The A-League Men’s finals series kicks off this weekend, after a long season marred with game postponements due to the pandemic and flooding.
Melbourne City claimed the Premiers Plate for the second year running, with all three Victorian teams taking up the top three spots. Adelaide United prevented a last-minute push from the Mariners to claim fourth, with the Central Coast and Wellington Phoenix making up the top six.
The biggest shock to this year’s finals series has been the omission of Sydney FC. The Sky Blues missed out on the top six for the first time in six seasons, ending up in eighth on the ladder and 9 points behind the Phoenix.
It’s undoubtedly a shame for Sydney fans, who watched their team lift the Championship three times over those five years of finals football and feature in all but one grand final. However, Sydney’s demise is ultimately the A-League men’s gain.
For the past five years, Sydney FC have dominated the competition. It was almost a given that they would find themselves in the finals series, and almost certainly in the grand final.
Their loss in last year’s decider to Melbourne City was welcome for neutral fans, sick of the Sky Blues domination and excited to see another team (although also dressed in sky blue colours) lift the Premiership trophy.
Their 2016/17 season was a masterclass of football, finishing the year 17 points clear of second placed Victory. The A League Men’s in the past five seasons has been, for a lack of better word, somewhat boring.
The top six were almost always worlds above the rest of the field, and the top two far above the rest of the finals teams.
But this year, the 2021/22 season, has been incredible to watch. The top six teams were only decided with one game to spare, and even then they shifted around within those spots. Melbourne City were only crowned minor premiers on their last match of the season, snatching the Plate off Melbourne Victory by just one point.
Western United were even in with an outside chance heading into the final round. It made every game at the end of the season a must watch, no matter who you support. We haven’t seen such close competition, throughout the entire ladder (barring poor Perth Glory) in years.
And looking at the Premiership contenders now, none could be realistically ruled out to be on the pitch on May 28. Melbourne City and cross-town rivals Victory, the top two, are obviously at the top of the list for the win.
Western United were in the hunt for the Premiers plate, but their end to the season was frustrating. However, their form throughout their campaign was consistent.
Adelaide United have had a slump in form towards the back end of the season, at the same time the Central Coast Mariners (their opponents on Sunday) have had a resurgence, picking up wins for their last five matches. Wellington have been a welcome surprise, with many predicting a top three finish for the Nix following a solid start to the season.
Sydney FC only just missed out on the finals, but the fact that the margin was so close just proves the point. The fall of Sydney FC, and the inevitable rise again, has only been good for the league. If they make it back into the finals fold next year, great.
But it’s highly unlikely we’ll see such incessant domination again for a long time.