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Marcuccitti: This season's not over yet - but last season is

Manton St Tales

Hey, look on the bright side. At least Adelaide United’s 4-0 loss in Brisbane should finally silence those optimistic fans who keep annoying those of us who live in the real world with their comparisons to last season.

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And frankly isn’t “optimistic fan” a contradiction in terms anyway?

Surely the true supporter is a pessimist – one who understands that even when his or her team is flying, it will inevitably be undone. (For the perfect example, see the character played by Colin Firth in Fever Pitch, particularly when he’s watching the famous title deciding match played between Liverpool and Arsenal in 1989.)

The optimists kept recreating 2015-16. Just three points in the first eight rounds? Check. The opening win coming in round nine? Check.

But whereas last season’s round ten gave us a thrilling home win over Sydney FC, secured with a late penalty, Sunday saw the Reds suffer their biggest loss since they were thrashed 6-1 by Western Sydney four years ago.

In 2015-16 United’s A-League record after round eight (not including finals) was: 14 wins, four draws and just one loss. To achieve last season’s points tally the team would now need either 13 wins and four draws from the final 17 rounds or 14 wins and one draw.

Which might not be enough anyway. The Reds’ total of 49 points last season was one of the lowest for a top-placed team in a 27-round A-League season. In 2012-13 Western Sydney amassed 57 points; to reach that from here, United would have to win 17 from 17.

There are only four competent A-League teams at the moment: Sydney FC, the two Melbourne sides and Brisbane Roar

The Reds could still win the grand final and retain their championship. United is just five points out of the top six – plenty of time to climb in and then make an unlikely run through the end of season playoffs.

But the premiership and championship double won’t be repeated this season and, unless we have a quirky finals series (in which, say, the teams that finish 5th and 6th on the ladder end up meeting in the grand final), you won’t see a title decider at Adelaide Oval either.

I wouldn’t rule United out of finishing as high as 5th. However bleak its prospects appear, there are only four competent A-League teams at the moment: Sydney FC, the two Melbourne sides and Brisbane Roar.

Brisbane's Jamie Maclaren emotionally celebrates a goal, which he dedicated to the memory of his late grandmother. Photo: Dan Peled / AAP

Brisbane Roar: frustratingly competent. Photo: Dan Peled / AAP

The bottom six clubs have a total of just 13 wins and only two of those victories were against teams currently in the top four: Newcastle shocked Brisbane 4-0 way back in round two; and the following weekend saw Perth record a 3-2 away win over Melbourne City.

Unfortunately, four of United’s next six matches are against top teams and the other two games are away from home. Then we’ll be the other side of Australia Day with the Asian Champions League looming.

The ACL is exciting for supporters, especially hard core fans, but it’s also demanding. Combining it with good domestic form is becoming increasingly difficult for A-League clubs.

There are some positives.

The Brisbane match came after a couple of better performances: holding leaders Sydney FC to a draw; and the win over Wellington. The injury list is getting shorter too.

I don’t want to sound optimistic of course but Reds fans should expect a better effort in Newcastle on Friday.

And given that the season still offers the chance to reach the finals (even if it’s ludicrous that six out of ten teams qualify) and United’s participation in the ACL, and that you never know what the upcoming transfer window might bring, the next few months should be interesting.

Better still, now you’ll be able to follow it all without hearing or reading all those irritatingly sunny comparisons to last season.

Paul Marcuccitti is a co-presenter of 5RTI’s Soccer on 531 program which can be heard from 10am on Saturdays.

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