NowUC’s 2018-2019 A-league Finals Preview
NowUC’s Matthew Di Dio took a look at the upcoming A-League Finals to provide you with the ultimate finals preview guide.
How do the finals work?
The A-League has a simpler finals system than the other sport codes in Australia. This is because there are less teams in the competition, and thus a smaller number qualify for the finals (6 in the A-League as opposed to 8 in the AFL, NRL and Super Rugby).
There are three weeks of finals matches. Week one (Elimination Finals) is two games; third versus sixth, and fourth versus fifth. The Higher ranked teams will host the games.
Week two are the Semi-Finals; first place plays the lowest ranked team that progressed from week 1, the team that places second will play the higher ranked team that progressed from week 1.
The Grand Final will then be compromised of the winners from each semi-final.
This years Finals series will look like this:
AFC Champions League Qualification
An additional prize to be won is qualification to the AFC Champions League. Having finished first, Perth have already won one of the three potential spots (Two spots automatically qualify, and the other is granted a place in the play-offs) in the League for next season. The other guaranteed spot, and playoff spot, will be determined on who the winner and runner up of the Grand Final is, and Sydney placing second in the regular season all but guarantees that they’ll have one of these spots (also worth noting that Wellington cannot qualify for the Champions League, as they are not an Australian Team).
Confused? It’s understandable, as qualification in these kind of tournaments is often confusing, but all you need to know is that there’s more to play for than just winning the Grand Final.
For the intrigue seen both on and off-field the field this year, the competitiveness of the game itself slightly lacked. The Top 6 had been decided with several rounds to play, with only slim mathematical probabilities to change the top 3, though none came to pass.
The final round mattered only for who would place fourth to sixth. Adelaide United quickly claimed 4th spot in an 8 goal thriller against Brisbane Roar. Melbourne City managed an unlikely jump to 5th after a 5-0 thrashing of the Central Coast Mariners, meaning Wellington Phoenix fell to 6th after losing 5-0 to this years premiers; Perth Glory.
The Top Six were as Follows:
1: Perth Glory (60 pts – 56 Goals for, 23 Against)
2: Sydney FC (52 pts – 43 Goals for, 29 Against)
3: Melbourne Victory (50 pts – 50 Goals for, 32 Against)
4: Adelaide United (44 pts – 37 Goals for, 32 Against)
5: Melbourne City (40 pts – 39 Goals for, 32 Against)
6: Wellington Phoenix (40 pts – 46 Goals for, 43 Against)
Perth had a dominant season and had almost won the tournament with months to go. A late season falter meant Sydney FC were able to crawl back into contention for the Premiers Plate. However, the Sky Blues draw in the Sydney derby in Round 25 ensured that Perth won their first A-League title, and first national title in 16 years.
Perth have a hugely talented roster, as you’d expect from a team who finished first. It’s hard to see them faltering and not making the Grand Final, however as we saw with Sydney FC last year, it’s not impossible. That being said, look for Perth to go all the way this year, as no other team has looked quite as threatening.
Player to Watch: Chris Ikonomidis
After making a promising start in his career he has spent the last few seasons loaned out from his parent club, Italian side Lazio. He also had a breakthrough with the Socceroos, with 6 of his 12 appearances coming since the beginning of the 18/19 A-League season, and both his goals for the side coming since then. He has scored 9 goals for Perth this season, and created 3 assists.
Honourable Mention: Diego Castro.
Prediction: Grand Final Winners
Sydney nearly did the unthinkable and won three minor premierships in a row, but their aforementioned loss to the Wanderers in Round 25 meant that this was out of their reach, despite manging to beat premiers Perth in Round 26. To finish second was an achievement in itself, given the loss of Mierzejewski and Bobo, arguably the team’s best players (especially given the goal scoring record Bobo broke last season, and Mierzejewski’s Jonny Warren Medal). However, Sydney found competent replacements in Adam Le Fondre and Siem De Jong (when he wasn’t injured).
Sydney have once again struggled in the AFC Champions League, with 3 draws and a loss (at the time of writing, their next game is May 7th), though Head Coach Steve Corica claimed after their draw with Shanghai SIPG that if they perform like that that will destroy any A-League team. Despite not being as dominant as the last two seasons, Sydney still have the experience and quality to go far, especially as they look to give favourite son Alex Brosque a farewell to remember.
Player to watch: Alex Brosque
Whilst arguably not the Sky Blue’s best this year, it’s hard to go past one of the club’s favourite sons in his last finals campaign, and named a member of their team of the decade. Brosque has also shown he still has some goals in him, with 7 this season, including a thrilling goal to give his side the point in the final Sydney Derby of his career in Round 25.
Honourable Mention: Siem De Jong
Prediction: Grand Final Runners Up
Last year’s Grand Final winners haven’t been the team expected of them this season, despite one of the most exciting marque player signings in recent years in the form of Keisuke Honda. They also lost in round 26 match against Adelaide, ending their hopes of the important second place finish.
Victory are still one of the strongest teams in the competition and have the experience to go the distance despite an underwhelming regular season – as shown last year. It isn’t unreasonable to anticipate another Grand Final finish from Melbourne, as last years semi-final and grand final wins showed how random and unpredictable the sport can be.
Should Melbourne win their Elimination Final against Wellington, they’ll play Sydney FC, and should go into that match-up with confidence, having won 3 of their last 4 games against the Sky Blues (including last years nail-biting Semi-Final).
Player to Watch: Keisuke Honda
The obvious choice but not an unreasonable one. Easily one of the highest-profile marquee signings of the last few seasons for the A-League. Hasn’t had the impact desired due to injury, but has still managed 7 goals and 5 assists this season. He also has the experience and skill to make an impact in the big games.
Honourable Mention: Carl Valeri
Prediction: Knocked Out in Semi-Finals
Adelaide were the victors of the battle for 4thplace – their reward being a home game for the second elimination final. It’s their second year in a row finishing in the top 6, and they’ve had success this time of year in recent history, having won the double in 15/16.
Adelaide have featured in the last 2 FFA Cups (both against Sydney FC) – winning the most recent one in 2018 – proving that they have the capability of winning big matches.
Player to Watch: Craig Goodwin
Goodwin has registered the most assists in the A-League this season. He scored both goals in Adelaide’s FFA Cup Final win – and was the first Australian to win the Mark Viduka Medal for best player in the FFA Cup Final. His strong early season form earned him a recall to the national side after a lengthy absence (ironically it was in Tim Cahill’s final Socceroo’s appearance) – though he didn’t manage to get on the field. Has scored 10 goals for the Reds this season in addition to his 9 assists.
Honourable Mention: Isaias
Prediction: Knocked out in the Semi-Finals
A team that’s never quite lived up to their potential, City yet again find themselves in the finals. Their season was clouded slightly by the club’s treatment of long serving son Bruno Fornaroli – initially with Manager Warren Joyce’s refusal to play him and subsequently his departure, joining Premiers Perth for next season. However, the club has brought in Australian striker Jamie Maclaren, which has pleased fans – especially his recent form, both for club and country.
City also have a very young squad, with 7 players in the squad (as listed on the club’s official website) born post 2000 – which has given some younger players a chance to shine, such as Tottenham Hotspurs loanee Shayon Harrison, who scored a brilliant solo goal in their final round 5-o phrasing of the Central Coast Mariners. They also posses Aussie young gun Riley McGree – who had been instrumental for City this season, and scored his infamous Scorpion Goal against them in last years Semi-Finals.
Melbourne City are undefeated in their last 12 home games, and City defender Scott Jamieson suggested his desire to play against Melbourne Victory in the Elimination-Final, however due to the somewhat miraculous events of the final round, they will have to travel to Adelaide.
Player to Watch: Jamie Maclaren
If there is one thing that most critics of the Australian national team can agree on, it’s the fact that Australia severely lacks in a striker. While some were disappointed to see Maclaren re-join the A-League (seeing it as giving up on development in Europe), he has proven a capable goalscorer since his arrival in Melbourne, with 5 goals in his 8 appearances for City.
Prediction: Knocked out in the Elimination-Final
Wellington are one of the stories of the season here, having finished 9th in two of the last three seasons (and failing to make the finals in the other). With the last few years of headlines of whether they should still be in the league, the Nix have turned things around for themselves with far better performances this season.
Phoenix will have a massive challenge facing Melbourne in the Elimination-Final, and while an upset may seem unlikely, stranger things have happened in the A-League Finals. Wellington are capable goalscorers with 46 goals this season, and Melbourne have conceded at least one goal in their past 9 home games. They should provide an interesting challenge to the Victory.
Player to Watch: Roy Krishna
Krishna has been a consistent highlight for a-not-always-performing Wellington team. Sadly for Nix fans it may be his last season in yellow and black, being heavily linked to a move away from New Zealand in recent weeks. Krishan was also the Golden Boot winner this season, with 18 goals.
Honourable Mention: Sapreet Singh
Prediction: Knocked out in the Elimination-Final
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🙌 ⚽️ 🙌 Nix Fijian Flyer, @roykrishna21 created history earlier in the season as we met Perth Glory at @westpacstadiumnz . 🔥 The striker scored to become the #Nix record goalscorer 🔥 📺 Watch the highlights 👉 on our Youtube channel. #StandUpWithYourNix #CreateHistory #PERvWEL
Match 1 (Friday May 3rd)
The first elimination match is Melbourne Victory vs Wellington Phoenix.
Head to Head: Melbourne have won 19, Wellington have won 8, they have drawn 9 times. This season they have Drawn all 3 matches.
Prediction: Melbourne Victory will win
Look out for: Honda to make an impact, as it’s games like these he was brought in for. Also keep an eye out for Krishna, as the discussion of where he will end up next season has heated up over the last week, and he’ll want to put in a big performance in what may be his final game for the Nix.
Match 2 (Sunday May 5th)
The second elimination match is Adelaide vs Melbourne City.
Head to Head: Adelaide have won 10, Melbourne City have won 10, they have drawn 8 times. This season City have won once, and they drew the other 2 fixtures.
Prediction: Adelaide should win, but this will be a close one.
Look out for: The back of the net. Both teams possess a more-than-capable goalscorer, and with both Riley McGree and Craig Goodwin – both experienced in scorer spectacular goals in knock-out matches – this should be a high scoring game.
Semi Final 1 (Friday May 10th)
Perth Glory will host the first semi-final, playing against the lowest ranked qualifier from week 1.
Semi Final 2 (Sunday May 12th)
Sydney FC will host the second semi, playing against the highest ranked qualifier from week 1.
Grand Final (Saturday/Sunday May 18th/19th – Not yet determined)
The Grand Final will be played between the winners of each semi, and at this stage it seems hard to imagine it won’t be played between Perth and Sydney, but as the finals are always unpredictable it’s hard to make any predictions just yet.
Key Match ups
One thing to always look out for are the so called ‘derbies’ of the league. Theres a chance for three of these to occur this finals series. There’s a guaranteed one of these in the Semi-Finals, as should Wellington beat Melbourne Victory, they will play Perth in the Semi’s, we’ll see the ‘distance derby’, whereas if Melbourne win they will play Sydney FC, which will give as a second year in a row of the ‘Big Blue’ in the Semi-Finals. If somehow both Melbourne teams win their Elimination-Finals, they will play in both Semi’s (for the second year in a row), and we may see a Melbourne Derby Grand-Final.
How to Watch
The A-League Finals are available through multiple services. Like the regular season, all matches are watchable through Fox Sports. However, good news for those without Foxtel, as all 5 finals matches will be on Free too Air via Channel 10 bold.