Normally by this stage of an A-League season, with just a handful of matches remaining before the semi-finals, form lines have been well and truly set.
Usually the Premier’s Plate has been grasped, as Sydney FC has done this season, the teams to occupy the top four look likely and the scrap for the six has been mostly decided, bar the odd team hanging on to mathematical hopes of scraping into the finals.
True to 2020 madness, the current season is a completely different kettle of fish. An extended break, forced changes in personnel for some clubs and a frantic resumption of play where teams are being asked to back up on short turn arounds, have all lead to some unpredictable results.
As such, the top six is reading as something completely inaccurate; a farce if you will, considering what we have seen unfold since the resumption.
Most notably, Sydney FC look anything but runaway plate winners and outright favourites for the title. Losing two matches on the trot is something teams careering away into the distance rarely do, yet after a solid 3-1 win against Wellington to reignite the season, things have turned pear shaped for the men from the harbour city.
Against the Jets, Steve Corica’s troops ran out of legs and ideas in their second match back and after a 14-day quarantine, Melbourne City sprung back into A-League play and staked an even stronger claim of contention with a 2-0 against Sydney over the weekend.
The Sky Blues may well be still atop the ladder, yet favouritism in betting markets deserves to be elsewhere at this point in time.
The team many thought to be Sydney’s biggest threat, had the season not been interrupted by COVID, has also returned without the spark and energy required. Ufuk Talay’s Wellington began with that loss to Sydney, before winning 2-1 against an underdone Glory some five days later.
Potentially it appeared business as usual for the men in yellow. However a 1-1 draw with the impressive Reds and a ponderous performance against the Wanderers has seen them gather just four points in as many games and subsequently slip a rung on the ladder.
A loss this coming Wednesday to the Roar would see them descend further into fourth and potentially within the clutches of Perth Glory and/or Adelaide United; the latter appearing like real title contenders after an impressive resumption to play.
At this stage and despite all the promise of their pre-COVID performances, Wellington appear destined to be playing in an elimination final, rather than waiting for the winner of one, in a final four semi-final situation.
Whilst Brisbane Roar sit fourth, there is likewise little to write home about.
The aforementioned Reds held on against them for a 1-0 win in their first match back before the Queenslanders used a little bit of fortune and desperation to hang onto all three points against Melbourne Victory in their second; not the most impressive of wins considering the plight of the victory right now.
Perth Glory still look slightly short of a gallop and after an expected win against the Mariners, fell victim to Wellington and the Reds put a fistful past them.
In short, Adelaide’s return has been the cream of the crop. Yet to lose since play resumed, three points against Sydney FC this Thursday will definitely have tongues wagging around their chances to do some damage come finals time.
Perhaps the most deceptive feature of the current top six, considering the recent form at our disposal, is the more fact that Newcastle Jets are not in it.
Also undefeated since play resumed, wins against Sydney FC and Western United were split by a disappointing goalless draw with the Mariners; a result that may well loom large should the men from the Hunter indeed miss the finals as it appears they may now do.
Those two pesky points will prove costly, with just one match remaining for Newcastle against the Phoenix on the 13th of August, and still three points required to draw level with Adelaide and Perth on 34 points. By then, both the Reds and Glory will likely have moved ahead and even if they should not, the Jets currently possess a poor goal difference.
In truth, Western Sydney perhaps hold the best chance of those sitting just outside the eight; unbeaten after the resumption and with winnable matches against Perth and Western United in the next four days, six points will see them inside the six and destined for finals.
As bizarre as 2020 has been, the chaos of a pandemic has set up a quirky situation where the current top six on the A-League ladder appear out of order given current form and Newcastle destined to miss out altogether, despite being in the best form of all.
That scenario opens up myriad possibilities for the finals series to come, once that is, we work out exactly which teams will be competing in it.