Who are the most improved players in the A-League Men’s competition this season?
Guys like Jamie Maclaren, Craig Goodwin, and Ulises Davila have continued to enhance their glowing reputations, picking up where they left off last year. But there have also been a number of players that have come from nowhere to become some of the top performers in the A-League Men’s competition.
Join us as we dissect the performances of the top five most improved individuals of the 2021/22 regular season.
Steven Lustica (Western United)
The 2020/21 season was a disappointing one for Lustica and Western United. After starting nine of the first 11 fixtures, the former Brisbane footballer had fallen out of Mark Rudan’s preferred XI, which resulted in only five starts in the next 15 games.
In that campaign, the versatile midfielder scored only one goal and recorded one assist in 1186 minutes played – his worst return in an A-League season where he has played over 1,100 minutes.
But after the arrival of John Aloisi in the summer. Lustica, who can now be considered an A-League veteran, with over 150 games behind his back, enjoyed arguably his best-ever year.
The Gold Coast youth product started every single game in the league, aside from the last two (due to injury), accumulating a total of 1,983 minutes. The 31-year-old also scored 5 goals, some of which were crucial, and provided one assist.
Anthony Caceres (Sydney FC)
Caceres has always been seen as one of the most talented players in Australia, and at the same time as someone that is unable to produce the numbers to back up his talent. But that hasn’t been the case recently.
Despite Sydney’s struggles, Caceres has enjoyed a very productive period, especially in terms of goals and assists. This season, the 29-year-old scored five goals and made five assists in 24 appearances. A better return than what he managed to produce in his previous three seasons combined.
This success has a lot to do with the fairly new role that the ex-Manchester City midfielder has played for the Sky Blues. Caceres, who usually operated as one of the 6’s in the 4-4-2, re-invented himself as a right-sided winger, which gave him more freedom and licenses to create in the final third.
According to InStat, Caceres finished the campaign as the leader of his team in chances created (28), dribbles completed (101), and successful crosses (44%). He also ranks in the top three for key passes, attacking challenges won, and ball interceptions.
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Benjamin Garuccio (Western United)
What a difference 11 months can make. Garuccio ended the 2020/21 season as an unused substitute for Melbourne City in the Grand Final against Sydney FC.
Less than 365 days later, the attacking-minded left-back sits in joined fourth place on the assists ladder with six-goal passes (the only defender with more than three). Not only that, but he has scored two times, including one of the greatest goals in the history of the competition.
The 2021/22 season also saw the 26-year-old play the most minutes (2,154) since 2016/17 when he was part of Adelaide United. It now seems safe to say that he has overcome that horrible ACL injury that kept him out for almost a year in Scotland.
Nicholas D’Agostino (Melbourne Victory)
If you were asked to point out one memorable game for ‘Daggers’ in his last year with Perth, you’d probably struggle. There were a few good moments, like the brace against Adelaide, or the winner against Melbourne City but that was pretty much the climax of it.
The 2021/22 season, on the other hand, has been the complete opposite. Since joining Melbourne Victory and his former coach Tony Popovic, D’Agostino has shined as the main number nine.
In 24 games, the newly hatched Socceroo scored 10 goals. These 10 goals, included an 81st-minute equalizer in the Melbourne Derby, a match-winning double against Macarthur at home, and a stunning opener in the ‘Big Blue’.
Arguably the most impressive part is the fact that the Sydney-born attacker started behind import striker Francesco Margiotta, but worked his way up the pecking order and solidified his place in the XI with his excellent showings.
Florin Berenguer (Melbourne City)
Once deemed by Melbourne City fans as surplus to requirements – today considered a prime candidate for the Johnny Warren medal and the City Player of the Year award.
Berenguer was signed by Warren Joyce in 2018 and was described as a Ninko-esque player “that will add further spark and goal threat to the team” while also helping the youngsters develop, but the transition wasn’t as smooth as maybe Joyce expected.
The Frenchman struggled to adapt to the harder pitches in Australia and regularly suffered injuries in his first two seasons. Even under the guidance of fellow countryman, Erick Mombaerts, Berenguer couldn’t show what he was capable of.
It wasn’t until the start of this season, that supporters finally got to witness what they were promised almost four years ago.
In the absence of the recently departed Adrian Luna, City’s number 10 flourished in a creative role alongside Connor Metcalfe in the middle of the park. He scored five goals and added five assists in 24 appearances.
From the start of the 2019/20 season until the end of the 2020/21 season, Berenguer scored four goals and assisted four in 39 games (excluding cup games and finals).
The underlying numbers have increased exponentially as well. The 33-year-old ranks in the top three in City’s squad for advanced metrics such as chances created (48) and key passes made (29), only behind Andrew Nabbout and Marco Tilio in both.
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