Eight games. That’s all there are left this season for Adelaide United.
24 points are up for grabs and Adelaide is still in with a chance of finishing as high as first – or missing the A-League finals completely in one of the most compelling seasons of Australia soccer in recent memory.
At the same point last season, Sydney FC was 10 points clear in first place and a whopping 24 points clear of ninth place.
This season, only 10 points separate ninth from first.
Of the eight games the Reds have left, five are at home. Winning those would probably assure Adelaide a finals berth.
United has publicly stated they’re aiming for a top-two finish. This is very achievable, but things would need to go perfectly from here on.
Adelaide’s run home is a difficult one and arguably even its “easiest” fixture against Melbourne Victory will be a tough away game.
The other games are against: Western United (H), Wellington Phoenix (H), Melbourne City (A), Brisbane Roar (H), Perth Glory (A), Sydney FC (H) and Western Sydney Wanderers (H).
That’s a tricky set of games to navigate and tonight’s match against Alessandro Diamanti and his teammates is crucial.
It will be the fourth time these two teams have met, and Western’s first return to Adelaide since dismantling the Reds in March 2020 (the penultimate game in the Verbeek era).
The last time they played was in Round 1 of this season, which ended in a nil-all draw.
Adelaide has one win and two draws from its last five games, whilst Western has three wins and a draw.
The game could go either way, but if United is serious about its ambitions it cannot let Western leave with points tonight.
The Reds were very wasteful against Wellington last Sunday and, truth be told, should have been out of sight before the ‘Nix made their comeback.
Prodigal habits die hard and they cannot afford another night of missed opportunities.
It also felt that the coaching staff dallied in making tactical changes against Wellington. Some players looked very tired after a rather heavy schedule of games but it wasn’t until the 82nd minute that Al Hassan Toure and Kusini Yengi were introduced. (The club acknowledged the players were very sore and this week has been a light week at training.)
Having said that, Adelaide’s home form is spectacular: six wins, one draw and one loss – a point emphasised by Carl Veart in his press conference yesterday.
“Our home games are really important,” the Reds manager said.
“We’ve had a lot of success at home and we are expecting [tonight] to be no different.”
Mohamed Toure is back from injury, which will buoy teammates and fans. Not that Veart is giving much away about how he may use the youngster.
“Mo’s had another full week of training so he’s available to be selected,” he said.
“Whether he gets the opportunity to play will depend on how the game plays out.”
And on the tantalising prospect of giving the two Toure brothers a chance to play together once again, the former Crystal Palace striker gave even less away.
“It all depends on where we lie in the game,” he explained.
“We know what they both can bring and if we are chasing games or even if we are in front, it depends on what I see is the best strength to bring more success to the team.”
It’s shaping up to be a season defining game.
And another thing
A quick note on the Video Assistant Referee.
Almost as if we knew controversy was coming, my close friends and I had a rather heated discussion about the efficacy of the VAR in soccer.
I should point out from the off that I am a huge fan of the VAR and feel that it is needed. But I have come to the realisation that the system requires improvement.
The VAR is there to pick up clear and obvious errors. The VAR also checks every goal to see if an offence occurred in the lead up.
With this in mind, I was left perplexed when the VAR did not pick up the clear handball just before the penalty Wellington Phoenix won in the last minute of the game against Adelaide United last Sunday.
Foremost, I should say that I had no issue with the penalty itself. That’s a foul.
But the rules currently state that any handball (intentional or not) from an attacking player that leads to a goal or goal-scoring opportunity should be called a foul (for what its wroth, this rule is changing next season).
Fenton’s handball was just before Sotirio’s header which crashed against the crossbar. Now, unless Soitrio was trying to play a one-two off the crossbar, that seems a clear goal-scoring opportunity to me.
Now, there may have been a very valid reason why the VAR didn’t recommend a foul. The problem is that we simply don’t know what that may have been.
The solution would seem to be to broadcast the audio from the VAR in the ground, on the TV and radio so players, officials and spectators know what has happened.
Because, on the face of it, the VAR erred last Sunday and it impacted the result.
Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is InDaily’s soccer columnist.
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