• Matt Olsen

It’s time to talk about Sydney FC

On November 30th, the previously West Indian colony turned into the independent state of Barbados, declared a formal separation from the British crown.


They had become the Republic of Barbados, adding to a myriad of movements Commonwealth-wide and increasing speculation that the once all-conquering British Empire is soon becoming extinct.


Yes, this article is actually about football.


We’re here to discuss the potential downfall of the once-great all-conquering empire, Sydney Football Club.


Their start to the 2021/22 A-League Men season has been unprepared, problematic, and, particularly on the pitch, stagnant.


The squad boasting many familiar names with a firm reputation has undoubtedly been underdelivering.


The likes of Anthony Caceres, Trent Buhagiar, and Elvis Kamsoba have yet to prove their worth this season.

Steve Corica is in unfamiliar territory after a frustrating start to the season. (Getty Images)


Stalwarts Alex Wilkinson and Rhyan Grant have shown weaknesses that previously did not exist.


Their attack has also gotten off to a slow start, suggesting that this team only has one general downward trajectory.


There have been positives, though.


Paulo Retre and Joel King have provided sparks to soften the blow.


Max Burgess will need time to adjust, and young star Calem Nieuwenhof has seen fledgling game time.


But with the complete picture considered and the anomalies aside, this is undoubtedly a team losing its Midas touch in a superbly quick fashion.


To see a slower, stuttered start from this once incredible unit simultaneously proves something is different within the Sydney camp.


There, of course, is time for a change, but how much can they move on and how swiftly can it be done to ensure the team produce the goods, especially in a must take all finals situation.


The alarm bells rang immediately about a minute into the season with the Sydney derby against the Wanderers in Parramatta.


An audacious long ball from King to try and find Le Fondre signalled the beginning of a constant stagnant movement from afar.


Long passes and aerial balls were the weapons of attack against what was, at the time, a reactive and respondent Wanderers defence.


Sydney could have breached their rivals that day by getting their fullbacks higher.


But even the usually enterprising Grant was unwilling to do so.


There was even a moment when Retre urged him to push further forward to receive the ball, but he didn't read the play whatsoever.


Therefore, it was no surprise that the game ended 0-0 with how stale Sydney looked.

However, you can’t be that harsh, and no doubt such judgment would be daft after one week.


One move utilised well was the cut back centrally from Trent Buhagiar, with Le Fondre often the teammate waiting to pounce on the centred ball.


No one player seemed to be the target, though, but it has worked to create many a chance without being put away.


This lack of clinical edge is problematic because putting lesser sides away has been a hallmark of this Sydney side in recent years.


"I was happy with the [performance] overall; maybe we can create a few more chances," Corica said after the derby stalemate.


If that's the takeaway from a game they previously would dominate, then something has to give.


Macarthur at home was the next challenge in round two.


A team notorious for a safe approach, so much so that Corica's set-up was restricted again.


The long balls and cutbacks appeared the mode of attack once again.


But the safe blockade placed down by the Bulls required not so much ball retention and movement but for individual battles to be won with a more imaginative approach off the ball.


Sydney’s main threat came through dead ball situations.


Their best chance came from a corner, and Macarthur won the midfield battle, with Sydney's attack again held stiff.


The stagnant and unwilling nature of the performance upfront once again prompted similar comments from Corica.


Perhaps the inability to attack with fluency showed that the manager might be putting too much faith into his approach.


For the round three fixture against the Jets, Buhagiar was missing from the starting lineup.


Elvis Kamsoba played the striker role, with Burgess starting on the wing in his place.


Perhaps this change was down to fitness problems and injury, as Buhagiar, despite having near non-existent finishing ability, helped Sydney find more fluidity in their ball movement.


Therefore, Sydney's attack was more reliant on the aerial ball, whilst Corica asked his midfield to control possession for large parts.


A more reserved style that would rely on individuals taking more risks than having a heavy pass-first approach may have been more beneficial.


For the most part, the idea was to get Kamsoba running onto the aerial ball in behind Newcastle and have Retre and Caceres progressing the ball through the central areas, laying off delicate passes to the wide areas for Grant or Burgess.


That duo mostly failed to impact the game.


Both of Sydney's goals that night came from reactive through balls.


The first came from a ball over the top to Le Fondre, who forced a penalty.


The second originated by playing in the Englishman out wide, who then delicately weaved through and cut the ball across to an unmarked Kamsoba.


The score was 2-0, so where did this match go wrong for the Sky Blues?


Sydney looked safe and was ready to claim they were back, but the Jets attack, to their credit, had other ideas.


We began to witness a belief in the Newcastle side and an arrogant and laid-back Sydney defence.


For the first time in maybe five or six years, they put their heads down and were ready for the whistle to be blown when the job was only half done.


This mentality shift was a big mistake with only 60 minutes played in the match.


The first Newcastle goal started a bit innocuous, with a turnover gifting the Jets possession in a dangerous area.


However, as Daniel Penha takes possession, three Sydney players have their backs to the play.


As they scramble back, the scorer, Valentino Yuel, has multiple lanes with which to attack.


Sydney was an absolute mess immediately after losing the ball.

Newcastle embrace their travelling fans after coming back for a valuable point in Kogarah. (Getty Images)


Under Graham Arnold, Sydney punished you; they were always ready to pounce when opponents made such mistakes.


But they are now looking disorganised, scrappy, and unforgiving.


And that night, it didn't get any better.


The equaliser came later, and the Jets, to their credit, mainly reacted off their momentum.


Sydney being denied a third through offside would have given Arthur Papas' side more confidence too.


But that's beside the point; Sydney needed the complete performance to win, and they didn't have it.


Corica didn't forgive the team, making out like an injustice manifested with the disallowed goal.


He also bizarrely complimented the attacks they constructed.


To reaffirm the point, he does seem lost with what is going wrong and is aware of the fact.


From the start against the Mariners, the game plan was again to push the ball into unsuspecting areas, relying on Burgess to play the final ball.


Bobo was added into the side, though he had little impact.


From the start, Sydney attempted to go long when building play from the back, likely hoping the Brazilian could win the first ball and put immediate pressure on the Mariners defence.


But that never came to fruition, and Bobo was hauled off at the break after an underwhelming display.


The attack was poor, but defensively it was even worse.

Le Fondre cuts a forlorn figure as the Mariners celebrate their quick start on Sunday. (Getty Images)


The Mariners were in equally uncomfortable areas whilst attacking but always found a way out and busted through to go 2-0 up after just fifteen minutes.


Sydney's defence broke down with disgraceful ease.


There was a general lack of pressure around the ball and an inability to react to the following action quickly.


One player who personified this lack of effort was Milos Ninkovic.


Although known for his creative flair, he abandoned his defensive responsibility.


Liam Miller was afforded far too much space down the right side by the Serbian, with his inability to effectively cut the passing lane between Miller and the Mariners right-sided centre-back Daniel Hall a real issue.


That issue was brutally exploited when Moresche - playing in a more free number 10 role - sprayed a ball wide for Miller to take King on 1v1 and eventually set up the second goal.


Defensively they were a shambles, and Sydney's attack also couldn't offer substance or threat by any metric.


In brief moments they did penetrate the Mariners, but their finishing was once again an issue.


Despite the home side's onslaught, Le Fondre was allowed quite a bit of space to turn inside the box on a handful of occasions.


But he has seriously lacked a ruthless edge, as shown with a strike that hit the post in the 25th minute.


As proven, we're four rounds in, and Sydney has not looked the goods.


This recent performance may have been the most reluctant and insipid effort yet.


The last sum of proof here in all of this is the FFA Cup, with Sydney Olympic, a game that under the usual circumstances in the Arnold/Corica era is a routine win, didn’t pan out that way.


This unconvincing display was a tangible sign of the times, and some controversy in a 4-2 scrap against NPL opposition, totalled by the pain of Luke Brattan’s ACL injury, made this outing a forgetful one.


Similar mistakes weren’t to be made, with a decent display by a near first-choice starting eleven against Macarthur in the next round.

Sydney celebrate qualifying for the FFA Cup quarter finals after beating Macarthur. (Getty Images)


A selection that also proves they may be worried about their league form.


Corica spots that things may be difficult in qualifying for the Asian Champions League.


If the team continues their stale ways, the new FFA Cup path may be the way forward to the continental competition.


The one thing that does remain true is that there is always time for a change.


This side, these leaders, has the goods to be playing in another grand final.


While the product lacks, and the form is unsure, Sydney FC can never really be written off.