After completing one of the most difficult Isuzu UTE A-League regular seasons in the competition’s history, the top six will embrace navigating their way through a new-look finals path.
Players and teams have had everything thrown at them across a hectic season, from border closures and COVID-19 outbreaks to game postponements and tight turnarounds.
“This season’s been the hardest A-League season I’ve been involved in and I’m not even talking about the standard on the pitch,” Melbourne City captain Scott Jamieson told reporters.
“You take in COVID which has been around for a few years, but you take in the fixtures, COVID obviously went through every team so more games had to be rescheduled. We had to go to Asia so we had games in advance.
“… I’ve heard opposition coaches say this season has been the hardest and I think it’ll mean this final series will be the hardest.
“Just because of the different format but also the improvement (among teams).”
Under the new format, the semi-finals will be held over two legs.
Premiers City will play the lowest-ranked elimination- final winner away mid-week, then at home next weekend, while Melbourne Victory will do the same with the other winner.
“It gives an opportunity, I guess for the lower-ranked teams to really have a good crack because usually it’s just a one off-game at that the home team isn’t it?” Jamieson said.
“It does give an opportunity for that but you have to go out there and beat the opposition and that opposition has to be over two legs.
“So I don’t think the approach will change too much. It’s not like we’ll go out away and try and get a draw and then try and bring it home to AAMI, no, that won’t be the case.
“It’ll be about trying to win the two games.”
Victory will avoid leaving Melbourne altogether if they face Western United.
“It’s a massive advantage if we don’t have to travel anywhere,” Victory skipper Josh Brillante said.
“We can play on the stadium that we’ve always played on and it feels like a home game for us. We’ll have all our fans here.
“So it’ll be perfect if it works out that way.”
Meanwhile Adelaide United’s Ryan Kitto delighted in the prospect of being able to return to Coopers Stadium for a semi-final leg if the Reds beat Central Coast at home on Sunday.
“We’re very fortunate to have a home game and hopefully we get a good result and get the win and then also get another game at Coopers for our fans,” he said.