W-League Wrap- Part 2: The top four

Who will dethrone Melbourne City as W-League Champions? Picture: W-league.com.au

Greatness beckons for the four teams left in the 2020/21 W-League season as Melbourne City’s reign as Champions is set to draw to a close.

The race to the finals is over but now, a new challenge begins as Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory and Canberra United duke it out for their chance to enter the history books.

All remaining sides have reason to believe they can be the one to bring home the trophy and The Inner Sanctum has taken a deep dive into how each team can make it all the way in our comprehensive W-League finals preview.

Picture: w-league.com.au

Sydney

Final position: 1st

Regular season recap:

Sydney FC has secured the third Premiers Plate of its history after a nail-biting final game against Melbourne Victory, where the winner would finish top of the table. 

The game was dominated by talk of the coverage from Kayo Sports – particularly after Sydney’s second goal, taking away from what was a composed, professional performance from the W-League’s newest premiers. 

The Sky Blues set a benchmark from the off with a 3-0 win against local rivals Western Sydney Wanderers. They followed that up with a victory against Newcastle Jets before repeating their first two matches, once again beating WSW, this time by two goals and winning 2-0 against Newcastle. 

Their winning streak moved from four to six with victories over Melbourne City and Canberra United but was shocked by Brisbane Roar in the seventh game of the season, losing 4-1 at home. 

They finished quite shakily with a loss and draw in their last three games, but rounded up the premiership in their last game of the campaign. 

Sydney finished with 26 goals, the second most out of the league, the highest conversion rate, the least goals conceded and second for clean sheets. 

How they can win it:

Essentially, Sydney FC just needs to continue doing what it has been doing all season. Everything about the side this season has been brilliant but they have had moments of madness. Very few, but they’re still there.

A 4-1 loss against Brisbane Roar was a strange result for Sydney after having won their first six games in a row.

Sydney will be looking for captain Teresa Polias to spur them on in the finals series. Polias netted a fantastic free kick in their final regular-season game against Melbourne Victory and has been an inspirational member of their side.

Her passing, vision and tackling ability have been at the forefront of the Sky Blues’ football this season and her delivery from corners and deep free kicks has helped her side create a multitude of chances. 

But they may be without winger Cortnee Vine, at least for the semi-final due to an injury picked up against Canberra United a week and a half ago. 

Overall, Sydney has what it takes to go all the way in the W-League finals series and don’t be surprised to see the season once again finish with sky blue flares erupting and Teresa Polias lifting the trophy. 

Jack George

Picture: W-league.com.au

Brisbane Roar

Final position: 2nd

Regular season recap: 

Brisbane Roar has only finished outside of finals three times in its 12-year history. After finishing outside the top four last year, the Roar are back once again where they belong.

Brisbane started the season with four draws, struggling to find the back of the net but after a 6-0 smashing of Melbourne Victory, their season was almost perfect.

The Roar went on to win seven of their last eight matches to finish the season as one of the league’s most prolific scoring teams.

Ex-Bayern Munich star and eventual Golden Boot winner, Emily Gielnik, was unstoppable all season, scoring 13 goals in 12 appearances, which is even more incredible given her first goal came back in round four.

Dominant midfielder Isobel Dalton led the league in assists, providing seven in 12 appearances, once again proving how commanding Brisbane are when attacking.

The only side to trouble the Roar this season has been Canberra United as it handed the Roar a 4-1 defeat in early March.

Finishing the season strong, Brisbane scored eight goals in their last two matches and are in arguably the best form going into finals.

How they can win it: 

Losing captain Clare Polkinghorne and Golden Boot winner Emily Gielnik before the finals series hurts. It hurts bad. The two veteran Matildas will be jetting off to Europe to join Swedish side Vittsjö GIK, putting themselves in contention for Matildas selection.

The obvious strength for the Roar this season has been its scoring, but the next highest scorer behind Gielnik is Brazilian Mariel Hecher. Hecher scored four goals for the year, which is in stark contrast to Gielniks 13.

Brisbane have the upper hand against Melbourne Victory this season, with a draw in week two and a 6-0 smashing back in week 5.

Mentioned earlier, the only team to worry Brisbane this season has been Canberra, and if the two meet in the grand final, the Roar are going to need to find ways to score. Canberra has only conceded two goals to Brisbane all season. 

Brisbane’s stellar midfield could prove the difference in this finals series. The league’s leader in assists, Isobel Dalton, has had a career year but needs to show her class without Gielnik.

Brisbane’s finals hopes depend on how well it can replace their attacking and defensive stars. If they can, Brisbane could well be on its way to its first grand final appearance since 2014.

Thomas Lusk

Picture: W-league.com.au

Melbourne Victory

Final position: 3rd

Regular season recap: 

Three 6-0 results in one season is not something you see very often but thankfully for Victory supporters, they were on the right side of the scoreline for two of those occasions. 

The 6-0 drubbing of rivals Melbourne City was a highlight and announced the Victory early on as a threat for the title, but patchy form immediately after that result proved that there is still plenty of room for improvement. 

19-year-old forward Kyra Cooney-Cross enjoyed a breakout campaign which saw her become Victory’s joint top-scorer, her five goals and three assists highlighting how exciting her future is. 

Cooney-Cross started all 12 games for the Victory and played her part in ensuring the side secured a finals berth. 

Goalkeeper Gabriela Garton led the league in clean sheets, picking up seven from 12 games in what was a standout campaign from the Argentinian international. 

After finishing on top of the ladder in 2020, Victory were bundled out in the semi-final by Sydney FC. This year, they will be looking to go all the way and their regular season form would suggest that they are more than capable. 

How they can win it:

With three players inside the top 10 goalscorers in the competition, Victory certainly pack plenty of firepower. 

Their first obstacle will be a mental one as they take on Brisbane Roar in the semi-final, the same team that handed them a six goal defeat earlier in the season. 

For the Victory to make it to the grand final they will need to bring their best form which they have shown on multiple occasions throughout the year.

If they can do that, there is no reason they can’t go all the way. When switched on they have one of the best defensive lineups in the league and have plenty of options up front. 

What they can count on is the experience of four time W-League Champion, Lisa De Vanna. The 36-year-old has played her part on the field this year but her knowledge and guidance throughout the finals will be invaluable for the Victory who are looking to claim their second title. 

Once you make it to the final, anything can happen on the day as we have seen countless times throughout this W-League campaign.

An impressive season so far, if Melbourne Victory can bring its best, a second championship is on the cards. 

Ben Lennon

Picture: W-league.com.au

Canberra United

Final position: 4th

Regular season recap:

Canberra has locked down a finals position after grinding out a 0-0 final round draw against Premiers Plate winners Sydney FC.

The season was one of ups and downs for the young side.

The first four games resulted in two wins and two draws, with concerns arising over Canberra’s ability to score in the first half. Canberra wouldn’t score a first half goal until its fifth game, a 3-0 win over Western Sydney.

A further two losses to Sydney FC and Adelaide United followed by a draw in a do-or-die clash with Melbourne Victory saw the side languishing in fifth, at danger of missing finals.

Canberra wouldn’t lose a game for the final month of the fixture, with the likes of Grace Maher, Nikki Flannery and Hayley Taylor-Young stepping up strongly.

A goalkeeper injury crisis saw United sign goalkeeping coach Chantel Jones early in the season. Young keeper Keeley Richards would cement her place after a trial by fire in the 3-0 loss to Sydney, only letting six goals past for the remainder of the season.

Inarguably the underdogs coming into a tense finals campaign, how can Canberra find its way to a third W-League championship?

How they can win it:

It’s no secret that Canberra finds its energy from champion striker and W-League all-time leading goalscorer, Michelle Heyman.

Heyman scored 10 goals for the season, finishing second in the Golden Boot. She had 40 shots on goal and 22 chances created.

Heyman scored in every game Canberra won for the season, acting as a barometer of sorts that her young teammates can look to.

After Heyman, Canberra’s scoring capabilities drop off. The side is the lowest scoring finals team, with a conversion rate of 15%. This is only higher than Brisbane for finals sides.

Coach Vicki Linton will be looking to Grace Maher and Bianca Galic to push forward and make the most of their 73.1% and 81.4% passing accuracy respectively.

Canberra has either drawn with or defeated the other finals sides, only having lost to Sydney in the first of the sides’ two clashes.

This team has shown that they’re capable of greatness in 2021. Anything could happen in Monday’s game against Sydney.

Alex Catalano

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