Tottenham host bitter rivals Arsenal in what looms to be another enthralling North London derby early Monday morning (AEST) as both sides continue their fight for the remaining European places.
We have just two rounds left in the A-League season, so with finals firmly in mind and next season on the mind of some, we assess where each team is at in the A-League Round 25 talking points.
Why wasn’t Bankwest Stadium used?
The second class citizen status that is perpetually afforded football in Australia rears its head in many varied ways.
I discussed at length last round the shame of players playing on unsafe surfaces such as was dished up at the SCG (and fortunately, the news for Terry Antonis was positive after his injury was diagnosed).
Time slots, television programming, funding – there is a litany of events through the history of the sport in this country of football being given the basement, while other domestic sports get penthouse access.
Is the Wanderers hosting the Sydney Derby at ANZ Stadium instead of the new (and by all reports fantabulous) Bankwest Stadium the latest example of football’s low place in the pecking order?
I’m not privy to the inside workings of the current status of Bankwest Stadium, although by all reports, the stadium is finished, and work completed.
The A-League website is even trumpeting official completion of the stadium for all to see.
Nor am I aware of the actual contractual arrangement with ANZ Stadium, and perhaps the Wanderers are obliged to play out their entire 2018-19 season at the 80,000 seat monstrosity.
But there is also the sense that the Wanderers have been denied a prime opportunity for both media coverage and a thank you to their fans in not opening the stadium with an official (or even an unofficial) match involving the Sydney FC rival.
21,000 attended ANZ Stadium for the Round 25 derby, which is a great crowd, but it is not overly impressive in light of the 59,000 empty seats.
A Sydney Derby opening up Bankwest Stadium – what a drawcard that would have been, and what a great opportunity it also would have been for the Wanderers to set themselves up for next season, given this year’s campaign is over.
Football not creating an opportunity so that their game can open up the newest, and by all reports greatest, stadium in Sydney feels like a put-down to football.
Instead, the Parramatta Eels will get the chance to open up the ground.
Considering Sydney FC have been shunted out to Jubilee Stadium due to the poor nature of the SCG (and truth be told, Jubilee is a fantastic local ground for football) and the Wanderers will not have the honour of opening up Bankwest Stadium, you get the feeling that football is still the little cousins of Australian sport, told to at least enjoy the fact you are sitting at the kids’ table.
Eric Bautheac puts in a peak Brisbane Roar performance
I often forget that Eric Bautheac is the marquee player for the Brisbane Roar.
It is not a dig at his quality, he is a very good, otherwise accomplished player.
But it is more that his output for the Roar has been questionable in its quality, and general practical impact.
Bautheac had a phenomenal first half on Friday, against the top-four chasing Wellington Phoenix.
His solo run and finish to open up proceedings was worthy of a marquee signing, and his poachers finish to complete a first-half brace was pure instinct, from a striker knowing to be in the right place at the right time.
The practical benefit though of a first-half brace in a season where they are trying to avoid the spoon and don’t have to worry about relegation is somewhat limited.
At the very least, Bautheac’s goals were good cause to give his team an opportunity to enjoy a rare win.
However, in true Bautheac style, he simply had to blot the copybook, and he did so by earning a second yellow card after even the stoppage time had finished, and he was sent from the field.
So that should pretty much finish his season.
It was classic Bautheac, diamonds in one hand, and a pocket full of rocks in the other.
Has Bautheac been worth the marquee wage over the grand scheme of things? Not sure, although John Aloisi might argue that he has not.
But whether the Roar decide the keep the Frenchman around next season, surely the first question you’d be asking is: why?
As for Wellington, in the battle for fourth spot, a loss against the strugglers of Brisbane was not ideal.
Although, while they have dropped to fifth, the stalemate between Adelaide and Melbourne City has probably done them a favour, going into the final two rounds.
Wellington will be desperate to host in the first week of the finals, because travelling to Australia does not do them any favours.
They still have destiny in their own hands though if they can win their last two games, by beating Melbourne next week at home, and getting something away in the Distance Derby in Round 27.
The stalemates began in earnest
Tony Palumbo, Italian football analyst extraordinaire, always used to muse that a nil-all draw is the perfect result, because it means that both team’s defence and keepers had done their jobs.
Try telling Adelaide or Melbourne City that.
Adelaide will be completely satisfied leaving Melbourne with a vital point and taking them to fourth, but equally wondering if a strong attack might have got them two more points.
Melbourne City had the vast majority of the chances, and the crossbar and Paul Izzo can take a lot of credit for lifting Adelaide up into fourth spot going into Round 26.
What will concern Adelaide more though, is where their goals are going to come from, for them to win the games to not just host a final, but win one.
Injuries and suspension robbed Adelaide of much of their striking options, but the thing about finals is that you can’t accumulate points through draws to hope to qualify for the next round, and if you’re hoping for a draw so that you can take your chances in the penalty shootout lottery, then why are you in the finals to begin with?
Kurz is a smart man, and with likely at least three more games in charge of Adelaide up his sleeve, he will have his thinking cap on as to how to prolong that career to four or five more games.
For now, Adelaide are in fourth at the moment, but funnily enough with it all to do.
Melbourne City are a different case all together.
Is a sixth place finish going to make the City Football Group happy enough with Joyce to keep him as coach?
Considering the players that City have shed to appease Joyce, is a pragmatic sixth place and unlikely shot at a championship going to guarantee him another season to fulfill his grand plan, whatever that plan may be?
City really needed to win on Saturday, and while Adelaide have suspension and injuries to blame for a lack of goals, City have no excuses.
With a true six-point game against Wellington in Wellington next week, and the bankable three points against the Mariners in the last round, they would have loved the three points over Adelaide to give themselves the jump with two rounds to go.
Is Joyce on borrowed time?
Probably not, but you would think that a strong finish to the season and at least a preliminary final would be the bare minimum to assure CFG that he is on the right path.
Still all to play for for Sydney FC
With only points between themselves and Melbourne Victory in third place, Sydney can wrap up their top two finish next week with a win next week if Melbourne drop points.
It would be a great achievement for Steve Corica and his side if they can manage it.
Corica was always on a hiding to nothing this season.
Succeed, which looks likely, and that is the bare minimum that he should have achieved with the squad that Arnold left him.
Fail, and questions are asked if he is the right man for the job.
Of course, the squad that Corica inherited is not the squad that Arnold had for two seasons, noting that Corica had to replace the quality of Jordi Buijs, Bobo, and Adrian Mierzjewski.
Corica has brought in his brand and style, replaced the loss of goals with Adam Le Fondre, while dealing with the inconsistency from an oft-injured Siem De Jong.
And coming up against a fired up Wanderers side in the Derby is never an easy option.
If Corica can get this team to a grand final (again, a near certainty from second spot), he will have met the minimum requirement for his first year in charge.
Corica can look forward to finals, and to having another red-hot crack next year, whether or not his team comes back as defending champions.
Marcus Babbel will also be thinking of his own red-hot crack next season.
A frustrating season for the Dutchman, but the last few weeks have given him renewed hope of a strong season 2019-20.
The word on the street was that the Wanderers want to lock Alexander Baumjohann down to a longer-term marquee contract, but then Babbel subbed off his main man in the derby, and suddenly his status is uncertain.
No doubt that the move to Bankwest Stadium and a couple of fresh players should renew Babbel’s energy, but more importantly, hopefully bring back the support.
While success on the park is one thing, what the Wanderers have always brought to the competition is enthusiasm and passion rom the masses.
With or without success, a small following does the Wanderers, and the A-League, no good at all.
Victory looking tired
It seems that winning a championship, defending a championship and managing Champions League is all starting to catch up on an exhausted Melbourne Victory outfit.
It has to be said that dropping points to the Central Coast Mariners under Alen Stajcic is not necessarily the black mark against your name that it was earlier this season under Mike Mulvey.
But still, in the chase for top two, playing the two-win Mariners – that really should have been three points easily banked for Melbourne as they chase back-to-back grand final wins.
Melbourne, in the end, did well to get the win over a much more disciplined Mariners team that had their chances.
Melbourne need Sydney to slip in the race for the top two, and given the Victory finish the season with away trips to Adelaide and Western Sydney, it won’t be easy.
Early last season, I commented to a Victory supporter that Kevin Muscat isn’t much of a coach.
Particularly considering Kevin Muscat beat my Jets in Newcastle to take the championship, he had me eating my words at the end of last season.
Of course, whether Muscat can indeed coach may be open to debate, but one thing Muscat knows how to do is win.
He knows how to win matches when needed, and win championships, because he is a winner.
With Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen in their ranks, Melbourne were expected to rampage through this season and leave all others in their wake.
That didn’t end up happening.
But as we get to the business end of the season, Victory aren’t yet purring, however they are rumbling.
A fit Honda, a firing Toivonen, and the usual suspects in support of Troisi, Valeri, and Antonis (if fit) – while the win over the Mariners wasn’t spectacular, it was a win, and at this stage of the season, that is all Melbourne Victory need.
As for Stajcic, he couldn’t do anything wrong to finish out the season upon his appointment, and he will like what he is seeing in preparation for next season.
The derby win over Newcastle, while short of initiating a change.org petition to have a bronze statue out front of Gosford Stadium for Stajcic, was the tonic that the Mariners at least needed to just get this season out of the way.
Central Coast next play the Wanderers, with an opportunity for a win over another also-ran.
They then finish the season against Melbourne City, and you would think that the Mariners might get a little bit of satisfaction by spoiling the City party and leaving their own imprint on this season’s finals race.
Stajcic has a long off-season ahead of him to tinker, but for now, he has a chance to try a few things out, and see if the Mariners can have their say on the finals from the bottom.
A-League season 2018-19, you have your newly crowned premiers
Well congratulations Perth.
What a turnaround it has been.
For last season’s also-rans, and parting ways with long-time coach Kenny Lowe, it was the great unknown for Perth this season as they brought back Tony Popovic to take charge of the squad.
He has turned them into premiers.
The sense of relief in Perth, breathed by 11 players on field, subsitutes, coaching staff, and 11,000-odd in attendance, was so palpable in the 65th minute when Perth finally scored, there was almost a change in the climate.
Having gone through two offside goals overturned, and then withstood a Jets barrage at the end, Perth can turn their attention to finals now, and manage the last two rounds, instead of fighting for a premiership.
It is a nice position to be in.
Full credit to Poppa and captain Diego Castro and his men.
There is only the bitter concern about a potentially significant knee injury to Jason Davidson. When a player goes down clutching his knee when untouched that is very much a concern.
Perth for sure have ridden their luck at times, and Liam Reddy has been a star at times, but the whole team has been a star, and in sport, the table almost never lies.
When you win a competition with two rounds to go, you haven’t achieved that by luck.
Perth have won their first A-League premiers plate, and are every inch worthy champions.
For Newcastle, the offseason inquisition as to what happened this season will be long.
Things went pear-shaped for them when Mitch Austin was their star signing.
No disrespect to Mitch, who is a very capable player, but when you are replacing a Socceroo with a fringe Victory player, that is hardly a like for like replacement.
The Jets rode their luck in Perth, and the luck ultimately, and inevitably, ran out.
Their current season over, their unlikely finals dash done, Newcastle must start planning for next season, if they have not yet done so already.
And that will start with recruitment.
Matt Millar is due to arrive.
Laurie McKenna will hopefully have another player or two also in his sights.