In this A-League season, Sydney FC hasn’t been at their best. At this stage in the last campaign, they were first, having won sixteen out of their nineteen games played.
This season, they have won eight out of twenty games played, drawing seven and losing five.
Sydney FC experienced one major loss in the off-season, with Adam Le Fondre departing on loan to Mumbai City for the campaign. Le Fondre scored 46 goals in 68 appearances – 37 goals in 53 in the A-League.
The Englishmen was a prolific striker and a fantastic signing, adding to Sydney’s intelligent pressing and hold-up play, as well as having the ability to finish chances. Before he was Bobo, who is now back with Sydney and was another clinical striker, scoring 27 goals in the same amount of matches in his second campaign with the sky blues.
When Le Fondre departed, a lot of fans wanted a definitive replacement, and when that didn’t come, many looked to Kosta Barbarouses as the man to become the main goalscorer, the focal point of attack.
But that’s just not Barbarouses’ game. He began as a winger, playing with Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar, and it was only after he moved to Melbourne Victory where he began playing in a front two, alongside Ola Toivonen.
Barbarouses had the freedom to consistently drift wide and combined fantastically with the Swedish marksman – they had alternating styles that suited each other well.
This was the best goalscoring record of his career came in his that season in the front two with Melbourne Victory, where he notched an impressive 14 goals in 27 appearances, an average of 0.54 per 90 minutes.
This season, scoring has been the real issue for Sydney. In recent seasons they have been clinical, aligning with their expected goals (xG) thanks to the overperformance of Le Fondre or Bobo, plus defenders chipping in from corners and midfielders through long-range strikes.
However this season, without a ‘true’ striker until the arrival of Bobo, Sydney FC have fell short, struggling to convert the chances they have created.
Sydney has scored 28 goals this season from an xG of 42.5. Realistically, this means they should have scored between 14 or 15 goals more than they have. If they were to have done that,
This season, Barbarouses has scored six goals from an xG of 8.86, which means he should have scored 2 or 3 more goals than what he has.
But compared to the 14-15 from Sydney, it’s quite irrelevant and means he shouldn’t be solely blamed for Sydney’s conversion rate. In fact, Barbarouses has contributed to just 19% of Sydney’s underperformance this season.
Last season Barbarouses also underperformed his xG – scoring eight compared to his roughly expected nine.
Le Fondre and Bobo beat theirs both times in their respective two seasons with Sydney FC, while this season Bobo has scored eight goals from an xG of 9.40.
Put simply, Barbarouses is a fantastic second striker. He provides smart link-up play, pace and has a good engine that allows him to press and continue to make runs off the shoulder of the last defender.
He has a good first touch, and offers Sydney an option in between the lines, peeling off the opposition’s defensive line to help his side progress the ball forwards.
He’s vital to how Sydney progress the ball, providing an option for a long ball in behind and also in between the lines.
He has shown versatility this campaign, playing in two different roles upfront throughout the season.
When partnered with Buhagiar early on, he was playing in the main striker role, holding up play and making aggressive runs towards the box while Buhagiar was focusing on runs in behind and towards the channels.
Then with Bobo, Barbarouses went back to his usual role, participating in build-up play, using his pace to get in behind, and finding the back of the net with technically adept finishes, rather than clear-cut chances.
An example of Barbarouses’ versatility and work rate to Sydney was his role after the sky blues went down a man against Macarthur in late February. With Anthony Caceres coming on for Alex Baumjohann at halftime and playing deeper alongside Calem Nieuwenhof, Sydney had no one to play on the right of their midfield.
So Barbarouses was shifted into that position without possession but still was instructed to attack forwards quickly, meaning he was essentially playing two positions – right midfield without possession and center-forward with the ball.
While Sydney created little in a second-half where Macarthur dominated possession amongst their defence, but Barbarouses’ role was vital on the few counter-attacking opportunities they were given.
And he should be forgiven for perhaps looking sloppy in possession on those fast breaks – he’d run further than the other attackers just to support the forward’s movement.
Fast forwards to Sydney’s game against Adelaide United, and yet again Barbarouses was been criticized because of a lack of end product in front of goal, despite him scoring three goals in the trio of games prior.
Sydney only had an xG of 1.03 compared to Adelaide’s in that game, despite scoring two goals. Sydney bottled a 2-0 lead with the Reds scoring two goals in four minutes, and yet it came down to Barbarouses’ apparent failure to finish chances.
Barbarouses was important against Adelaide, as he was tasked with marking passing angles towards defensive midfielder Juande, who starts most of their plays from deep.
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He performed admirably and chose when to press, making sure that Juande didn’t have time on the ball in dangerous positions. Juande finished the game with just one key pass and one accurate long ball to his name and wasn’t allowed to carry the ball forwards with time.
Many have criticized Barbarouses for his quality in front of the goal, but his defensive intelligence and effort, and his movement off the ball have been key to Sydney’s play this season.
With Bobo thirty-six years old and unable to press intensely, his strike partner has been providing pressure, movement in behind and around the field to help create angles for his side moving forwards.
Barbarouses allows Sydney to play both vertically using his pace and has the technical ability to keep the ball before playing one-twos to release himself in behind, as seen in Sydney’s first goal against Melbourne Victory in the 3-0 victory at AAMI Park, allowing Sydney to build up slowly.
He showed his versatility again in their game against the Central Coast Mariners. When Trent Buhagiar came on for Alex Baumjohann, Barbarouses moved into a permanent right midfield role.
He managed an assist to Buhagiar’s equaliser, squaring an inch-perfect ball across the box for the young striker to tap home.
Barbarouses has been a fantastic addition for Sydney FC. Ever since joining the club, he’s provided creativity, movement, fitness, and a different level of acceleration to Sydney’s side, which has allowed them to play vertically as well as horizontally and in between the lines with their triangles on the wings.
Earlier in the season, he was finding himself in positions where he really isn’t meant to be, but the addition of Bobo has allowed him to convert back to his best.
Adam Le Fondre’s departure from Sydney FC shouldn’t be blamed on Barbarouses, and with a closer title race this season, fans are looking for a scapegoat.
But with the addition of Le Fondre, who will be back against Western United in two games, Sydney may return to their similar scoring ways.
Simply put, Barbarouses is a fantastic, team-orientated player, and should simply be respected, like most footballers, for his abundance of strengths, not the few weaknesses.
Fans need to stop blaming Sydney’s struggles on him, and can’t expect him to become a player he never will be.