The NPL SA Finals Series kicked off in Season 2023, and with Football South Australia following the A-Leagues’ format, things look different from previous years. In the first week of the Finals Series, third-placed Adelaide United knocked out Adelaide Comets in a seven-goal thriller, while fifth-placed Modbury Jets produced a stunning upset by eliminating defending Champions Adelaide City at Oakden.
Being the lowest-seeded winner from the first week of the Finals Series, Modbury Jets have booked a two-leg encounter with Premiers MetroStars, while Airton Andrioli’s Young Reds face a similar predicament against Campbelltown City. The winners of the Semi-Finals will earn the right to compete for the NPL SA Championship in three weeks’ time.
How does the Australia Cup affect these encounters?
MetroStars, Campbelltown City and Adelaide United progressing to the Australia Cup Round of 32 is a fantastic achievement for South Australian football but it throws a spanner in the works for three of the four remaining clubs in the NPL SA Finals Series. All three clubs will be competing in their respective Australia Cup ties between the two legs of their NPL SA Semi-Finals which poses some interesting questions.
With both Semi-Finals being played on Friday night and all three Australia Cup matches taking place the following Wednesday, one thing to keep an eye out for is the approach the managers take. Will they look to rest players at some stage or to put the tie away before the second leg if they are ina position of power?
When it comes to Adelaide United, the question about which players are required in the A-League Men squad and which will be made available for NPL duties is one that will cause many headaches, both for the Young Red but also their opponents in Campbelltown. Meanwhile, Modbury Jets is the only club unaffected by the Australia Cup and Maurice Natale’s side will be sure to try and use that fact to its advantage.
How will the A-League Men firepower fare against Campbelltown?
The first part of the NPL SA season saw Adelaide United impress by playing breathtaking football and claiming scalps such as MetroStars and Campbelltown City. As the season wore on and the Young Reds lost players to their A-Leagues players to their legally mandated breaks, international duty, and outgoing transfers which saw results fluctuate.
Adelaide United used the final weeks of the NPL campaign to get stars such as Luka Jovanovic and Jonny Yull fit for the Australia Cup, but once the Finals Series rolled around players such as the former, along with Nestor Irankunda, Panashe Madanha, Ethan Alagich, and Bernardo found themselves back in the team they starred for earlier in the year. The Young Reds were able to use their overwhelming talent to dispatch Adelaide Comets, but Campbelltown City over two legs is a completely different proposition.
Adelaide United and Campbelltown City have split their two games in Season 2023, with the Young Red prevailing when their young stars that feature in their A-League Men team were present, but struggling when that quality and experience was lacking later in the campaign. The Finals Series tie between these two sides will be a real litmus test when it comes to the capability the two sides have to compete for the last piece of silverware in the South Australian game.
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Can Modbury find balance to trouble MetroStars?
Modbury Jets experienced an exciting first season back in the NPL SA which led it to the Finals Series, but with Maurice Natale’s side owning a goal difference in the negatives, it is important to consider the effects of that in the pointy end of the season. In the regular season, Modbury boasted the competition’s third-best attack, scoring 46 goals, but also suffered with the league’s second-worst defence, one which conceded 50 goals, a record worse than both relegated sides Sturt Lions and West Adelaide.
Coming up against a side that has not lost since April in MetroStars, the Jets simply do not have the luxury to revert to their average record in 2023. In comparison to Modbury, Danny Graystone’s side punished its opponents in their 22 league games with a competition-best 65 goals, while once again leading the pack with only 17 goals conceded.
If Modbury shows any cracks, MetroStars will take advantage so a balance between attack and defence must be found. When the two sides met in Round 22, the encounter only finished with a one goal win to MetroStars, but the Premiers missed a penalty and played the majority of the match with 10 players which says all that needs to be said about their quality.
Can the top two convert their dominance?
The term “two-horse race” is a perfect description for the 2023 NPL SA season, with MetroStars and Campbelltown City just about being in a league of their own. The two sides finished on 56 and 53 points respectively, boasting a goal difference of 48 and 38, with their closest rival on the table being third-placed Adelaide United Youth with 34 points and an insignificant score of four in the goal difference column.
The two sides have been close to perfect, but the MetroStars have fallen to both Adelaide United and FK Beograd, while Campbelltown has lost to MetroStars twice while also losing to Adelaide United once. On paper, both sides should be making the Grand Final, but a combination of a new Finals Series format, Australia Cup commitments, and explosive opponents can change that narrative quickly.
Both MetroStars and Campbelltown City will be looking to be assertive, as they have been all year, in their respective matchups, but their spots in the Grand Final are anything but guaranteed. The McCabe brothers at Modbury and the afformentioned A-League Men quality of Adelaide United can cause damage against any opposition and will be looking to upset their fancied opponents for a spot in the 2023 decider.