'The Coopers Curse Continues': Three things we learned - Adelaide vs City
An unsettled Melbourne City line-up was put to the sword in Adelaide last night, as the boys in City blue went down 4-2 , leaving the city of Churches with nothing but a longer winless streak than when we arrived.
An early bullet of a goal from Andy Nabbout provided a spark of hope that we may walk away with the three points for the first time in nearly five years, but the Reds were constantly exploiting our weaknesses on the break and five goals later we had a very different game on our hands.
A rare Tilio header had us back in the game at 3-2 but any dreams of a late comeback were crushed by wonderkid Irankunda who piled on the pain and ensured the Coopers curse continues.
Here's what we learned:
Big game strugglers
One of the great things about the A-League Men is that any team can beat any other, and when the ladder is as congested as it is this season, you can't underestimate anyone - especially not a top four side. So while there's no shame in losing an entertaining game of football to a spirited Adelaide United in hostile territory, we do have to start worrying about our run of form against our biggest competitors.
It was a big issue last season, and it's starting to look like we didn't shake that habit during the offseason.
Of course the reason why two of the top four (Adelaide & the Wanderers) are doing so well is that they shamelessly employ that typical brand of anti-football so common to the A-League Men, and they do it very well against us, a side that is particularly vulnerable to attacks in transition.
Central Coast Mariners on the other hand, are a very good team with a very clever manager that likes to actually take a game on - and they're the only side of the chasing pack that we've actually managed to beat this season.
All that said, we are still very likely to win the Premiers Plate, so let the punters talk about our struggles against tougher competition. But I think I speak for all of us when I say we do not want to play Adelaide come finals.
No one wants to support a lifeless machine, so if our struggle is going to be winning finals, at least we can worry about how to do that while we win the Plate every damn year.
Who? What? Where?
Part of the reason Adelaide were able to find holes in our defence like a piece of Swiss cheese was our unsettled line-up.
With Mathew Leckie out, Nabbout was handed a start and made good on the chance with an early goal, meanwhile at the back we had Curtis Good return to the starting line-up, while Rado Vidosic opted for Nuno Reis at right-back to add some solidity. However, what certainly didn't help was that he was forcibly subbed-off at the 33rd minute due to a nasty head clash with Adelaide's number 9 Hiroshi Ibusuki.
What also didn't help was Vidosic's bizarre decisions to switch Van der Venne for Jamieson in the 60th minute, and Nabbout for Talbot in the 82nd - all while chasing a lead. If you came to this article hoping for me to shed some light on these inexplicable decisions, I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint as all I can offer is speculation that our manager wanted us to hold the ball better and thus the defensive options, though putting players out of position certainly seemed to contradict that intent.
Regardless of Rado's reasoning, and all our injury woes, we have too much depth to be crying poor for options. Let's just hope all is sorted come the pointy end of the season, which isn't too far away.
Battle of the midfields
Another change to the line-up this week was the benching of Florin Berenguer.
After a stellar shift last week (while out of position), it was perhaps surprising to see him excluded from the starting line-up, and baffling to not see him come on as a substitution when goals were what we needed.
Outside of our number six position, our midfield is stacked, and while we seem fairly settled on the trio of O'Neill, Berisha and Van der Venne, it might be time for a stint on the pine for Valon.
His stats have been underwhelming, but he seemed to make up for it with his contributions in the middle of the park, however even that side of his game is starting to drop. Outside of his assist for Tilio's header, he was rather unremarkable, and as Tilio could be heard saying during this week's A-Leagues All Access episode, he's not adding much defensively either.
I know I've expressed concern earlier in the article about our inconsistent line-up, from factors both avoidable and unavoidable, but this may be one element of experimentation that is required for improvement.
Luckily for us, Western Sydney Wanderers take on the Central Coast Mariners today, which should help to thin out the herd a little more.
A win at home against Brisbane next week could take us even closer to securing the Premiership three-peat.