It’s the start of a new campaign as the 2021/22 A-League men’s season kicked off over the weekend. It had high expectations to meet after a long break of no football in most parts of the country.
Some games were cagey and tightly contested, and goals were hard to come by. The quality of the league has already gone up a considerable amount.
There are always points of contention and points of controversy in the opening game week of every season, whether that be on or off the pitch. The Inner Sanctum dissects the five on-field things we learnt from week one of the A-League Men season.
1. Sydney letting Luke Ivanovic go could be a big mistake
Brisbane was 2-0 down with half an hour to play in the opening match of the season against Melbourne City when they turned to their bench for a spark. On came Luka Ivanovic.
Coming across from Sydney in the offseason, he provided an immediate spark. He drove at the City defence and found space at the back post to head home Brisbane’s only goal of the game.
Meanwhile, 24 hours later and 800km away, Sydney struggled to break down a stringent Western Sydney Wanderers defence despite the best efforts of new singings Elvis Kamsoba and Max Burgess.
This poses the question: could letting Ivanovic go to Brisbane come back to haunt the Sky Blues? It is still very early in the season, but Ivanovic looked electrifying in his Roar debut, whereas Sydney looked blunt and uninspiring.
2. Melbourne Victory is competitive again
After two seasons of poor football, Melbourne Victory is competitive again. With multiple key players either not playing or underdone, Tony Popovic grinded a result out of a very resolute Western United side.
It was an unrecognisable side from the previous season. Control in possession and discipline without the ball are characteristics of a Victory side which the League hasn’t seen in the best part of the last 24 months.
All Victory fans will be turning their attention to this weekend’s game against Brisbane Roar at home to see if this functional and competitive football can continue.
If so, the rest of the league should look on in fear as one of the country’s biggest clubs is back where it belongs.
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3. Daniel Penha is a coach’s dream
Australia’s first introduction to Newcastle’s Daniel Penha was when he smashed home a free kick in the FFA Cup against Western United. Fans and critics alike were intrigued as to whether he was able to replicate that magic in the league.
Penha made the F3 derby his playhouse. With five successful dribble attempts, four key passes and one big chance created, the Brazilian was unplayable.
Despite not getting on the scoresheet or leading his side to a derby win, he announced himself to Australia as a talent to be taken seriously. He is a luxury player who can win games off his own boot, and take the Jets to new heights.
4. Kusini Yengi is something special
With Tomi Juric and Al-Hassan Toure departing Adelaide United and George Blackwood not in the squad, the number 9 duties fell squarely to young Kusini Yengi.
Yengi’s story faded into the background in the lead up to the Saturday night clash with Perth Glory, with the foreground being taken up by the potential debut of Daniel Sturridge.
The 22-year-old silenced HBF Park on the 22nd minute when he poked Adelaide in front, his stardom well and truly coming to the fore. Not only did he score United’s only goal, but he also supplied one key pass, showing his well-rounded ability.
Any doubt present pre-game was silenced and anyone who didn’t know, now knows about Kusini Yengi. He has the talent, the swagger, and the confidence to play at the top level.
5. Round 1 derbies result in mixed success
The first round of the season saw three derby matches scattered across the weekend. This included a double-header, with ‘The Sydney Derby’ and the ‘The Battle Of The Bridge’ played out simultaneously on Saturday night.
Despite this, the unanimous ‘best’ derby of the weekend was without a doubt the F3 derby. Taking place at a wet McDonald Jones Stadium, the Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners battled it out in a thrilling encounter.
With all this said, fans were split on the flurry of derbies in Round 1. The overall quality of the matches wasn’t as good as what many would have expected of the competition’s resumption.
Round 1 will always be a marquee fixture regardless of who is playing, so the oversaturation left some fans craving for more and some thinking it was too much, too soon.
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