As we approach the mid point of season nine of the Hyundai A-League, we take a look at how the teams are progressing.
Sydney FC’s Jekyll and Hyde inconsistency has been a source of incredible frustration for their fans in the first half of the Hyundai A-League season.
After a bright start against Newcastle Jets in Round 1, when marquee superstar Alessandro Del Piero scored a magnificent goal, it has been an often treacherous path for the Sky Blues.
The most stark indication of their maddening inconsistency is their record to date: they have six wins, six losses and one draw from their 13 matches. So far, it has been all or nothing for Sydney FC.
Keeping Del Piero on the park has been a primary issue for coach Frank Farina, as his side struggle to score when he isn’t playing. Alas, he has only appeared in ten matches, starting nine of them.
He has taken his leave early in seven, including twice in the first half and twice at half-time. He has completed the full 90 minutes in only two matches, and he averages only 47 minutes per match this season.
His influence has waned as a result. Re-cast in the number 10 role since the arrival of Ranko Despotovic, Del Piero provides the occasional sprinkling of stardust, but without totally dominating fixtures. That potential, however, still remains.
Thankfully for those of a Sky Blue persuasion, Despotovic has arrived to take some of the goal scoring burden. His entrance to the Hyundai A-League was a spectacular one, with his last minute winner against Wellington Phoenix.
His arrival has, in part, sought to arrest the over-reliance on Del Piero. The Serbian striker is tall, pacy and strong.
While some of his goals have had an element of luck, he clearly has a sharp eye for goal and is a decent finisher. Four goals in seven appearances is an excellent return thus far.
Sydney FC are exactly mid-table as the season turns into its second half, sitting fifth and in good company with Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory, and Newcastle Jets all within a point, above and below.
Frank Farina recruited well in the off-season, bringing in Matthew Jurman and Nikola Petkovic to bolster the defence, as well as veteran midfielder Matthew Thompson. Further forward, Richard Garcia has proven to be excellent value both out wide and through the middle.
Jurman though has seen little game time, while Marc Warren and Pedj Bojic have been inconsistent in the full back positions. Injuries struck Corey Gameiro, who has just returned, and the promising Rhyan Grant, who is out for the season.
The form of Ali Abbas has been a real positive for Farina though, as his versatility has allowed the coach to shuffle positions and shapes to combat various injuries and suspensions.
It is difficult to tell which is the real Sydney FC: the side that fought back to 2-2 when a man down against Adelaide, or the side that capitulated against Brisbane Roar home and away.
Questions remain over their style of play and their ability to gain points without Del Piero.
STAR MAN: Nikola Petkovic
It may be odd that Sydney FC-s star man is a central defender, particularly in a side that has conceded 20 goals in 13 matches (the second worst defensive record in the league). But for Petkovic, those stats could make for far uglier reading.
The Serbian is an outstanding reader of the game and is strong both on the ground and in the air. His ability on the ball allows Sydney FC to try and play out when they can and his set pieces are a major threat, both when shooting for goal or when providing opportunities, as Gameiro took advantage of against Adelaide last weekend.
He has had to make do with a revolving door alongside him. Petkovic has partnered Sebastian Ryall, Tiago and Jurman in various matches this season, as well as having to deal with Warren, Abbas and Ryall all putting in a shift on his other side, at left back.
Through it all, Petkovic has stood out. He is a player of real pedigree and his quality has shone through in the first half of the season.
COACH-S REPORT: Frank Farina
The jury is still out on Farina, just as it is still out on Sydney FC. He has undoubtedly been dealt a tough hand, especially with Del Piero-s constant injury problems, the lack of form of his defenders and the unfortunate injury to the live wire, Gameiro, on the eve of the season.
The fading Brett Emerton and the ill-discipline of Warren and Bojic has made it difficult for Farina to settle on his best eleven. Picking up Thompson as an injury replacement was a shrewd move and rumous are afoot of another midfielder arriving, Milos Dimitrijevic.
With 15 of his squad out of contract at the end of the season, there is the school of thought that at that point, Farina will be able to build his own squad. But, until then, he has to deal with what he has.
The wild swings in form are curious and Farina seems not yet to have a solution to the conundrum of how to keep Del Piero on the park, and how to consistently get the best out of the team that he puts out there, with or without their marquee superstar.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not reflect those of Football Federation Australia.