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Opinion

Attack wins games, defence wins championships: A-League Women Round 8 talking points

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Expert
24th January, 2022
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While there were only three games in the most recent round of the A-League Women, we gleaned plenty from the matches that were played.

Attack wins games, defence wins championships (but you can’t have the second without the first)
Western Sydney Wanderers went into this clash with Perth Glory as the second stingiest defence in the league. For the Wanderers this season, a strong defence has been the hallmark of their play.

Goalkeeper Sarah Langman has been excellent when called upon. Alexia Apostolakis worked her way into the starting line-up and has played beyond her 15 years.

Alexia Apostolakis

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Clare Hunt and Danica Matos have been mainstays in the back four while Caitlin Cooper and now Alex Huynh have also played important roles.

The old sports adage says that defence wins you championships and the Wanderers right now have that part of the plan nailed down.

However, the full saying goes that attack wins you games, defence wins you championships. It’s not a pick-and-choose phrase but rather a recipe that needs to be followed step by step. You can’t have the second bit without the first.

And that has been Western Sydney’s issue all season. Good defence with zero attack. They have scored the fewest goals in the league: Ashlie Crofts’ stunning equaliser against Newcastle and Bryleeh Henry’s penalty against the Roar.

Even Canberra and the Phoenix, who sit below the Wanderers on the table, have more goals.

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It was the same story in the Wanderers’ 1-0 loss to Perth. It took Deborah-Anne De la Harpe’s incredible free kick to break the deadlock and earn the points for Perth.

But the Wanderers could only muster a single shot on target and two shots for the whole game. Inside the 18-yard box, they registered just four touches.

The team would progress to the point between the halfway line and the 18-yard box and suddenly run out of options. There was no movement, no runs, and overall static play that was easy to shut down for the Glory.

At the back end of last season both Rosie Galea and Bryleeh Henry impressed with braces. Now Galea is being used off the bench and Henry only has one goal to her name.

Where last season the Wanderers had players like Leena Khamis and Julie-Ann Russell to employ up forward, now they have Sheridan Gallagher and Isabella Habuda, neither of whom have scored.

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There’s always a chance that just like last season, the strikers will find form at the back end of the campaign. But for now it is simply frustrating for the Wanderers, who are doing all the defensive work with none of the offensive reward.

Sydney FC now far and away the best team in the comp
After Melbourne City dismantled Melbourne Victory in the derby, fans flicked ahead to find out when City would take on Sydney. The duo represented two of the best and most exciting prospects in the A-League Women.

The teams’ good form meant some of their best players were whisked away on national team duty with Cortnee Vine, Remy Siemsen, and Holly McNamara making it to the full Asian Cup squad and Winonah Heatley travelling to Dubai to take part in the pre-tournament camp.

Rebekah Stott of Melbourne City makes a break away from Remy Siemsen of Sydney FC during the 2020 W-League Grand Final match between Melbourne City and Sydney FC at AAMI Park on March 21, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

So when these sides met on Saturday, both were without some of the strike power. Would these sides have been different propositions with the likes of Vine and Siemsen in Sky Blue and McNamara in City’s green away kit? Yes.

But Sydney FC managed to put three past City and it is precisely because Ante Juric’s side is carrying on without their Matildas that they are the best team in the league.

This game was won and lost in the midfield with Sydney’s pack pressure consistently forcing turnovers and creating steals. The decision to employ Rebekah Stott further forward as opposed to deep in midfield may have been the wrong one on City’s behalf.

Paige Satchell nabbed her first goal in sky blue thanks to one of these turnovers and a quick break. Rachel Lowe’s stocks continue to rise with her double capping off an impressive few weeks for the midfielder.

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City’s resolute back five looked uncharacteristically out of shape and out of sorts.

While they put in a much better second half and can perhaps feel aggrieved that they didn’t score at least one goal with Emma Checker’s effort being chalked off, Sydney showed all of the right stuff to make them clear title favourites.

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New worries, old worries
Only half of the scheduled fixtures actually took place this round. It is by no means a new tale in the league, football, or even sport more widely in Australia at the moment.

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But it has now happened consistently enough that questions are starting to bubble about how exactly the league works through the backlog of fixtures.

Nine games have been postponed so far with the league trying to navigate this on top of the border situation in Western Australia across both the women’s and men’s competitions.

The logical solution would be to schedule some midweek matches in order to get all the games played. However, that is not as logical a proposition as it first appears for the women.

Asking players who put in full-time effort but who are still nominally part-time athletes in both compensation and hours is deeply unfair.

Expecting players who are already juggling jobs, study, and caretaking to sacrifice even more without proper support shouldn’t be the first option exercised. Unfortunately it may be the only viable option.

Speaking of sacrifices, it must also be pointed out that both Wellington and Perth have made more than most to ensure this season has run as smoothly as it possibly can.

While there may still be some home games for the Phoenix, the prospect of a Glory homecoming has taken a knock with Western Australia’s decision not to reopen the border as initially slated on February 5.

Generic football

(Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

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While it is a difficult scenario for both the men’s and women’s teams at the Glory, as the commentary duo of Glenn Lauder and Amy Chapman noted during the Wanderers versus Perth broadcast, these women are being asked to do more with less.

While the men typically do not have second jobs, the women often do. If they cannot work remotely, they are being put in an undesirable position. Even the most flexible and accommodating employer would still rather not lose a worker for several weeks.

And while the men, once again propped up by full-time wages, are typically better equipped to bring their families and partners with them to the east coast, for the women it is once again much more difficult.

If the Glory must see out the rest of the season on the east coast, which seems like an inevitability, more must be done to support these women.

In the AFLW, a relocation policy is in place to help financially support players who are forced to move away from home for the sake of the competition and who cannot work remotely. A similar policy should be considered.

Of course, these things wouldn’t need to be considered if the league was fully professional, as the football community has wanted for many years.

Which brings us to another perennial complaint of the women’s league. Adelaide’s 1-0 win over Wellington Phoenix was earmarked by a slow tempo. It was easily explained by the scorching South Australian sun. It was, in fact, so hot that two drinks breaks per half were required.

Surely if that many drinks breaks are required, it may well be too hot to be playing a game of football. Everyone knows that it is a summer league and hot weather is something we must contend with.

But an afternoon kick-off suggests that the ALW has still not figured out how to best operate in the middle of summer to ensure not only a safe competition but the best possible contest.

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