Sydney FC was forced to play the youth against Macarthur, and it paid off. (Photo: Sydney FC)

A youth-filled Sydney FC side demonstrated the importance of a deep squad in a COVID-affected competition on Sunday night.

With various injuries and players out due to COVID-19, Steve Corica’s hand was forced in Sunday evening’s clash in Campbelltown to make a flurry of changes to his Sky Blue side.

Veteran strikers Bobo and Adam Le Fondre were both unable to take the field due to COVID-19 and injuries respectively, while 25-year-old Elvis Kamsoba also tested positive.

Youngsters Trent Buhagiar and Patrick Wood were given the nod upfront for Sydney, immediately causing issues for the extremely experienced Macarthur FC defence that featured former English Premier League defender Adrian Mariappa.

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The more experienced home side in Macarthur piled on the pressure early on, with Craig Noone hitting the cross-bar driving inside from the left of the field.

Almost immediately the pace of Wood and Buhagiar set Sydney off and a brilliant ball across the six-yard line found the oncoming Wood, who fired past Nick Suman. The young keeper made his A-League Men starting debut after replacing suspended keeper Filip Kurto.

Buhagiar was allowed to run at the stretched Macarthur defence and he made them pay. A perfectly placed ball similar to the opener from Sydney found Max Burgess, who made no mistake dispatching his shot into the back of the net for his side’s second.

The 23-year-old winner capped his wonderful performance of the evening off finding his well-deserved goal in the 58th minute.

The Bulls backline exposed once again

A quick ball in-behind from Paulo Retre found the feet of Max Burgess who made no mistake picking out Wood for Sydney’s opener inside the opening 10 minutes.

James Meredith, Mariappa and Tomi Uskok were all caught square, while Craig Noone’s inability to track back was exposed. Anthony Caceres had plenty of time to find Paulo Retre who picked out Burgess for the opener.

Again, it was the width that caused issues for the Bulls. A ball out wide found the pace of Buhagiar, who easily beat his oncoming defender and picked out Burgess with ease for a second inside the opening half an hour.

Socceroos defender Ryhan Grant was given space countless times, as he was able to also use his blistering pace to drive straight past Noone in the opening 15 minute stanza.

Corica set up his team perfectly for the three points. His game plan was simple: hit the midfield quickly and find the pace of the forwards who would light up the attack.

Moudi Najjar and Daniel De Silva were also reluctant to track back and help out their full-back partners when the Bulls would set up in a 5-3-2 in defence. The inability and work-rate from the forwards exposed them greatly, and Sydney made them pay the price twice.

Youth proves key as experience comes unstuck

Injuries to key players across the park including as Luke Brattan, Elvis Kamsoba and a small outbreak of COVID-19 forced major changes across the pitch for Corica.

Young central midfielder Patrick Yazbek was given his starting debut in a 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix, and his impressive performance was enough to keep his starting spot against the Bulls.

Wood and Buhagiar were also given starts in Campbelltown. Buhagiar’s pace combined with Wood’s eye for goal proved key as Sydney was able to claim three points against the league leaders.

Adrian Segecic also was substituted on late for Sydney FC, the 17-year-old making his competitive debut for the Sky Blues alongside fellow teenager Corey Hollman.

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It was a sight to see for A-League Men fans, as there has been discussion around the number of youth players who have been missing out on crucial minutes.

This followed the breakout seasons of the likes of Archie Goodwin, Nathaniel Atkinson, Marco Tilio, Kusini Yengi and Mo Toure, who all featured heavily during an interrupted 2020/21 season.

Unfortunately for Yazbek and Calem Nieuwenhof, Socceroo Mustafa Amini recently signed a six month contract with the Sky Blues as a replacement for the injured Luke Brattan after he suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Sydney Olympic in The FFA Cup.

Buhagiar, Burgess and Grant once again continued to cause problems into the second half.

The three combined for a well-worked move down the extremely exposed left-hand side of Macarthur which saw Burgess very nearly add his third of the evening. Shortly after, Buhagiar ghosted into the box to fire home Sydney’s third.

It is clear across the league that the youth that sits on the books are capable, and are up to A-League Men standard. Sydney’s depth showed they could provide the quality needed to temporarily replace the veterans.

Macarthur’s positional change exposed by Sydney’s pace

Macarthur’s miserly defence was uncharacteristically unlocked by a youthful Sydney FC side.

Despite Sydney’s domination throughout the majority of the game, the game was decided in the first half and a major reason behind it was an eyebrow-raising change of roles in Macarthur’s backline.

Adrian Mariappa played his third A-League Men game, but in a very different role from his previous two. Sydney FC exposed that in the first half, which contributed to their two-goal advantage going in at halftime.

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In his first game, Mariappa played as the right centre back in a back four, keeping a clean sheet against the Wanderers. In his second game, Mariappa played in the heart of a back three as the Bulls bravely snatched all three points against a high-octane Jets outfit. On that occasion, James Meredith played as the left centre back.

Eyebrows were raised when the two accomplished defenders swapped roles, with Meredith the central centre back and Mariappa the left-sided centre back.

Sydney’s first goal came from a great Retre ball which exposed a gaping hall between the two centre backs. Max Burgess pounced on it before placing the ball on a platter to Patrick Wood who put his side a goal ahead.

The second goal followed a similar pattern. Buhagiar’s explosive pace once again exposed Macarthur’s left side before cutting it back to Max Burgess who slotted in his first Sydney FC goal.

The left-sided woes continued for Macarthur as Sydney created big chances on that flank on the 37th and 54th minutes.

It begs the question, why would a side who before this game had not conceded from open play make such a big defensive change?

Reinforcements needed for lacklustre Macarthur

Unlike last season, Macarthur has not needed much of the ball to find success, Ante Milicic pivoting from a possession heavy philosophy to a strong counter-attacking style of play.

Instead, Milicic has relied on his team’s cohesion and the individual brilliance of players such as Craig Noone, Danny De Silva, Tommy Oar and Lachie Rose. This fell apart against Sydney who ensured the chances for Macarthur to remain scarce.

Macarthur’s efforts this season have been admirable, but it is obvious it could use some extra quality, some of which is already on their books.

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Not many teams have the luxury of a Johnny Warren medallist waiting on the wings.

Ulises Davila has the ability to unlock any side in this league. His composure and skill will be of paramount importance if this Macarthur side is to succeed this season, and it was sorely missed on Sunday night.

Rose has started this season as his team’s striker. Even though his performances have been encouraging, Macarthur signed proven goal scorers like Tomi Juric and Alhassan Toure for a reason.

All three of these players have had interrupted seasons in their first year at the Bulls. Their integration in Milicic’s current system will ensure the Bulls make the most of their chances, be it in possession or quick counters.

Sydney FC moves back into the top six with their comprehensive 3-0 over Macarthur while Melbourne Victory claim top-spot now after defeating Western United 3-1 at AAMI Park.

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