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'Natural order restored': Three things we learned - City vs Western United

A City line-up that no one could have predicted was rolled out on opening night of the A-League Men, but despite the unconventional combinations, the reigning Premiers scarcely looked troubled (first 10 minutes aside) and recorded as comprehensive a win as you'll see from a 2-1 scoreline which flattered the visitors.

The highlights won't do it justice, but it was a well-contested game and, bar some highly questionable VAR decisions (within 15 minutes no less), the score line could have looked a lot different. We thought we had an early lead when Valon Berisha whipped an incisive ball into the box where it was struck sweetly on the half-volley by Mathew Leckie, only to be parried by Jamie Young straight to Macca's feet as he promptly sent it over the line in typical poacher's fashion. However, the jubilation of the opening goal of the season was short lived as VAR made an embarrassing decision to overrule based on a supposed foul in the lead-up involving Ben Garuccio backing up into Berisha.

But no matter, spurred on by frustration we only looked more likely to score from there, and thanks to our unrelenting press we took the lead through a forced own-goal, and later doubled it when Maclaren found the back of the net through a sumptuous chip - to which the only answer from the visitors was a controversial goal in injury time.

A Mammoth Milestone Celebrated - Source: Andrew Wiseman (@wisemansports)

Here are three things we learned from our triumph in the Grand Final rematch:

Depth Around the Park

It was a team sheet we're not likely to see again but with Florin Berenguer out with his hamstring issues, Curtis Good missing due to a minor knock, and Nuno Reis out for a couple weeks due to a hamstring injury, the boys ability to adapt was truly put to the test - and it was a test we passed with flying colours.

Aiden O'Neill and Taras Gomulka made up the numbers in the middle of the park and preceded to put in excellent shifts, keeping things steady and shifting the ball around with ease. Meanwhile, Jordan Bos took up the position at left back and showed his maturation since last season, looking far more composed on the ball than he had prior to the off-season and made several level-headed tackles in dangerous positions.

We may be the only team in the A-League that can suffer the loss of its regular two centre-backs and still look untroubled. That's partly due to our continuity over the last few seasons and how well this team meshes together, but it's also due to the man of the hour Scott Jamieson. He racked up his 300th game playing out of position in the left centre-back role, but in his characteristically workman-like fashion he took to the job like a consummate professional and never looked out of place. His centre-back partner, Thomas Lam, was dropped into the deep end on debut, but like his fellow debutants, he stood up to the occasion with a gutsy performance.

Lecks in full flight - Source: Andrew Wiseman (@wisemansports)

Great debuts come in threes

Lam was very promising in defence; he didn't have a lot of defending to do outside of the opening stanza, but he certainly looked confident with the ball and consistently impressed with his long passes. With Nuno set to miss a further 1-2 weeks, the competition for our right centre-back place is well and truly on. The Finn was forced off at the 65th minute with a minor head knock that he reported was nothing serious, but if those 65 minutes are anything to go off, our defensive woes may well be behind us.

Adding to our defensive security this season is right-back Callum Talbot. The 21-year-old was very solid out wide in defence, which is where Western United had been cutting us up all last season. But while he barely put a foot wrong and was calm under pressure up back, he needs to work on his no-look spam passes into the box if he is to be a successful full-back in our system.

Rounding out the trio is everyone's new favourite A-League Men's player, Valon Berisha. Those of us in the City camp knew to expect big things from the man that was coming with a big personality and the experience to back it up, but having never played in England, it meant his arrival went largely unnoticed outside of our fanbase. The Kosovan always looked dangerous, constantly asking for the ball to feet in the middle of the park and always showing venom in the face of the opposition. His touch was tidy and his presence encouraged some beautiful passing amongst the team in tight areas. He's not been here long but he's made an instant impact in unlocking the best defence in the league, and we can only hope to see how he and Berenguer may combine in the middle of the park.

A new and improved Berisha - Source: Andrew Wiseman (@wisemansports)

Setting the tempo

Let's get one thing straight: we're just getting started. The league is looking more even than ever this season and there are going to be a lot of challenges along the way - but there's no better way to start this journey than with a comprehensive win over the current Champions who had us figured out all last season.

I've waxxed lyrical about our new starters above, but one of the keys to our performance was the retention of key players in recent years. JMac could've had another two goals if it wasn't for a dodgy VAR call and some unselfishness - he was at least due an assist if Tilio hadn't left his shooting boots at home. Meanwhile Leckie was running rampant - continuing from where he left off last season - while Andrew Nabbout was nigh unstoppable on the opposite wing, never slowing down as his pace and power only seem to grow.

Even Glover seemed to be back to his old ways, spectacularly parrying away several first half shots from the opposition which, had he failed to save them, could've sent the game in another direction. Hopefully that good form gives him a confidence boost and he can ride that wave all season. Maybe it was just our forced changes to the line-up, but we seemed to play less predictably, with more avenues going forward.

Aiming for the stars - Source: Andrew Wiseman (@wisemansports)

All week in the lead-up captain Jamieson played down the revenge element, but new boy on the block Valon Berisha had other ideas, confirming that "f****** hell, that was a big game" for us, and the Kosovan was happy to serve up a little revenge to compliment the three points.

More importantly though, the natural order has been restored, and the stage is set for us to do some very big things this season.

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