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A-League Men mid-season report cards: Sixth to first

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Expert
3rd March, 2022
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After assessing the performance of each A-League Men team in the bottom half of the ladder over the first half of the season earlier this week, now it is time to turn attention to those currently excelling and holding down a place in the top six.

Most likely, one or perhaps two of those below will be holding aloft the premiership plate and/or A-League Men championship trophy in a few months’ time, the big mystery that remains to be revealed is the identity of those team.

Sydney FC: C
Most probably felt that last season’s runner-up would sit a little higher on the ladder at this stage of the season, yet Sydney FC hang onto a spot in the six at the time of writing, on goal difference alone.

Goals were hard to come by early. A few better performances followed, yet February has been a dry month with a lone win against Adelaide United on the road.

People continue to question the ageing legs of stars like Milos Ninkovic, Bobo and Alex Wilkinson and with the busyness of the Sky Blues’ schedule set to remain in the coming months, there is a school of thought that says Steve Corica will fall well short in his chase for another Sydney championship this time around.

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To this point, the Sky Blues have not shown any championship-winning form.

Sydney's Elvis Kamsoba dribbles the ball in an A-League fixture against Brisbane Roar

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Melbourne Victory: B-
Tony Popovic looked something akin to a genius after just a few short weeks of the present season.

Managing a third A-League Men club, his Victory side suffered just one league defeat across November and December, triumphed in the FFA Cup Final on February 4 and looked to have set things up for a dramatic resurgence.

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He looked like a hero to fans of a club who have been waiting for some time for it to come back to life.

Since then, the nuts on the wheels have begun loosening and what looked like a sharp and speedy sports car is beginning to show signs of some serious mechanical flaws.

Successive losses to the Phoenix, Jets and Western Sydney produced a dramatic slide to the edge of the six, while a steadying recent win against the Central Coast drew a collective sigh of relief from the Victory fans.

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Right now, the season appears somewhat in the balance, with the early rounds suggesting the squad had what it took and more recent performances being far less impressive.

Adelaide United: B+
It is a strong B+ for the Reds thus far in 2021-22. Carl Veart has done a superb job with his squad after many expressed concerns about its quality in the pre-season.

Even the recent loss of Stefan Mauk abroad does not appear likely to rattle a club that has recruited well and continues to be a force to be reckoned with at home.

Consistency could be the only area of criticism, with a February win against Melbourne City juxtaposed with a 4-1 loss to Macarthur FC just days later and reflective of their season to date.

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Not only do the Reds deserve a high rating based on performances thus far, it is also brilliant to see them sitting high on the ladder and making another run at the championship.

Hiroshi Ibusuki

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Macarthur FC: B
The Bulls have been solid without being brilliant for much of the season, yet have shown the peaks they are capable of at times, such as the 4-1 trouncing of the Reds on February 19.

Defensively strong and with the third best goal haul across the league, Ante Milicic has more than a decent football team to work with.

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Should the attacking unit gel further and Ulises Davila begins to fire, something that was made difficult without a single league fixture in January, the Bulls could well be serious contenders for the title.

To this point they have been in third gear, yet even that has been good enough to keep them near the top of the ladder.

And with games in hand, they now look almost certain to be the highest ranked New South Welsh team heading into the finals.

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Western United: A
John Aloisi has a big, fat raspberry for all those folk who doubted his managerial skills heading into his third stint in the A-League Men.

I can assure you it was a big, sloppy raspberry filled with ‘I told you so’, as I was one of the doubting Thomases.

Despite a resume not commanding certainty around his future success, Aloisi has United humming along, winning nine matches across the 14 played and being clear top when the disparity of matches played is taken into consideration.

The former Socceroo has a team more than capable of winning the championship.

Sure, 1-0 might sound like a conservative way to win, something United has done six times this season, however two wins against Melbourne City are indicative of their strengths and mean far more than the relatively meagre 17-goal haul they have managed to accumulate to this point.

Steven Lustica of Western United (L) celebrates his goal

(Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

Melbourne City: B
It is perhaps a little scary that the team at the top of the ladder is only deserving of a B grade, yet with a few extra matches played and dropping more points when they seemed assured on Wednesday night against Perth, City are far from in full swing.

There appeared to be an absence of the ‘foot on the throat’ mentality early in the season, with quick starts turning to clumsy second halves where a handful of draws became the unexpected result.

The talent in the squad is unquestionable and recently things have looked far better, with five wins across February and Mathew Leckie’s form adding a rather imposing dimension to the front line.

The champions were mighty close to an A- grade yet evidence of a lifting of the foot off the pedal was there to see once again on Wednesday night.

As soon as Patrick Kisnorbo gets on top of that issue, City will be in full swing and ready to go back to back.

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