There’s a perfect storm brewing in the world of professional sport and the A-League has been one of the first competitions in Australia to feel the full effect.
Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC are considered the most likely candidates to challenge Perth Glory for the A-League championship during this upcoming finals campaign.
But does the reigning champions’ reputation proceed them?
Truth be told, despite showing glimpses of potential, Victory has been underwhelming this season.
The difference between their best and worst performances are reflected in the composition of the squad.
Before a ball was kicked, the feeling was that Kevin Muscat had strengthened his team with the acquisition of former Japan international Keisuke Honda and Swedish striker Ola Toivonen, fresh off his World Cup exploits.
It was an impressive statement of intent from the champions and even if they have been physically fragile, both stars have lived up to the hype.
Unfortunately, the collective failed to match their performance levels over the season and while their best performances have disguised the team’s struggles – even I have to admit to being seduced by their peak performances – the overall record makes for sobering reading.
Only Wellington have lost more games than Victory against the top-six teams and even the Phoenix boast an undefeated record against Muscat’s team in the three games between the pair.
While Honda and Toivonen have been leading lights, the supporting cast has lagged a long way behind, with only Kosta Barbarouses standing out from the crowd for consistency this season.
The New Zealand international has been in career-best form for the Victory this season and leads the scoring charts.
Injury-plagued Georg Niedermeier has only managed 14 appearances and has not always hit the heights expected of him when available.
Muscat pinned much of his defensive hopes on the experienced German, and Corey Brown and Storm Roux have not been convincing as a defensive partnership in his absence, while James Donachie has also struggled with his own injury issues.
The soft and unorganised nature of their defence has undermined the team’s fortunes.
Further up the field, James Troisi has been chequered at best. Some sublime performances early in the season must surely be a source of frustration for fans.
On form, Troisi is one of the best attacking midfielders in the league but too often he has remained anonymous and unable to have a telling effect on proceedings.
Behind him, Raul Baena has become something of a cult favourite.
While the club’s fantastic videos featuring the Spaniard as he comes to grips with life in Australia – and, hilariously, the AFL – might be popular on social media, his on-field performances haven’t always been as memorable.
Carl Valeri has been dependable and a magnificent servant to the club and Australian football in general, but his performances have justified his decision to call time on his decorated career at the season’s end.
If the domestic campaign has been underwhelming, then the continental campaign has been a disaster, with just one point from four outings.
Despite all this, the Melburnians remain hopeful that it can all come together in the finals.
As one of only two clubs to have defeated the Glory in Perth this season, a feat they will likely have to repeat if they are to retain their title, Muscat knows his team can overcome a forgettable home-and-away campaign to get the job done in finals once again.
The Victory even managed a Big Blue triumph in Sydney.
But for every win over Perth and Sydney, there are losses against Newcastle Jets and Melbourne City, and draws against the Phoenix.
Victory will remain favourites against Mark Rudan’s men this weekend, and while their capacity for one-match brilliance means Muscat’s team remains a finals threat, they remain a true championship threat on reputation only.