Regular season review: The Liberty A-League’s highs and lows – plus one big surprise packet

As the dust settles on another gripping Liberty A-League regular-season campaign, we look back at some of the standout numbers, using Opta data.

Melbourne City held their nerve to finish above defending Sydney FC and be crowned 2023-24 Premiers on a dramatic final day of the season.

City finished two points clear at the summit after Sydney lost their final two matches and missed out on the chance to land a record fourth straight title.

Dario Vidosic’s City ended the campaign strongly, getting the job done with a 2-1 win over Perth Glory in their last game of the regular 22-game season to earn the tag of Premiers for a third time – and the first time in four years.

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City may not have finished as top scorers, with their 40 goals the third highest behind Newcastle Jets (43) and Melbourne Victory (44), but no side converted more of their big chances.

Indeed, since such data was first recorded in 2017-18, no team boasts a higher big-chances converted figure than the 26 recorded by Melbourne City this season.

City certainly had no trouble creating opportunities, as reflected by their league-high expected goals (xG) tally of 47.8. To put that figure into some context, Western United (42.47) were the only other side to get over the 40 mark.

Perhaps understandably given the large number of chances created, 40-goal City had the lowest xG differential (-7.8) of all 12 teams. That effectively means they should have scored around eight goals more than they did based on the quality of the opportunities they have created.

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Newcastle were easily the most efficient side when it comes to converting their xG into what really matters – actual goals – as they scored 43 times from an xG of 32.94 for a positive differential of 10.06. Since Opta began collecting such data, that positive differential is actually the second-best on record, behind only Canberra United in 2017-18 (10.31).

While City were top of the charts in terms of expected goals created, they were only fourth for expected goals against, with their final tally of 27.98 bettered by Western United (26.67), Central Coast Mariners (26.23) and Sydney FC (21.96).

City did come out on top in various other metrics, however, including successful passes (9,561) and passing accuracy (82.8%).

In fact, that passing-accuracy figure registered by City is the second highest of any
team since 2017-18, behind only… Melbourne City in 2019-20 (83.3%), with that season marking their most recent Premiership. And perhaps unsurprisingly, given they are part of the City Football Group (CFG) stable, they have now registered the highest passes-per-game average in five of the past eight seasons. Their average of 525 per game this season was not quite as high as 2018-19 (537) or 2019-20 (604).

One area City did not come out on top in – albeit only just – is in terms of tackle-success rate. Indeed, that honour went to neighbours Melbourne Victory, whose figure of 76.1% just about pipped City’s 75.5%.

Victory, who finished fourth and are therefore in the Finals series, were also top dogs in terms of duels success percentage (76%).

City rightly took all the plaudits last weekend, but Canberra’s Michelle Heyman was also celebrating as she was crowned Golden Boot winner with 17 goals.

The veteran campaigner has been incredible this season, and has earned a Matildas recall too.

Not that Heyman’s form was enough to propel Canberra up the table. They finished 11th, despite having the best shot-conversion rate (16%) of any side this season, with Perth second-best at 14%.

Defensively, Canberra were far from great, conceding 47 goals from 49.41 expected goals against (xGA). That being said, it was Adelaide United who were the league’s worst-performing side defensively, both in terms of goals conceded (56) and xGA (51.27). It is no surprise that they finished bottom, especially when throwing in the fact they accumulated a meagre 24.28 xG in attack.

Sophie Harding of Western Sydney Wanderers finished joint-second with 12 goals, despite leading the way for the most shots taken (92) – the most recorded by a player in a single season since at least 2017-18, 10 more than previous-highest Emily Gielnik in 2020-21.

Thirty-nine of those attempts were on target, which is another regular-season high since the data was first recorded.

Not for the first time, Mackenzie Hawkesby was a creative force, crafting 66 goalscoring opportunities, bettering the record she herself set in that category with 63 last season.

Harding’s campaign may be over with Western Sydney Wanderers finishing seventh, but Hawkesby’s Sydney FC are very much right in the mix to come out on top in the Finals.

And that is where focus now turns, as Melbourne City attempt to double up and complete the sweep after their impressive Premiers triumph.