1,000-ish words, thoughts, and musings on the culmination of the A-League season which will see one club break their grand final duck and finally claim a grand final triumph as the reds host the red and blacks on Sunday afternoon in North Adelaide.
Adelaide United v Western Sydney Wanderers, Sunday – Adelaide Oval
Champions of Asia in 2014 but yet to claim a domestic grand final win the Western Sydney Wanderers will travel to South Australia to take on Adelaide United who hail from a city which has four National Soccer League crowns to its credit and is looking to add a first in the A-League era.
After the delirium of Sunday evening in Parramatta which saw the Wanderers secure progress to the decider on the back of a 5-4 extra-time triumph over Brisbane Adelaide will be hoping there is nothing left in the visitor’s tank after an emotional and physically-demanding encounter. The Reds won at Beer Sauce Burger Stadium on Friday night with Bruce Djite scoring twice before Melbourne’s light blues pulled one back prior to goals for defender Dylan McGowan and attacker Pablo Sanchez. Not to be outdone following Djite’s efforts Wanderer Romeo Castelen scored three times in a 33-minute period on Sunday to be the goal-scorer on fire heading into this Sunday’s game.
As it has been for the last four seasons the top two sides from the regular season will meet in the grand final with the home side looking to repeat Melbourne Victory’s feat of last season in lifting the Premier’s Plate plus winning the last game to claim the toilet seat.
In what could be a foreboding piece of recent history between the two sides Andreu netted twice with a Tarek Elrich strike deflecting off the Spaniard giving Adelaide the lead before the Wanderer struck seven minutes from time in the first of the three games the two played this season. Following that October contest they met again on New Year’s Day with a score-less contest. The game at Pirtek Stadium ended with Adelaide still outside the top six but it was the fifth game unbeaten as they embarked on a 14-game run in which they didn’t face defeat.
Back at Parramatta in March the two sides also played out a stalemate with the Wanderers having 13 more attempts on goal but despite the dominance of the home side in that game the Reds were aggrieved not to get an early penalty when then Western Sydney first-choice keeper Liam Reddy brought down Bruce Kamau. The Reds attacker was instead booked for simulation by referee Takuto Okabe.
Reflecting on the above two paragraphs it’s notable to add that former Racing Santander midfielder Adreu was in the action last Sunday conceding a penalty and also *coughs* assisting one of the four Brisbane goals.
Both sides came out of their semi-final triumphs with no suspension issues but key Wanderers midfielder Mitch Nichols faces a ban over his taunting of Brisbane Roar fans, but it won’t be this weekend that he misses (if at all) given the former Roar player has until May 4 to respond to the charge. If Nichols had of been sanctioned to miss the grand final it would not have been the first midfielder in recent times to miss a decider through suspension with Nick Montgomery of the Mariners absent in 2013 when Central Coast won the decider. In that game the Wanderers also had Youssouf Hersi and Iacopo La Rocca out due to suspension. Now with the Reds, La Rocca is looking to win his first domestic grand final as a key part of their defence and Nichols faces the prospect of perhaps missing an FFA Cup game next August which I am sure he is devastated about.
The Wanderers have a full squad to pick from and Adelaide’s only absentee is Eli Babalj who sustained a season-ending injury in January.
It seemed odd that Wanderers Tony Popovic took as long as he did to make his first substitution, withdrawing Brendan Santalab with 11 minutes remaining in regulation time last weekend. Even allowing for the week off earlier in the finals the former Crystal Palace defender was clearly worried about Brisbane’s renowned ability for scoring late in finals and wanted to keep anything in his arsenal, but one wonders if this will cause any fatigue issues in the final 15 minutes on Sunday.
How the Wanderers limit the ball to Marcelo Carrusca will go a long way to deciding the encounter conversely the Reds will need to look at trying to keep the ball away from Andreu and fellow Spaniard Dimas in the heart of the Wanderers midfield. Both sides have Socceroos at their disposal if they make no changes to their semi-final winning teams with Vidosic on the bench for the Wanderers and Elrich lying in wait to wreak havoc on the wing for the Reds.
Across the regular season Adelaide netted 45 times, one more than the Wanderers, and with a league-best 28 conceded five goals less than their opponent’s on Sunday. With figures like that, and given the three draws between the two sides one would expect a fairly even breakdown when it comes to looking at attack in the final third but nothing could be further from the truth. The Western Sydney outfit have had 41 attempts on goal across the their three fixtures this season with 12 on target but Adelaide have had only 18 attempts in those same three contests with just five on target. One game saw the Reds with not a single attempt on target. Maybe an outlier but how many chances do the Reds want to give the Wanderers to score?
Despite the above statistics around goal-scoring opportunities Adelaide’s long unbeaten run during the campaign after they suffered a car-crash start to the season under Guillermo Amor must be respected and recent history suggests the Wanderers are up against it.
Big game for: Former Adelaide resident Dario Vidosic, the marquee attacker scored three times during the regular season of the A-League and by any means that is a poor return for a player occupying a precious spot outside the salary cap. Vidosic’s fourth goal of the campaign sent the Wanderers fans into delirium. Can he do it twice in a week?
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing the players play. Peter Green controlled the second semi-final superbly and Strebre Delovski was voted best referee by A-League players this season so naturally Jarred Gillett is in charge of the grand final. How much we don’t hear of Gillett, who has the whistle for a third decider, will be key.
The betting bit – One serious one not:
Adelaide’s win in Melbourne to ultimately give them the Premier’s Plate to open the final weekend of the regular season stands out as an impressive victory and games like these can be forgotten in the drama of the finals. Adelaide to claim the crown ($1.65) into a surprise appearance at the post-game celebrations of former Reds coach Josep Gombau dancing on the stage.
Profit: 77.55 (ten units per investment)
Images via colliemail.com.au and theguardian.com