18/05/2024

Sydney FC celebrates its victory over Adelaide United, securing the premiers plate for a second consecutive year. (Photo: Sydney FC/Twitter)

Ahead of the A-League Women finals, The Inner Sanctum takes a look at Sydney FC and how it will be able to find success in the finals series.

With the finals for the A-League Women now set, Sydney FC will take on Melbourne City in the 1v2 match-up, with the loser getting a second chance against the winner of the 3v4 match-up. That match will see Adelaide United go against Melbourne Victory.

After a cracking start to the campaign, Sydney FC began to struggle in the final few weeks of the season. That coincided with its first trips away from New South Wales due to rescheduling, but it goes deeper than that.

The Sky Blues first trips out of NSW were originally supposed to be in their eighth game of the season on January 23 vs Melbourne City (fixture swap which saw City travel to Sydney on January 22 and Sydney travel on February 20) and ninth game of the season on January 26 vs Melbourne Victory (postponed and rescheduled for February 16 due to COVID-19).

It took until Sydney’s 10th game of the season before it travelled, and would spend the remainder of the season playing outside of NSW, with two games in Melbourne, and one each in Launceston and Adelaide.

Sydney also had to travel mid-week to the fixture against Victory, return to Sydney, and then travel again for the fixture against City. This all took place in the space of five days due to how under-resourced the A-League Women sides are compared to their male counterparts.

This additional travel would have put undue pressure on the side, which could have contributed to the results of these two games.

Ahead of Sydney’s match with Melbourne City, and a potential match against either Melbourne Victory or Adelaide United, The Inner Sanctum looks at how just how Sydney faired against the other three teams which make up the top four.

Melbourne City

Rado Vidosic’s side split the two games against Sydney, with a 3-0 loss in Sydney, and a 2-1 win in Melbourne. It has been a bounce back season for City after an uncharacteristically bad 2020/21 in which it missed the finals for the first time.

In the first game these two sides played, Sydney ran out 3-0 winners, but both sides were missing key players due to the Matildas Asian Cup campaign. Sydney was without Cortnee Vine and Remy Siemsen, while City had to deal with the absence of Holly McNamara.

Sydney was dominant within the first half of this game, forcing the visitors to play the way the Sky Blues wanted. It saw them take a 2-0 lead into half time, forcing a shake-up from City in the second half.

Rachel Lowe celebrating one of her goals against Melbourne City with Natalie Tobin. (Photo: Izhar Khan)

This shake-up saw City have a goal disallowed very early on into the second half, and Rachel Lowe was able to score her second of the game in the 74th minute, to round out the win.

In the second game, Sydney was without Paige Satchell, while City were without Hannah Wilkinson and Rebekah Stott due to New Zealand’s participation in the SheBelieves Cup.

The way the game played out was very much the reverse to the previous fixture, as City dominated the fixture and exploited Sydney’s mistakes to take a 2-0 lead into the break.

A penalty allowed Sydney to get to within one late in the second half, but an equaliser would not be found. A combination of Melissa Barbieri making some great saves and Sydney being unable to find the target would see the game end 2-1.

With both sides meeting in week one of the finals, which will be hosted by the Sky Blues at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, what they will need to is repeat the first game’s performance.

Like they have done to teams for most of this season, they need to force Vidosic’s side out of its comfort zone and play the game Sydney wants to play.

This will be easier for the Sky Blues as they will not have to deal with Holly McNamara, who has been instrumental to City’s success this season after she suffered a season ending ACL injury in the second game against Sydney.

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Melbourne Victory

There was only one game between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC this season, and it was a 2-2 draw on a Wednesday night in a rescheduled fixture because of COVID-19 concerns within the Victory camp.

A game that started off very slowly with neither side finding the back of the net in the first half, quickly turned into what we had come to the expect of Sydney FC. The Sky Blues dominated and put up a two-goal lead within the first 15 minutes of the second half.

The Victory were able to work their way back into the game and found the equaliser in stoppage time to send the Sky Blues back to Sydney with just one point instead of the three it was expecting.

For Sydney to overcome Melbourne, should the two sides meet in the finals series, it will need to play its absolute best football.

Despite the way Victory have performed this season, only making the finals on goal difference (which could be attributed to its jam packed February schedule), they still have enough talent within the line-up and experience to challenge any side in a one-off game.

If Sydney is not at its absolute best, expect Victory to pounce on every opportunity the Sky Blues give up in what could be a repeat result of last season’s grand final.

Adelaide United

Having had to wait until the last game of the regular season for these two sides the meet, this game did not disappoint as it was the contest we all expected in the first half. It was two top teams going back and forth with neither giving an inch despite some scoring prowess on both sides.

Despite being unable to move higher than third, Adelaide came out with all guns blazing and were looking to ruin the day for Sydney, who needed just a single point to win another Premiers Plate in the A-League Women.

The only goal that would separate the two sides and secure Sydney the win was an amazing strike from Paige Satchell in the 61st minute.

Adelaide will be a tough out should the two sides meet again at some point in the finals with a very strong squad that has been in red-hot form in recent weeks. Sydney will have home-field advantage however, and is something it will look to take advantage of.

Expect the two sides to once again play a very tight contest with both of them being well in it until the final whistle.

What could hurt Sydney FC

The absence of Cortnee Vine through a calf injury was noticeable on Sunday, as the Sky Blues struggled early on against the Reds. Despite the depth of the front line, this could play a key role in how Sydney approaches this finals series if she is unable to return.

Remy Siemsen looked a bit lost early on without her usual strike partner up front, but was able to settle into the game as it went on.

Something that could off-set this though is that coach Ante Juric is not afraid to tinker with things to get the absolute best out of his players. This was seen on Sunday with Siemsen playing as a lone striker, something that is unfamiliar to Sydney FC.

Another thing that could hurt Juric’s side is the weather. While both teams will be playing in the same conditions on the same pitch, the amount of rain that has deluged Sydney in recent weeks will hinder the ability for the squad to play the free-flowing, easy passing football it likes to play.

What will help Sydney FC

Despite the absence of Vine, Sydney FC will have the advantage of being a well-oiled and versatile unit, with players able to take on multiple roles and fit in wherever they are required.

The strength of Jada Whyman in goals to come up huge with some key spectacular saves will be crucial to Sydney having success in the finals series. She has regularly been one of Sydney’s best players this season when called upon.

Key performances from the midfield trio of Taylor Ray, Mackenzie Hawkesby and Rachel Lowe will also go a long way to helping Sydney. Controlling the middle of the park will allow the Sky Blues to execute their game plan and prevent the opposition from executing theirs.

This is exactly what Sydney was able to do earlier this season when playing Melbourne City at home. The midfield was controlled excellently by Sydney which did not allow City to create any sort of sustained pressure as the ball was unable to be played through the middle of the park with ease for Vidosic’s side.

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