A-League mid-season report card
From A+ to F, how the A-League teams rate half-way through the season23 January 2019 | Matthew Galea
With Round 14 of the 2018-19 A-League in the books, we've had some pleasant surprises, some fantastic football and – unfortunately – more of the same from some clubs this season.
As usual, there seems a fair gap between the top six and bottom four, although some of the teams within each of those groups have certainly surprised, though some for better reasons than others.
With the Summer of Football in the rearview mirror, we take a look at the teams and how their seasons have gone so far.
- Record: P: 14 W: 6 D: 4 L: 4
- Ladder: 6th
- GRADE: C
Adelaide United coach Marco Kurz remains one of the most in-demand in the A-League with multiple reports this season linking him to other clubs, but despite this, he has failed to lead his team to any consistent good league form this season.
Of course, United did win the 2018 FFA Cup, a success which remains fresh in the mind and serves as a reminder of the heights this team could potentially scale.
The United side is an interesting one on paper. There is plenty of quality for the Reds to be excited about. Craig Goodwin, Isaias and visa star Ken Ilso can all cause plenty of problems for opponents on their day.
The loss of marquee Baba Diawara has not helped Kurz's cause, but he will be disappointed to find his team sixth after 14 games.
If Adelaide is going to climb the ranks and prove a threat in finals, it will have to find a way to consistently beat the teams above it. As it stands, Round 12's win over Melbourne Victory remains the club's only win over a top-four side this season.
- Record: P: 15 W: 1 D: 5 L: 9
- Ladder: 9th
- GRADE: F
It's been a tough old season for Brisbane Roar. With the club down a senior and assistant coach, just one win for the season, an ageing squad showing little signs of improvement and ongoing uncertainty about the club's ownership, there hasn't been a lot to shout about for the Roar.
A 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Melbourne Victory was actually one of Brisbane's more spirited performances prior to a second-half breakdown, but in many ways, it summed up the club's season.
John Aloisi will hope a disastrous final season won't overshadow the fact that he did manage to take the Roar to two top-four finishes as he looks for future work, but it would be hard to deny the Roar squad has become significantly worse over the last two years.
The lack of quality and the recruitment of a number of older players has hamstrung the club this season and whoever comes in will need to look long and hard at the list to try and rejuvenate a poor squad.
Unfortunately, with just one win and three draws to show for their efforts this season, it's impossible to regard this season as nothing less than a failure.
Central Coast Mariners
- Record: P: 14 W: 1 D: 3 L:10
- Ladder: 10th
- GRADE: F
There is not a lot one can say about the Central Coast Mariners that has not been said. They would have to be regarded as one of the worst top-flight, professional teams in world football and their status as such is only guaranteed by the A-League's insulated existence.
In fact, it would be hard to argue that relegation wouldn't do this club some good in the long term because it is clear that what was once a proud football department able to outpunch the heavyweights of the division now looks completely out of its depth.
The off-season flirtation with Usain Bolt distracted much of the footballing public from what has looked a disastrous preparation for the A-League campaign.
The team has a significant lack of young players coming through into the first team and to make matters worse, Lachie Wales, infamously the league's worst-paid player last season, has been able to find his feet at mega-rich Melbourne City.
The only thing you can say in the club's defence is that the lack of transfer fees in the A-League has so often robbed this club of a significant revenue stream which may have provided valuable resources for the club to develop a football program which is being left further and further behind by the rest of the league.
- Record: P:14 W: 7 D: 3 L: 4
- Ladder: 4th
- GRADE: C
Melbourne City remains such a frustrating part of the A-League if only because one feels it should be achieving so much more.
Recruitment for the season was once again understated but would prove to be underdone when it became apparent that a serious breakdown in communication had occurred between coach Warren Joyce and star striker Bruno Fornaroli.
Without perhaps the A-League's most potent hit-man, City's record is commendable if unremarkable.
It's clear that the role of Melbourne City in the greater scheme of the City Football Group is to get access to some of Australia's best talents and play a leading role in developing them for profit. This isn't a bad thing for the future of Australian football, but it's hardly anything for the club's waning fan base – which remains hungry for success – to get overly excited about.
Perhaps that's a part of the reason why the club's active supporter base retired mid-season.
City will probably go deep in finals once again, but no one should expect too many fireworks unless the issue of Fornaroli is resolved quickly.
- Record: P: 15 W: 9 D: 3 L: 3
- Ladder: 2nd
- GRADE: A
Melbourne Victory remains one of the most impressive clubs in the country – whether in football or any other sport for that matter.
The Victory continues to impress on and off the field, with the acquisition of Keisuke Honda one of the most impressive recruits in A-League history. Honda justified the hype with his early performances but has spent a fair chunk of the season out injured.
In fact, injuries have been a constant for Victory this season, not that coach Kevin Muscat uses them as an excuse. Given the club has been without Honda and other foreign recruits like Raul Baena, Georg Niedermeier and Ola Toivonen at different times this season, the club's second-place ranking is a testament to the depth Muscat and the rest of his football department has been able to achieve at the Victory.
Smart recruitment of local NPL players, like Kenny Athiu and Elvis Kambosa, as well as the promotion of National Youth League products like Rahmat Akbari and Josh Hope, has been instrumental in creating this depth.
Still, much of Victory's fortunes will depend on the ongoing fitness and form of Ola Toivonen, who provides key structure and maturity to a forward line which can otherwise lack killer instinct.
- Record: P: 14 W: 3 D: 3 L: 8
- Ladder: 7th
- GRADE: D
If the Newcastle Jets were flying at unthinkable heights last season, they've certainly come crashing down hard this campaign.
Ernie Merrick has failed to inspire the same levels of performance from his players that took the Jets to the A-League grand final last year and it would be fair to say a thick smog of “what might have been” hangs over the club this season.
Having to cope without star striker Roy O'Donovan for the opening of the campaign after his suspension following last season's grand final didn't help the team in the slightest – he's scored two goals in his two games since returning – last season's successes were never about one player, it was about the collective unit performing at its peak.
Defence seems to be one of the biggest issues for the club this season, with the Jets having just kept the two clean sheets all season.
Whatever the solution, there's a long road back to the top for Merrick and the Jets.
- Record: P: 14 W: 10 D: 3 L: 1
- Ladder: 1st
- GRADE: A+
Perth Glory's place at the top of the A-League after 14 games is a testament to their almost unnerving consistency.
For years now, Glory has long been a team with great potential which has failed to live up to its potential – sometimes because of average coaching, sometimes because of poor club (read salary cap) management, sometimes because of the unique circumstances of their away day travel.
But Tony Popovic has assembled a squad with the required depth to overcome such challenges and drilled into his team a match-style which makes them incredibly hard to beat. Few teams work harder than Glory.
The arrival of former Socceroos World Cup defenders in Jason Davidson, Matthew Spiranovic and Ivan Franjic have provided a fantastic platform for the club's many attacking talents to fulfil their potential.
Chris Ikonomidis has been in inspired form which he has thankfully continued for the Socceroos at the Asia Cup, while Andy Keogh has been reliable in front of goal. With everything ticking along in the right direction, there's a real cause for optimism for Perth.
2019 may just prove to be the club's most glorious in the A-League.
- Record: P: 14 W: 9 D: 2 L: 3
- Ladder: 3rd
- GRADE: A-
Sydney FC may have a similar record to Melbourne Victory this season, but there's something key missing from the Sky Blues this season.
Maybe it's the lack of a stable home ground and uncertainty about where their future lies; maybe it's Milos Ninkovic not quite hitting the heights of seasons passed; or maybe it's a defence which is prone to looking a little fragile at times.
Overall new coach and club legend Steve Corica has done a fine job in replacing new Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, even if his team does not quite look the ruthless winning machine it was at times under his predecessor.
Losses to both Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory also raise doubts over whether or not this Sydney side has true title-winning potential.
Still, Sydney FC remains one of the A-Leagues best teams and with Adam Le Fondre a potent goal threat, there is still plenty of time for Corica's men to establish their championship credentials.
- Record: P: 14 W: 6 D: 5 L: 3
- Ladder: 5th
- GRADE: A+
It is hard not to be impressed with the work being done by new coach Mark Rudan at Wellington Phoenix. With an A-League license reportedly hanging by a thread, Rudan has fostered something of a siege mentality at the Phoenix, with players and supporters stepping up for the fight ahead of them.
A slow start which saw the Phoenix pick up just one win from their opening six games quickly gave way to eight-game unbeaten streak, which included hugely impressive wins over Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar as well as a hard-fought draw against Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park.
Rudan's team is well-drilled, hardworking and have the quality going forward to put opponents to the sword, with Roy Krishna continuing his brilliance for the club supported well by the likes of David Williams and youngster Sapreet Singh.
Regardless of what happens with the Phoenix's A-League license, Rudan and a number of his players have demonstrated they will be welcomed almost everywhere else within the league.
Western Sydney Wanderers
- Record: P: 14 W: 2 D: 3 L: 9
- Ladder: 8th
- GRADE: D
Markus Babbel enjoyed a playing career which scaled the heights of European and world football, but nothing could prepare him for the A-League.
Salary caps, marquees, visa players and no domestic transfers are just some of the terms the former Liverpool man had to acquaint himself within what has been a turbulent introduction to Australian football.
Couple all that with the off-field drama of having to play home games in large, cavernous stadiums which fail to provide the proper atmosphere once provided in Paramatta, as well as the ongoing issues between the active support and the club, and you can perhaps feel sympathy for his plight.
Still, Babbel has failed to convince many onlookers that his team is working towards a solid tactical identity. At times, the Wanderers have lacked discipline and organisation, while individual errors have proven extremely costly in the worst possible moments.
The players brought in by Babbel have shown promise, particularly Alexander Baumjohan, but this team still looks a world away from previous iterations and there remains much work for the German to do.
a-league, adelaide united, brisbane roar, central coast mariners, melbourne city, melbourne victory, newcastle jets, perth glory, sydney fc, wellington phoenix, western sydney wanderers