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Opinion

Why Western United can win the A-League Men grand final and why they won’t

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Expert
23rd May, 2022
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If you were not satisfied with the passion, skill and contest on display last Saturday night when Western United knocked off the Victory to advance to the A-League Men grand final, you are incredibly difficult to please.

Rather brilliantly, things played out in just as thrilling a manner on Sunday when Melbourne City booked their spot in the decider, coming from behind against the now-heartbroken Reds, who for a minute looked like stunning the champs.

Those results set up a perfect David and Goliath situation in which City, with all their talent, class and backing, go up against a potential fairy tale. A physically wounded, oft criticised and homeless club dares to defy the odds and claim the biggest prize in the Australian game.

There is indeed something magical about the current run that coach John Aloisi has his Western United squad enjoying, full of an emotion, passion and steel that proved too much for a favoured Melbourne Victory to handle over two legs.

John Aloisi

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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Aloisi has silenced any lingering doubts over his coaching abilities even with key players out injured. The charge to the final match of the season has built up a tangible sense of an underdog overcoming considerable odds.

Momentum is snowballing and the more calm and poised opponent is no doubt fearful of being unable to ride out the wave of emotion heading its way.

The current wave is powerful enough to provide a host of logical reasons as to why Western United can get the job done on Saturday and claim a championship that few pundits probably though possible.

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Jamie Young continues to block, parry and tip expertly in goals, the balance that Connor Pain, Dylan Wenzel-Halls, Lachie Wales, Jerry Skodatis and Neil Kilkenny are providing in the midfield is impressive and with a true talisman in the form of Aleksandar Prijovic up top and scoring freely, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that United can hurt City and hurt them often.

Throw in stability down back, with Leo Lacroix and Josh Risdon again utterly superb in the 4-1 second leg win on Saturday night, and the case is only strengthened.

In simple terms, Western have the weapons to score and the defensive discipline to make the opposition efforts to do so problematic, something a free-scoring and attacking-minded Victory found out in spades across the two legs of the semi-final.

Leo Lacroix

(Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

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After what we have seen thus far in the knock-out phase of the season, there would be few stunned should Aloisi’s men mount the surfboard one more time and ride the momentum all the way to the victory presentation.

Yet things could well play out in a far more predictable and pragmatic manner, with the best team in Australia across the last two seasons more than capable of closing United down and using the 90 minutes on offer to secure yet another piece of silverware to add to a burgeoning trophy cabinet.

For long periods, Adelaide United did appear to have City’s measure across their two semi-final matches and seemed to have them on the rack with just 20 minutes remaining. The big names in blue were urgently required to change the momentum of the contest.

Of course, City eventually managed it with the skill and resilience that has become part of their DNA in recent years. Marco Tilio and Jamie Maclaren found second-half and extra-time goals to snuff out any flame of hope the Reds still held, with patience, pressure and persistence eventually forcing open the dam wall.

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Mathew Leckie was simply everywhere in the front third, Maclaren was a constant threat and Andrew Nabbout was at his feisty best, providing superbly from wide areas on more than one occasion.

Jamie MacLaren of Melbourne City celebrates scoring a goal

(Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

There was little panic from City at the back, Tilio and Rostyn Griffiths added impetus from the bench and Adelaide’s emotional run was conquered in a manner typical of the way champion teams normally operate: by remaining cool, poised and full of nothing but the belief that things will eventually turn their way.

Plenty of money will be invested on the likelihood of City producing something similar this weekend against Western United.

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The absences of Alessandro Diamanti and Nikolai Topor-Stanley, as well as lingering injury concerns for Steven Lustica, have many convinced that the stretched United squad and City’s bench depth will translate into another championship for Patrick Kisnorbo’s team.

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That logic will be pitted against the emotion of the green and black run. It is a run that most A-League Men fans will be hoping continues.

Yet City fans will be desperate for the mood to calm during the week so they can efficiently get down to the business of claiming the title they feel they deserve.

The fact that we can see both teams winning makes this a fitting grand final.

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