ATTACKING SKY BLUES GO TOP OF THE GROUP

​Sydney FC produced another inspired Champions League performance to put themselves in with an excellent chance of reaching the competition’s playoff stages for the first time in its history.

Much remains to be done but, with three rounds left to play, the Sky Blues lead the group by two points and could confound their critics to end the season on a high after all. Graham Arnold deserves credit for setting out his stall in an attacking formation in Korea, as do the players for being inspired to play for a win away from home.

It was a funny sort of game though. In many respects, it resembled a game of park football:

Line up in a 4-4-2 – check.

When you win the ball, lump it to the two big guys up front – check.

The back four doesn’t cross the halfway line unless there’s a ball to be won – check.

If the ball bounces free, give it to the skilful bloke with the long ethnic name in the middle of the park – check.

In a display Claudio Ranieri would have been proud of, the Sky Blues chased, pressured and harassed the hosts to the point of exhaustion, taking advantage of their opponents’ early-season uncertainty. On this display, Pohang will not win the Champions league this season and may struggle domestically following an offseason player fire-sale.

Sydney’s pressing game worked a treat and the front four of Andrew Hoole, Chris Naumoff, George Blackwood and Matt Simon all put in massive efforts to deny the hosts time and space, the pressure leading to turnovers by the Koreans.

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Wishing The Season Away

​In Seinfeld’s “English Patient” episode, Elaine finally explodes in a packed cinema, screaming “Just die already! Die!”

If last season’s Sky Blues took their fans on a wonderful journey, the 2015/16 version has been a roller-coaster ride – slow and steady on the way up, some yo-yoing in the middle and a breakneck-speed, screaming plummet towards the end. Watching their team stagger to the finish line has tested the patience of even the most mild-mannered of Sydney FC fans.

Could the season just end now?

Mercifully, there isn’t long to go in the A-League – a drive up to Gosford next weekend and tough, successive encounters against Brisbane and Adelaide. After that, Sydney’s domestic season will be finally put out of its misery at Allianz Stadium against Perth Glory on April 10.

Of little consolation is fellow ACL contestants Melbourne Victory’s 5-0 demolition at the hands of top-of-the-table Brisbane Roar. In a race to the bottom, Victory’s A-League run-in is no easier than Sydney’s but even if the Sky Blues manage to jag a finals spot at Melbourne’s expense, their season could, under no circumstances, be termed a success.

With Jacques Faty and Filip Holosko on the bench and the squad due to board a Sunday morning flight to Korea, Graham Arnold opted to give young Aaron Calver another outing at rightback. Robert Stambolziev continued his stint in the first eleven while striker Matt Simon was nowhere to be seen.

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No Turning Back against Phoenix

There is no turning back.

No playing for a draw.

Sydney FC’s next two games see them play the two bottom-placed sides, while on the final day of the regular season, the Sky Blues will take on Perth Glory in a game that could decide the make-up of the Top 6. Sydney must take all nine points from these three matches.

Hosting Wellington Phoenix on Saturday afternoon, four regulars in the shape of Rhyan Grant, Seb Ryall, Jacques Faty and David Carney make their return from suspension and all will likely start. With Zac Anderson not selected for the Matchday Squad, it appears that Graham Arnold is intent on playing this season’s regular combination of Ryall-Faty-Jurman-Grant at the back.

Ahead of them, Milos Dimitrijevic, a standout last week, should keep his spot in central midfield alongside one of Mikael Tavares and Brandon O’Neill, though there is every chance all three could take the field at the expense of #10 Milos Ninkovic, who may be left on the bench with an eye on Sydney FC Asian Champions League away game to Pohang Steelers on Wednesday night.

Out wide, Filip Holosko is a certainty for the right flank while David Carney should resume his fine form on the left. Matt Simon is expected to continue his A-League run up front and is sure to be involved in some heated battles with the physical Phoenix defensive line that is likely to contain Andrew Durante, Manny Muscat and Ben Sigmund.

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