Talking points preview: Semi-Final First Leg
With the Premier's Plate wrapped up, our City boys will jet off for Adelaide in our quest to secure a second piece of silverware for 2021/22, with the first match of our A-League Men's Finals campaign just over 24 hours away.
We're coming off a nerve-wracking 2-1 home win against Wellington Phoenix that saw AAMI Park erupt on the final whistle as players and fans celebrated a successful league title defence, but everyone involved will be hoping for a more assured performance when the team takes on Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium.
The Reds faced off against the A-League's other in-form outfit, the Central Coast Mariners, in the Elimination Finals, but Carl Veart's men were triumphant in their 3-1 victory at home.
Now on a six-game winning streak and with a home Semi-Final first leg coming up, Adelaide will prove an immense challenge for our City boys, who will have to be at their best to come away with a result that puts us in a good position for the second leg at AAMI Park.
It's Finals time, and whilst that would normally be enough of a talking point in itself, here are some of the other major storylines heading into tomorrow night's Semi:
An important question we must first answer...
What's the pass mark for this season?
Is this season already a success due to our defence of the Premier's Plate, a trophy that would ordinarily denote us as a country's premier outfit without contest? What happens if our 2021/22 campaign is over by the final whistle of Sunday afternoon's second leg? Not to be pessimistic, but the overriding 'pass mark' question is important for us to answer prospectively now rather than (possibly) retrospectively on Sunday.
I imagine that if you'd asked City fans pre-season, a successful Plate defence would have sufficed as a good return from the new campaign. However, a season in which our crosstown rivals end up with more silverware than we do could also be considered a failure, especially given the position the teams were in at the conclusion of 2020/21. This could be the case by the end of the month if the FFA Cup and A-League Championship trophy are jointly held by Melbourne's navy blue outfit (in addition to their A-League Women's Championship).
The fate of our Finals campaign will likely also influence how our undefeated but prematurely-ended Asian Champions League campaign will be perceived.
Let your thoughts on City's pass mark for the season be known by joining the discussion in the comments section on our socials post.
You're a brave individual if you've got flights booked for Adelaide on Wednesday, as all City fans would know by now that at Coopers, our boys will be taking on more than just 11 opponents in red; they'll be battling some almighty demons from both our recent and historical past.
Over the years, Coopers Stadium hasn't been kind to our travelling City boys, with our 25% win percentage away to Adelaide being our second-lowest against any A-League opposition (won't take too many guesses to figure out #1).
Amongst our 20 matches played at the venue, there have been some absolutely miserable losses, especially since 2016 when we were comprehensively swept aside in a 4-1 Semi-Final battering.
2019 was another horrid year for City's visits to Australia's wine capital, suffering a 1-0 defeat in the A-League's Quarter-Final stage before fans were later subjected to one of the most painful nights in our 12-year history, thrashed 4-0 in that year's FFA Cup Final.
Whilst fans may also cringe reminiscing on the pair of 2-2 draws at the venue earlier this campaign, we can at least take some comfort from the fact that all four goals were either incredibly fortunate for Adelaide or stemming from some unbelievable, and hopefully (SURELY!) unrepeatable, City errors.
After leaving the field early in our 3-0 Derby humiliation in April, missing out on our historic first ACL campaign and watching our Plate-securing win against Wellington from the sidelines, City's French midfield maestro Florin Berenguer is back - hopefully with a vengeance!
His teammates (and fans) have sorely missed the 33-year-old over the past five and a bit weeks, especially with Berenguer enjoying the most prolific season of his career with five goals and five assists.
His young protégé Marco Tilio has deputised well in the Frenchman's absence, but Berenguer's return both provides respite for his 20-year-old teammate, who has started every game that he has been available for since that Derby, and variety in attacking options for Patrick Kisnorbo.
Whilst the City Head Coach has confirmed Berenguer's full return to fitness and availability for selection for Wednesday, it's unclear whether our #10 will feature from the first whistle or only in a limited capacity near the end of game.
Regardless, City fans will be glad to welcome the midfielder back when he inevitably makes his return at what is a very fortunate time for his side.