Your guide to the 2022 A-League Men finals series
The 2021-22 A-League Men season has arguably been the most tumultuous. An intense finale for the plate and a potentially 2018-style finals series may turn dampened spirits dry. Or crucially, give those lost to the competition's misfortunes a fresh look at the newly independent first tier.
A club photoshoot with the champions trophy, affectionately known as the toilet seat. (A-Leagues)
So who is going into battle? Australia's top three sides all hail from Victoria, with 2021 champions Melbourne City claiming the Premier's Plate by the nearest margins ahead of rivals Melbourne Victory.
Victory, led by the ever-reliable and title hungry Tony Popovic, will be wanting to write many wrongs from recent history and in the life and career of Popovic.
The 48-year-old's pre-Victory CV consists of Grand Final losses with the Western Sydney Wanderers and Perth Glory, and awful stints overseas in Greece and Turkey.
Popovic will also want to turn the trend around and be credited as the man who completed the ultimate bottom to top transition for the famous Boys in Blue.
It's a narrative that may finally spark his desire to make a statement aboard.
Tony Popovic adapted the squad to his methods early on. (Melbourne Victory)
Amongst the ranks also lie Western United, whose dad's army approach has paid off. But they also provide a managerial narrative with the revival and success of former Melbourne Heart/City and Brisbane Roar boss John Aloisi.
Aloisi and Popovic, with Brisbane and the Wanderers, respectively, played out one of the all-time renowned finals games in 2016, a 5-4 win for the Red and Black in Parramatta.
It may produce a game for the record books should the two square off in a semi-final as predicted with their respective narratives.
Further down the order, the Elimination Finals will see Carl Veart's academy driven and awe-inspiring Adelaide United against the Central Coast Mariners. Mariners club legend Nick Montgomery has continued the legacy of previous boss Alen Stajcic.
Montgomery is bringing the Mariners rebuild to an exciting climax at the helm. (South Highlands News)
Both clubs played in this corresponding fixture in 2014 in Gosford.
The fixture came on the morning after the Australian football community was shocked by the death of Western Australian West Ham academy ace Dylan Tombides.
The Mariners won on the day and will hope to make up for 2021's elimination final loss to Macarthur.
Lastly, the Wellington Phoenix have taken up sixth place across the ditch in New Zealand. The Phoenix have again risen under the stewardship of Ufuk Talay, who has bested the club that made him in Sydney FC.
Western United and the Phoenix playing off in a final feels of utmost importance given the Kiwi footballing public's hatred towards the Green and Black.
Tensions will be high, but should the Nix upset Aloisi's men, they will have the honour of hosting a finals match for just the second time in ten years.
The APL has introduced a new finals model that sees the semi-finals embrace a two-legged format. Although there will be weekday finals, should the Cake Tin see finals action, it may be scenes reminiscent of Wellington's run in 2010. This year could also be extra special with a post-Covid homebound Phoenix team.
To underwrite the narratives ahead of the Australian football public in the 2022 finals series would be to make a significant mistake. The managers have been through hell and back, and the brave fighters on the pitch may yet create their piece of history.
Could a band of cult heroes put South Australian football at the forefront? Will the Phoenix overcome the odds in the face of the harshest diversity, reigning above all else in a post-Covid national league?
Perhaps Montgomery propels the Mariners' rebuild to its ultimate form after reaching the lowest lows in the late 2010s? Can Aloisi and his aged Western United side bring hope to the club and its region to keep its place in the game long-term?
Will the old guard of Melbourne City take its place at the top again and confirm that the City Football Group are the kings of the Australasian domestic sphere?
Will Popovic break the duck and send the Victory back to their rightful place as seat winners again after a record low finish and chaotic season?
All shall be revealed in the coming weekend and beyond, with Grand Final day slated for May 28.
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