Here are some of the key talking points from this week’s episode of the Official A-Leagues Podcast, where Daniel Garb, Robbie Cornthwaite and Amy Chapman are joined by Perth Glory defender Kim Carroll and Macarthur FC’s Tommy Oar.
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ROBINSON ‘TALKS A BIG GAME’
They’re two coaches on opposite trajectories in the Isuzu UTE A-League, with Arthur Papas’ stock soaring after four rounds in charge of Newcastle Jets, and Carl Robinson’s plummeting after Western Sydney Wanderers’ uninspiring start to the new campaign.
Former Wanderers defender Robbie Cornthwaite was scathing in his assessment of the current boss of the red and black after a 2-0 loss at home to Macarthur FC in Round 4.
“We know he talks a big game, but I think people are starting to see through that a little bit,” Cornthwaite said. “Some of the (post-match) comments again were about how he wants to inject youth into the team and make it a younger squad. He had two players on the field under the age of 24. If you’re going to say that, you need to be able to back it up.
“To say they were great in the first half but lacked cutting edge in the front third, anyone who watches football would (say) ‘Macarthur let you have the ball, Macarthur were happy for you to have the ball, so to hang your hat on the fact you had more of the ball, you just couldn’t penetrate in the final third, that’s exactly what Macarthur wanted from you. You’re playing exactly the way they wanted you to play, and the way they can punish you’ – and they did.
Results aren’t too bad, but if you look at the total of his time in charge, all of the players he’s had at his disposal, all the players he’s been able to sign, all the games he’s been in charge, I think it’s time to depart. The question is who takes over next?
“Another way to look at this for me is: what player is a better player since he’s arrived? I had a look (and found) none. I don’t think there’s a player that’s (gotten) better since he got there.”
Robinson departed his post as Newcastle head coach in favour of a move to the Wanderers at the end of the 2019/20 season.
However, the issues within the team are glaring, and consistent with the shortcomings which have been apparent since Robinson’s takeover at the start of the 2020/21 campaign.
The Wanderers appear directionless, bereft of a clear game plan and identity, whilst a squad which looks as strong as any on paper appears incapable of reaching its potential in the club’s current environment.
Sat in his former seat at Newcastle is current boss Arthur Papas, who has the Jets flying in the Hunter.
A free-flowing attack comprised of a string of impressive new recruits and the rejuvenated Valentino Yuel have scored more goals (nine) than any other side this season, leading the Jets into sixth position on the table after four rounds.
On a weekend when the Newcastle men’s side put four past Wellington in a 4-0 win, and the women’s side notched a 5-1 win over the same club, Amy Chapman noticed an encouraging turn in momentum.
“There’s something in the water in Newcastle,” she said. “Nine goals from both their men’s and women’s teams on the weekend. What are they doing up there?”
“It was a great weekend from the entire Newcastle Jets football club. Their women (put on) a really dominant performance. Neither men’s or women’s have really troubled the pointy end for the majority of their existence in the leagues. You can see there’s been a real shift there.
“You talk about the performance in Papas’ team, it’s the style, it’s the tempo. Some of these classy players: Mikeltadze… Valentino Yuel, Penha – every week so far he has impressed in different ways. I think there’s class everywhere in attack, and they’re so exciting to watch.”
Cornthwaite added: “I know it’s only four games, and we don’t want to get too excited. But what I liked most about the goals they scored: it showed real togetherness with the players.
“Papas seems to have gotten them all on the same page. They’re all sharing the ball around, they’ve all got such confidence. You can see the fans were back in voice on the weekend celebrating them.
“To put it simply, regardless of your tactics and the style of football you want to play, the players want to play for someone and Papas has got the tactics right at the moment.
“They’re playing an attractive brand of football, but you get that feeling from the players that ‘he’s not one of (us) but he’s got our back, we want to play for him, we want to go and celebrate with him when we score a goal’. It’s so important as a manager to have that connection with the squad.”
WEAKNESS EXPOSED IN BOTH LIBERTY A-LEAGUE FRONT-RUNNERS
Before the Liberty A-League season got underway, both Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory were tipped as clear favourites for silverware once again after both teams shared the spoils in 2020/21.
Victory won the championship after the Sky Blues collected the premiers plate last season, and the two sides once again sit in first and second spot respectively on the Liberty A-League table two rounds in to the new campaign.
But the two early front-runners aren’t perfect; there’s strength in key areas putting both teams in a class of their own, but Chapman and Cornthwaite spot areas of weakness caused by the absence of dependable stars.
“Do Sydney have enough creativity?” Cornthwaite asked. “We know about Cortnee Vine, Princess Ibini and Remy Siemsen, but do they have that player who can unlock defences on a regular basis?”
Chapman answered: “Probably not, to the extend that Melbourne Victory do. They’ve probably got two of the best ball players and X-factor players in Alex Chidiac and Kyra Cooney-Cross, they’re spoilt for choice in that number 10 area whereas they’re probably a bit light on at Sydney.
“(Sydney’s) front three are very good finishers and very, very quick all three of them. (But) they’re missing Teresa Polias who has literally been their holding midfielder since Sydney’s existence in the league.
“I think that is an area for improvement if they really want to be able to be top two, but they’re continuously scoring and they’re dominating possession so it’s hard to fault them at this stage.”
Melbourne Victory’s problem area became glaringly obvious when stand-in central defender Amy Jackson’s own goal and red card in a 2-1 win over Melbourne City in Round 2 left head coach Jeff Hopkins to try another solution in the hole left by captain Kayla Morrison after her opening-round ACL tear.
“Amy Jackson (had) a day to forget,” Cornthwaite said. “But it highlights a problem now, for Melbourne Victory. No Morrison, Jackson having to play in defence, scores an own goal and gets sent off as well. How big a loss is that going to be?
“Everyone knows how important Morrison is, but they’re going to have to adjust again, now, to try and find another solution.”
Chapman added: ”Morrison has a really big leadership role as well, and you need that from your central defenders. Yes, Jeff has lost one of his key players last week with the ACL, then shuffling things around puts in Amy Jackson who is no stranger to the defence.
“He’ll have to reshuffle again. You can see he didn’t want to put Courtney Nevin inside, because she brings a lot going forward. But in saying that, I don’t think she has been bringing a lot going forward, I think she’s been really quiet the last few games. I think that might have to be his next move.”
RESOLUTE BULLS ‘BUILT FOR FINALS’
Macarthur FC showed it in the club’s maiden Isuzu UTE A-League finals campaign, and they’re showing similar signs in the present: a stringent defence is the key to any finals-ready side.
The Bulls strangled Central Coast Mariners in an elimination final bout last season; the very first post-season appearance in the club’s history. Led by former captain Mark Milligan the Macarthur defence held firm, with a bright attack scoring two extra-time goals on the counter to eliminate the heavily-fancied Mariners from finals contention.
Ante Milicic’s side would go on to fall to eventual champions Melbourne City in the semifinals. But four rounds into the new campaign, a Macarthur defensive line reinforced by off-season signings has conceded just one goal and collected three clean sheets.
Cornthwaite sees the continuation of the club’s defensive solidity as an early sign of their readiness for another tilt at silverware.
“The defence: Tomislav Uskok, Aleksandar Šuśnjar, Aleksandar Jovanović, James Meredith, you add in Adrian Mariappa now as well… they’re happy for you to have the ball,” Cornthwaite said. “Have it, try and whip in a cross, see if you can get through 8this block of four, five or six with the midfield dropping in.
“I’ve said it about them from day one: they are a team that’s built for finals. They just give you nothing, and then all of a sudden they’ve got that talent just to pop up and score.
“I think they’re going to be a real threat this year.”