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United push to take it to the top

Manton St Tales

United’s return to form has moved them up the A-League ladder, to be touted as serious title contenders. Spiro Karanikos-Mimis considers the chances of another Reds’ trophy tilt.

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Adelaide’s first half against the Newcastle Jets was a thing of beauty.

Those 45 minutes emphasised just how much improvement the Reds have made over the last six weeks.

In its entire history, United have only ever led four-nil at half-time once before: the day they thumped the North Queensland Fury eight-one in 2011.

Whilst the Reds technically lost the second half, there was no danger of Newcastle causing a major comeback, and United had enough of the play to suggest they could’ve scored more.

It may be easy enough to say that the return of Craig Goodwin has propelled the Reds, but that would ignoring the improved output shown by many players.

Let’s begin with the obvious – Kusini Yengi.

Yengi had impressed former mentor Gertjan Verbeek in the pre-season leading up to 19/20 campaign. Yengi was pencilled in to lead the line for Verbeek, but got injured and the Dutchman instead promoted Al Hassan Toure. We all know what happened next.

Yengi fell down the pecking order following the emergence of Al Hassan, then Mohamed Toure and then further down again after Adelaide signed Tomi Juric.

Someone who had watched Kusini play at Adelaide Comets told me they felt the A-League was a step too far for the youngster.

But his breakthrough cameo against the Victory may have just been the tonic to make him truly believe he belongs at this level.

He has been criticised for his goal celebrations and his theatrical roll against the Jets – some pundits even suggesting he needs to be reined in. But I’m not sure you want to stop Kusini being Kusini, especially if it’s working.

A lot of people said “who?” when Adelaide signed Josh Cavallo. On the outside, the left-footed central midfielder seemed to be a panic signing by the Reds, who were desperate for cover in central midfield. But Carl Veart knew what he was getting with Cavallo, having worked with him before. He’s been excellent.

Other players to improve over the last few weeks include Stefan Mauk, Ben Halloran, Jordan Elsey and Louie D’Arrigo.

But I would argue that the most influential addition to the team is someone whose quality has been on display for weeks now.

Javi López has barely put a foot wrong since shaking off his early season niggles and becoming a regular starter.

So much so, that he has seen off both Michael Marrone and Noah Smith, who are now out of the team (the latter, in particular, can count himself desperately unlucky).

Many were left wondering if López, who turned 35 in January, would be a bust when he simply couldn’t get on the park in the early part of the season.

But he has shown that you don’t make 250 appearances in Spain’s top division for nothing. He is a quality footballer, and despite his age, it would be hard to begrudge him a contract extension.

And so Adelaide’s upturn in form has many asking if the Reds can truly give the title a real crack this season. The short answer is: yes.

Fans should be getting excited about what they’re seeing from United.

And I have to echo the sentiments made by Fox Sports’ Mark Bosnich during the call of the Newcastle game: when Adelaide plays the way they’ve been playing, they are arguably the most entertaining team in the league.

Despite all the good things happening at United, you won’t get anyone at the Reds looking beyond the next game.

The saying “one week at a time” is a sporting rhetoric staple.

But with such a young team, Veart and his assistants have an important role in keeping their youngsters’ feet firmly on the ground.

And so it will be “one week at a time” for the rest of this season, a season which hasn’t even hit the half-way mark yet.

Truthfully, the ladder tells a lop-sided tale, owing to so many games being postponed due to COVID or the weather.

Adelaide’s true place in the field will only show once all the teams are on equal terms in the games-played column.

Arguably, there is no harder test in Australian football than playing Sydney FC – Adelaide’s opponent this Sunday.

The Bling, as they are known, have been the dominant force for several seasons now. In fact, Sydney has only lost once to Adelaide in their past 16 encounters (this does include several draws).

And whilst their league form this year has been below their usual high standard, it will provide the hardest test for Adelaide since they began this five-game winning streak.

So whilst fans and media may be talking about Adelaide adding more silverware to the trophy cabinet, the Reds themselves will know there is much work to be done before any talk of a title tilt enters the conversation.

And another thing…

Keep your eyes glued to your TV on Friday night… Adelaide United’s W-League finals fate will be decided in the game between Sydney FC and Canberra United.

Ideally the Reds want Sydney FC to win, but a draw will also be enough to see Adelaide secure its first ever W-League finals appearance.

If Adelaide doesn’t make the finals, they will be able to look back on this season with pride.

But it will be hard to ignore the fact that two games will have cost them: their collapse against Canberra in Round 1 and the Round 6 loss to Victory.

Here’s hoping Sydney FC can do them a favour.

Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is InDaily’s soccer columnist

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