• Christian Marchetti

FPF's 2020-21 A-League Season Predictions Review

The 2020-21 A-League season culminated on Sunday with Melbourne City defeating Sydney FC in the Grand Final.

The ultimate prize belonged to City, but we've decided to look back at the predictions we made for the season way back in December to see how we fared.

In a season that was full of high drama, controversy and unpredictability, we didn't do too badly at all.


Premiers

Who we said: Melbourne City

Outcome: Melbourne City

Melbourne City celebrate winning the Premier's Plate after a 1-0 home win against the Mariners. (AAP)

We were adamant that City would take their game to a new level this season and that Patrick Kisnorbo would build on the foundations left by Frenchman Erik Mombaerts.

Right we were, as the Citizens proved too good for everyone in the home and away season, securing the Premier's Plate with three games spare.

We also mentioned that Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout and Florin Berenguer would be vital to any success.

That trio was, as Maclaren scored goals for fun, and Nabbout was on fire despite his limited time due to injury problems. Although not the biggest goalscorer, Berenguer causes lots of problems with his clever

movement and excellent vision in attacking areas.


Champions

Who we said: Western United

Outcome: Melbourne City

Every prediction article has to have one bizarre one in there. Still, we truly screwed up arguably the most important prediction of the season.

We even mentioned in our predictions article that tipping Mark Rudan's Western United as champions was a stretch.

We reasoned that their more pragmatic style under Rudan and how they had unified as a club so well during the 2019-20 season could help them make a Grand Final.

Experienced stars who have been there and done that, such as Besart Berisha, Alessandro Diamanti and Victor Sanchez, would lead by example too.

But we were so, so wrong.

Besart Berisha had his worst-ever goalscoring season in the A-League, netting just 7 times in 23 games.

Western was nowhere near it right from the off in 2020-21, losing their offensive capability and becoming increasingly fragile defensively as the season wore on.

A tenth-placed finish, Berisha's decline in goalscoring and Mark Rudan's sacking made us all look pretty stupid with this prediction.


Surprise Package

Who we said: A Western Sydney team

Outcome: Central Coast Mariners

I think everyone can be cut some slack for not believing the Mariners would ruffle feathers before the season started.

Stajcic's side truly blew everyone away and was the clear surprise package of the season.

The Mariners stunned everyone to finish third, despite finishing bottom in the 2019-20 season. (AAP)

Instead of the Mariners, we predicted one of Macarthur or the Wanderers to overachieve, which, in a way, we were half-right in predicting.

Macarthur arguably did so, making the semi-finals in their maiden campaign and playing a relatively exciting brand of football in doing so.

The same cannot be said for the Wanderers. They once again failed to reach the top six, despite having some encouraging displays under Carl Robinson.

We still think the Welsh manager can turn things around if given time, but we know how demanding Wanderers supporters can be.

If their results are lacking from the off next season, then it will lead to Robinson being sacked for sure.

Their off-season is arguably more important than anyone else's. The Wanderers need to iron out the kinks in their squad whilst finding a balance positionally because they seemed far too top-heavy in 2020-21.


Biggest Disappointment

Who we said: Melbourne Victory

Outcome: Melbourne Victory

We're pretty proud of this prediction, to be honest.

After a promising Asian Champions League campaign in 2020 and decent signings (on paper anyway) of players like Rudy Gestede and Callum McManaman, many thought Victory would bounce straight back into the six after a poor 2019-20 season.

But we weren't having any of it, and right from the opening rounds, you could see Grant Brebner wasn't fit for the top job. Other issues behind the scenes at the club were interfering too.

However, we never thought Victory would perform as poorly as they ultimately did.

A disappointment would've been simply missing out on the finals.

But to achieve their worst-ever season in the A-League and take out the wooden spoon was indeed rock-bottom for one of the country's biggest clubs.

Victory players devastated after another defeat during the 2020-21 season. (Getty Images)

They are recruiting players who aren't fit to wear the shirt and are probably not good enough to be a part of championship-winning squads.

They need to start behaving like one of the most successful clubs in the land again, and appointing Tony Popovic was a good start.

However, if Popovic is going to be successful next year, he needs to bring in the players he wants.

If they fail to recruit well, they'll end up with more underperformers such as Gestede and McManaman.

More washed up players brought in means that the gap between themselves and their two biggest rivals in Sydney FC and noisy neighbours City will only get bigger.


Golden Boot

Who we said: Jamie Maclaren

Outcome: Jamie Maclaren

Whilst everyone was being fooled into believing Matt Derbyshire or Tomi Juric could win the Golden Boot, we stuck to our guns.

We trusted J-Mac to bring it home again, and he did in quite stunning fashion, netting an astonishing 25 times in just 24 appearances.

In April, the Socceroo also netted an infamous five-goal haul against City's arch-rivals Melbourne Victory in a 7-0 derby demolition.

Maclaren celebrates his fifth goal against the Victory with teammates back in April. (Getty Images)

Maclaren's scoring rate was quite remarkable. He might have added even more in the finals series if he didn't miss it due to his national team duties with the Socceroos.

Speaking of Maclaren and the Socceroos, he is undoubtedly our best striker going around right now. Still, you can't help feel like his case to start will be enhanced if he played in Europe again.

That probably won't be happening anytime soon after he signed a two-year extension recently with City.

But he should explore it again in future. He had a successful stint with Scottish club Hibernian in the back-half of the 2017-18 season, where he netted eight times in fifteen games.

He's now scored an astonishing 59 goals in 63 appearances for Melbourne City.

This season, he became their all-time leading goalscorer and moved into third on the all-time A-League/NSL goalscoring charts.

Those statistics must be enough evidence that he can go to Europe and be successful again sometime soon.


Most Assists

Who we said: Alessandro Diamanti

Outcome: Alessandro Diamanti

Another reliable prediction was proven correct as Western's Italian star again put in several jaw-dropping displays this season, resulting in a league-high nine assists.

That doesn't seem like too many, but when you consider that his side only scored 30 times throughout the campaign, it means he was responsible for setting up 30 per cent of their goals.

Despite a frustrating campaign for his side, captain Diamanti still led by example. (Getty Images)

That statistic underlines just how vital Diamanti is to the Victorian side. There is no other team in the league as reliant on one player.

That reliance probably began to work against Western towards the end of the season. Rudan had to manage Diamanti's workload, often meaning that they were devoid of ideas in the final third when he was absent.

Diamanti is easily Western's most important player right now. Before they think about their new manager, I would suggest tying him down to the club first.


First Sacked

Who we said: Alen Stajcic

Outcome: Grant Brebner

As we said above, with the Mariner's being the season's surprise package, it was therefore impossible for Stajcic to be sacked.

He ultimately did leave at the season's end, though, but Grant Brebner was, of course, the first sacked and for good reason too.

Brebner was sacked immediately after the 7-0 derby defeat to Melbourne City in April. (Melbourne Victory)

The ex-player was out of his depth as a head coach of an A-League club. Victory often looked tactically naive and incredibly fragile defensively.

The two derby demolitions at the hands of rivals Melbourne City was strong evidence of that, with Brebner completely outclassed by Patrick Kisnorbo on both occasions.

He didn't learn from the first defeat (6-0 at Marvel Stadium), with things only getting more embarrassing the second time around (7-0 at AAMI Park).

Regardless of whether Brebner was ready for the job or not, I still believe their board set up the Victory to fail from day one this season.

They were run poorly behind the scenes, with recruitment issues and losing a connection with their dedicated supporters resulting in a toxic reception at Victory home games this year.

Brebner was just the scapegoat for the off-field issues, but he didn't help himself either.


Wooden Spoon

Who we said: Newcastle Jets

Outcome: Melbourne Victory

This prediction could have gone either way on the final game of the home and away season.

We were going to be right until Apostolos Stamatelopoulos had to score a late winner against, of all teams, the current champions Melbourne City.

Newcastle ended up avoiding the spoon, finishing two points above the Victory.

The Jets still had a poor season anyway. However, they did avoid the spoon whilst unearthing more exciting young players such as Archie Goodwin and Lucas Mauragis.

Some might view that as a minor success due to the club's several issues financially in pre-season.

This season is over now for them. Newcastle can now look to a new era under new boss Arthur Papas.

However, the priority will be replacing key figures at the club in recent years, such as Nigel Boogaard and Lawrie McKinna.


Full Ladder Prediction

Our final ladder:

1st - Melbourne City

2nd - Sydney FC

3rd - Western United

4th - Western Sydney Wanderers

5th - Macarthur FC

6th - Adelaide United

7th - Wellington Phoenix

8th - Melbourne Victory

9th - Perth Glory

10th - Brisbane Roar

11th - Central Coast Mariners

12th - Newcastle Jets

Outcome:

1st - Melbourne City

2nd - Sydney FC

3rd - Central Coast Mariners

4th - Brisbane Roar

5th - Adelaide United

6th - Macarthur FC

7th - Wellington Phoenix

8th - Western Sydney Wanderers

9th - Perth Glory

10th - Western United

11th - Newcastle Jets

12th - Melbourne Victory

Total correct positions: 4/12


Total Correct Predictions: 4/8