When it all came down to the tension of a penalty shoot-out at the Allianz Stadium last May, over forty-thousand fans held their breath. Sydney FC had dominated the regular season from start to finish, losing just once and maintaining top spot from the very first round, to the last. Having cruised through the Grand Final, only Melbourne Victory stood in their path.
Arguably the biggest rivalry in Australian football, ‘The Big Blue’ encounter between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory made for a tightly contested Grand Final. A-League scoring legend Besart Berisha had fired Victory into the lead, only for Rhyan Grant to grab an equaliser for the Sky Blues. All square after ninety minutes and extra time, just like back in the 2009/10 Grand Final, it was Sydney FC who held their nerve to win 4-2 in the shoot-out.
After such a dominant regular season to claim the Premier’s Plate, few can deny that the strength, depth, and of course the resilience of Sydney FC over the course of the campaign, was justly rewarded with the main prize of the season after the Finals Series, triumphantly hoisting aloft the A-League Trophy.
Long live the king?
October welcomes the start of the 2017/18 season, one filled with plenty of expectations for all teams, although after such a dominant previous season, the latest football betting trends strongly favour Sydney FC to retain their crown at odds of just 3.25. Doing so would be no small achievement, given that since the A-League began, only Brisbane Roar have managed back-to-back titles in 2010/11 and 2011/12.
After the bitter disappointment of losing the Grand Final on penalties last season, especially with history repeating itself when facing Sydney FC for the biggest prize, Melbourne Victory at odds of 5.50 and fancied as the strongest challenger to dethrone the reigning champions, will clearly hope they can close the regular season gap and then go one better this season.
Just to add a little extra early season spice to the campaign for both teams, in the very first round of fixtures, Melbourne Victory host Sydney FC at the Etihad Stadium. Could that encounter provide a first indication of who has the strongest claim for titles this season?
Up for the Cup
Pre-season matches can often be fickle when trying to judge the form of teams, especially for these key rivals, ahead of the new league season. However, there has been competitive action and mixed fortunes for the two sides in the FFA Cup.
Taking on Brisbane Roar in the Round of 32, Melbourne Victory cruised to a thumping 1-5 victory at Perry Park, but a trip to the Marden Sports Centre in the following round saw their progress come to an abrupt end, as Adelaide United ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
By contrast, Sydney FC have perhaps had a little more fortune considering the opponents they have been drawn against, thrashing Darwin Rovers 0-8 away in the round of 32, then eliminating Bankstown Berries 0-3 with little difficulty in the round of 16. Against FFA Cup holders Melbourne City, a straightforward 2-0 win earned Sydney FC their passage to the semi-finals.
Strong form in pre-season encounters, such as a dominant win against Perth Glory, plus their progress in the FFA Cup, would suggest that Sydney FC are continuing their momentum from last season, making it entirely possible that in 2017/18 they could become the first side to be crowned A-League Champions for a fourth time. The biggest danger as always in football, however, could be complacency. So long as that can be avoided, the favourites tag is one they will be comfortable maintaining.
Considered the most likely challengers by bookmakers and pundits alike, disjointed performances such as the friendly defeat against Central Coast Mariners, or Melbourne Victory's disappointing exit from the FFA Cup, hardly boosts their credentials. Certainly, they will have much to prove on home turf in their opening A-League encounter against Sydney FC. Securing a win would provide a massive boost to confidence.