’s scoring, it was one Liam Reddy between the sticks facing immortality in the face.
Well, you know the rest.
Liam Reddy, the landmark man, take a bow. You, sir, conceded the A-League’s 5000th goal.
The red mist descends
Hey, remember when the Mariners brought their new coach in after an 8-2 mauling at the hands of the Phoenix and went to Newcastle to win the F3 Derby in coach Alen Stajcic’s first game in charge? I sure do, because I was there.
You definitely felt like the Mariners had turned a corner that night. But form, as they say, is temporary, while class is permanent – or, in the case of the Mariners, replace ‘class’ with ‘character’. Character is permanent.
What is it about teams that just love to shoot themselves in the foot. New coach, derby win, then back at home in a winnable game, and what do the Mariners do? That’s right, the Mariners went down to ten men chasing a one-nil deficit.
Say what you like about tactics, formation, passing, tackling and finishing, but how does a coach change a team’s mentality to stop his players getting sent off? Well, if Stajcic can fix that problem alone, he will have earnt his pay packet.