These are the key talking points from Round 4 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.
Sydney FC threw form out of the window in a breath-taking performance against high-flying Adelaide United as Melbourne City and Macarthur FC played out a six-goal thriller.
Western Sydney Wanderers flexed their muscles on home soil, while Western United’s drought continued and Central Coast Mariners crashed to another loss.
As for Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix, they both remain undefeated.
With a lot to dissect, here are the key talking points from Round 4 of the Isuzu UTE A-League.
Explained: The ‘naïve’ mistake that turned the Isuzu UTE A-League table on its head in 44 minutes
On Saturday night, Adelaide United and Sydney FC delivered just about the last thing you’d expect from a match that pits first against last.
By half-time, a Sydney side sitting on the bottom of the ladder led 4-0 thanks to doubles from Joe Lolley and Jaiden Kucharski as Ufuk Talay’s first match in charge saw the type of response a new coach dreams of.
Ultimately, it ended 5-1 with Fabio Gomes opening his Isuzu UTE A-League account early in the second half before a consolation goal from Zach Clough.
It begs the question: how did the new Sky Blues boss elicit this performance from his side after only a few days in the hotseat?
“That is a tough one to answer because I’ve only been in the joint for three days,” Talay said in his post-match press conference.
“We tweaked a few things; we got the players to press a lot higher, I think they had the energy to do that, even though they looked after 25 minutes to slow down a little bit.
“On the sideline we kept demanding it from the players and they pushed as hard as they could. I think it’s a great response from the players and something to build on.
He added: “We know that Adelaide are very good in open spaces; they like to play a high tempo game and a high transition game, it suits them quite well. We tried to squeeze our back line as much as we could and keep it compact in between so (Luke Brattan) and (Anthony Caceres) could cover the ground a lot better.
“… It wasn’t easy to do in two days, but I think the players took it on and took initiative. It is promising. Its only game, you expect a response when a new coach comes in, but they set the tone and set the standard of what we can do again.”
On the flip side, after an impressive start to the season, Adelaide have now crashed back to earth – and Carl Veart’s reaction was telling.
The Reds boss labelled his side ‘naïve’ and explained a mistake they made that the ‘entire league knows’ is a cardinal sin.
“We knew Sydney would come out hard in the first 15 or 20 minutes, we just didn’t deal with it. We were second to everything, very naïve the way we played. We got punished,” he explained.
“We made far too many mistakes and we just didn’t recognise what was happening in the game. We didn’t want to give them any opportunities in the first 15 minutes and we virtually played into their hands. It was game over after that.”
Pressed to elaborate on where his side was naïve, he added: “It was all over, wasn’t it?
Everyone can see they were pushing a lot of numbers forward… we spoke about it before the game that they were going to come early and to not play out in the first 15 minutes.
“I think everyone in the league knows that Sydney wingers want to come in and shoot on their stronger foot. We know that, the players know that as well, its just a mistake and we got punished.
“We got punished for a lot of our mistakes tonight. That happens sometimes in football.
“Last week we got away with it in that first half and tonight we didn’t. Sydney punished us.”
No anxiety at Western amid slump
Western United are now three straight matches without a win following Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Newcastle Jets in Ballarat.
Western’s season started positively, conquering three-time reigning premiers Melbourne City in Round 1, however, John Aloisi’s new-look side have not picked up a point since then.
They have not scored a goal amid their three-game losing streak and despite controlling possession at home to the Jets over the weekend, Apostolos Stamatelopoulos’ goal on the stroke of half-time the difference.
“It’s the most comfortable I’ve felt in a game since I’ve been at the club but we came away with a loss,” Aloisi told reporters post-game.
“We have to keep performing well and the results will turn.”
Daniel Penha hit the crossbar for Western in the first half, while he also had a goal ruled out after the ball had gone out of play in the build-up.
Nikita Rukavytsya thought he equalised in the 86th minute, but it was chalked off for offside.
The Isuzu UTE A-League will pause for the international break, with Western then hosting Adelaide United on November 26.
Asked if the visit of Adelaide following the break is looming as a must win, with Western second from bottom, Aloisi gave a stern response.
“Every game is a must win,” he replied. “We want to win every game. We tried to win today.
“We played the game to win, we didn’t play not to win. But we’re not going to become anxious about winning.
“When you start to become anxious about winning, then players aren’t free. We saw in the first half, especially with Daniel (Penha), because he was playing with freedom, he was causing them all sorts of trouble.”
He added: “Over the years of playing and coaching, when you’re creating chances and controlling the game, you don’t want to change too much.
“You just want to keep making sure you get better at it. Then keep improving and the chances will still come and we will get goals. That’s happened in the past and turned pretty quick.”
Stamatelopoulos came back to haunt his former club Western as he maintained his red-hot form to help Newcastle celebrate their first win of the season.
He made 12 appearances for Western in 2019-20 and his strike one minute before half-time was the difference at Mars Stadium in Ballarat, where the Jets won for the first time under head coach Rob Stanton.
The 24-year-old has now scored four goals in as many games after breaking the deadlock on the stroke of half-time.
It is his best return since scoring six goals for Rodos in Greece’s second division. Meanwhile, it is his best A-Leagues season ever, having never scored more than three in a season.
“He has come back with real purpose. He has matured as a person. He has got very excited and has this winning mentality that he is leading the others in the team too,” Stanton said.
“I’m not surprised by his performances and his intensity to get results and goals is happening for him because everyday he comes and his processes are top-notch.
“He wants to learn and he wants to grow and it’s rubbing off on a lot of players. The reward he got today was for pure hard work and dedication. I’m over the moon for him. He doesn’t get carried away. He is excited but he knows there’s a long way to go.
“So far, I think he’s been outstanding.”
Vidmar’s challenge laid bare as Bulls go the extra Mile
After four games, we begin to get an informed picture of a team’s season and it’s fascinating to compare the difference in 12 months for both Melbourne City and Macarthur.
A year ago City were sitting top with 10 points, a position they would never relinquish all season and the juggernaut was full steam ahead. Macarthur, meanwhile, despite the fillip of winning the Australia Cup, had slipped to fifth with just five points.
If the world hasn’t quite turned on its axis a year on, the mood around these two teams is so very different. As understated and – possibly – underestimated as their head coach, Mile Sterjovski, Macarthur could have gone clear at the top of the table if they’d held on to the 3-1 lead they took after 87 minutes against City on Sunday at AAMI Park.
As it is, they’re fourth after the concession of two late goals left the game deadlocked at 3-3. But only goal difference is keeping them off top spot, and Ulises Davila looks to be approaching the magisterial form that won him the Johnny Warren Medal previously, just 18 months after his wife passed away so shockingly.
The exciting thing for Sterjovski is that he still has players to return. “We have good depth in the squad this year,” he said. “We’ve still got Danny da Silva and Matt Jurman to come back from injury which should make us even stronger.”
Aurelio Vidmar can also welcome players back from injury, but he has deeper questions to address, having been appointed to replace Rado Vidosic in the wake of a hugely underwhelming start to the season.
City have quality all over the pitch and yet the smoothness of their machine is lacking. The patterns of play, so identifiable under Patrick Kisnorbo, only appear fitfully, such as the sweeping move that led Terry Antonis to play in Aziz Behich for a low cross in the second half.
But that cross wasn’t converted and too many other chances are being snatched at. “It was the same story against Buriram United (in the Asian Champions League on Wednesday night),” said Vidmar.
“It’s about finding the right pass in the final third. We really need to go up more than one notch, to be honest. They know that, they’re disappointed for sure. They know that’s not the level, that’s not the standard that’s required.”
The return of Mathew Leckie, apparently sooner than was first feared, will help that but the front-foot domination of games that we’ve come to expect from City is missing and teams can see they’re vulnerable at times.
The international break has come at a very good time for Vidmar.
Tale of two Wanderers full-backs
Jack Clisby and Tate Russell’s primary role may be to defend on a game-to-game basis, but it was their work in attack which stole the headlines on Saturday afternoon.
The Western Sydney Wanderers full-backs both hit the scoreboard in their 2-0 victory over Perth Glory at CommBank Stadium, with their goals coming seven minutes apart in a blistering start to the second-half.
Clisby – who is no stranger to scoring cracking goals – opened the scoring with a brilliant volley, after coming close in the first-half via an incredible long-range strike. His full-back partner in crime, Russell, fired home a volley of his own moments later, ending an over 500 day wait for an Isuzu UTE A-League goal.
“[I’m] loving it, as full backs, we get to go forward a lot in this team, and, I feel like we’re a very exciting team,” Clisby said on Paramount +.
“A lot of people know that we’ve got a bit of flare up top, and I thought our combinations around the box with the strikers and the wide strikers were tremendous at times.”
The duo provided enormous width and plenty of support up the flanks for the Wanderers attack, adding another spoke to an already dynamic frontline that now has nine goals to their name from four games.
“Ultimately scoring two goals, both from fullbacks, which tells [the story of] our style of play a little bit as well, because we’re so advanced, we get bodies forward,” Rudan said post-game on Paramount +.
“It leads us into a really good position going to the in a couple of weeks and I think that’s really key for us, for the belief of our fans and the players and everybody in the club.”
Lolley and Kucharski combine to devastating effect
In the final stages of Steve Corica’s Sydney FC reign, Joe Lolley and Jaiden Kucharski cut two very different figures.
The senior player appeared to be struggling with the weight of creative expectation on his shoulders, often tasked with making something happen out of nothing in a side that simply was not clicking.
As for the junior, well he simply wanted the chance to show what he could do. Fast forward a week and the duo lit up Coopers Stadium with a scintillating display.
Kucharski’s inclusion in the side was one of three changes made by Ufuk Talay as he looked for a reaction in his first game in charge and it paid dividends.
The 21-year-old capped off a memorable starting debut with two ice-cold finishes as well as an assist to his name, leaving his senior teammate full of praise for his performance.
“He’s deserved his opportunity, he’s really come along since I’ve been at the club,” said Lolley of Kucharski. “He’s got two great feet, he’s so fit, he can run channels, technically very gifted.
“He was very good and gave us a great option, both with his quality in between the lines and his strong running power. Hopefully he just keeps going, that would be nice!’
As for Kucharski; he was simply in awe of the masterclass put on by his 31-year old teammate.
“Joe is class,” said Kucharski post-game. “All last season he had moments and then today is one of his best games in a while now.
“If he does that every week I think ‘wow’ – I’m happy to be on his team!”
With the international break to follow this game the Sky Blues now have two weeks to get used to life under Ufuk Talay.
Sydney face Western Sydney Wanderers in the first Sydney Derby of the season on November 25, with their opponents unbeaten so far this season after defeating Perth Glory 2-0 in Round four.
Veart responds to Irankunda reports
Nestory Irankunda didn’t feature in Adelaide United’s 5-1 defeat to Sydney FC on Saturday night due to suspension, but he was still the talk of the town in the moments after the contest.
Irankunda missed the clash with the Sky Blues through suspension, after he was sent off a week prior against Melbourne Victory, but the news of his impending transfer dominated the post-game discourse.
Reds coach Carl Veart, however, wouldn’t be drawn into discussing any potential transfer.
“Look, I’m not here to answer any questions about Nestory,” Veart said post-game.
“I’ll talk about the game and that’s it.
“We’ll find out in time. Let’s talk about the game.
“There’s been far too much talk about that, let’s just focus on the game and what happens with Nestor will happen and it will come out in time.”
Popovic allays Arzani injury fears
When Daniel Arzani took his place on the bench on Friday night, the Melbourne Victory winger put his head in his hands. Just moments prior he was sat on the AAMI Park turf, rolling down his socks and suggesting his night was over.
The scenes on the bench, captured by the Paramount+ telecast, raised fears that the 24-year-old’s luckless run with injuries was about to continue. However, Victory head coach Tony Popovic was quick to douse those fears post-game.
“I think it was just cramps,” Popovic said.
“We’ve had two games now where they’ve been six-day turnarounds. The conditions were probably the warmest we’ve had so far.
“He hasn’t had a lot of regular football for a long time and he’s backing up and performing. We’re seeing that his first-half performances are getting better and better.
“We need a bit more end product from him – whether it’s more assists or goals. Then the second half, he will continue to improve. That’s part of the journey for him.
“He hasn’t come off injured which is key. A couple of weeks now, I expect an even better Daniel.”
The Roar performance that left a coach ‘speechless’
There was no hiding Ross Aloisi’s pride after Brisbane Roar saw off defending champions Central Coast Mariners 2-1 on Sunday.
After their 5-2 loss away to Wellington Phoenix in Round 3, the Roar returned to winning ways thanks to Florin Berenguer and a first A-Leagues goal from youngster Thomas Waddingham in a game that saw both teams reduced to 10 men.
As Brisbane continue to impress under their new boss, head coach Aloisi heaped praise on the resilience of his squad, having been left “speechless”.
“At half-time, I was speaking to Nevsy (Scott Neville) and he was throwing up. I thought he was going to come off,” Aloisi reflected during his post-match press conference.
“Then you have Rylan Brownlee, who is a 16-year-old kid and the amount of work he got through in 30 minutes. Even when we were down to 10 men.
“You have Jay O’Shea, who looked younger as the game went on. Your Waddingham up front and the amount of pressing he did. Flo Berenguer, again just class, but it was everyone.
“Corey Brown – 88 weeks since his last game. (Antonee) Burke-Gilroy coming in for his first game in a long, long time.
“Extremely proud of the players.”