End of 2020/21 season report card: Sydney FC

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Believe it or not, the 2020/21 premiership season is done and dusted.

Here at The Football Sack we like to investigate each and every squad’s performance throughout the season so let us take a look at how the guys at Sydney FC held up this year.

Season summary

Many wrote off the two-time reigning champions early in the season after they started poorly. The Sky Blues showed their experience as the league’s premier team over the past five years and they recovered incredibly well. Sydney ended up finishing second in the regular season, two points off premiers Melbourne City.

Sydney’s goal for the season was to win an unprecedented third straight grand final win. They went incredibly close, making the grand final where they were pipped by City 3-1.

The side may remember this season as an ultimately disappointing one, especially given the manner of the grand final defeat, which featured a first half Luke Brattan red card alongside a questionable penalty.

Despite this, Sydney should be proud of their season. It could be argued that this was a less glamorous Sydney side than recent times, and finishing runner up in both is no mean feat.

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This season’s second place finish means Sydney have finished in the top two places for the last five years in a row, and their grand final appearance was a record seventh in the A-League.

While Sydney may not have clinched the illustrious three-peat, Steve Corica and the Sky Blues were inches away from the premiership and the championship, which further cements the squad’s place as the most consistent side in A-League history.

Areas of excellence

Defence. The Sky Blues had the best defensive record in the competition, conceding just 23 times in 26 games. Sydney kept their opponents scoreless 10 times this season, and they were extremely difficult to beat.

Sydney’s other area of excellence was head coach Corica’s adaptability. Sydney started the season with a front two pairing of Kosta Barbarouses and Trent Buhagiar. This partnership failed to fire, with Buhagiar struggling with fitness and Barbarouses in front of goals.

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Corica was ultimately forced to dip into the transfer market for strikers, and ‘Bimbi’ brought back club legends Bobo and Adam le Fondre. This allowed Barbarouses to drop back into a more familiar wide role, where he flourished.

Corica’s ability to play star men Ninkovic, Barbarouses, le Fondre and Bobo together with success was crucial to Sydney’s late season rally. After le Fonre arrived, Sydney won six games in a row and became the in form side of the competition leading into the grand final.

Areas of improvement

Recruitment. While bringing back Bobo and le Fondre showcased Corica’s adaptability, these signings could have been made earlier. By the time le Fondre arrived in round 21, City already had one hand on the premiership.

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A major concern at Sydney is their lack of quality youth players. The only regular academy player is left back Joel King.

Marco Tilio was an academy player at Sydney and he played a hand full of first team games for the Sky Blues before being let go to Melbourne City. He was a standout player for City in the grand final, where he terrorised Sydney’s defence. How Sydney let Tilio go is a means of concern. The same could be said for Cameron Devlin, who had another outstanding season at Wellington Phoenix.

Top student

Alex Wilkinson. In his 22nd professional season of football, Sydney’s skipper put in another incredible performance at centre-back – leading the Sky Blues to the best defensive record in the competition.

Graham Arnold has said Wilkinson’s best trait is making other defenders look good and this was certainly true this season. His centre-back partner Ryan McGowan made the PFA team of the year, and was recalled to the Socceroos squad alongside right back Rhyan Grant.

And, Sydney’s other starting defender, Joel King was named as the Young Player of the Year. Even after Grant and McGowan departed for the Socceroos, Sydney’s replacement defenders fitted seamlessly into the team, which is a testament to Wilkinson.

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While Wilkinson did not receive any individual accolades, those who watched Sydney understand the quality that he brings to the Sky Blues.

His positioning continues to be world class and his leadership has been crucial to Sydney’s success, following on from Alex Brosque’s retirement. He has squashed talk of retirement and looks set to go again next year.

Class clown

Alexander Baumjohann. Baumjohann arrived two seasons ago in a much publicised transfer from Western Sydney Wanderers. In truth, he has failed to live up to the expectations that come with being an ex-Bayern Munich player.

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The German will claim he had a decent year, collecting six assists and a goal. While he did not have a shocking season, he continues to frustrate Sydney fans by losing the ball too frequently.

He had a chance to show Sydney’s faithful what they had been missing when he came in for an injured Ninkovic at the end of the year, but failed to live up to his expectations again.

Grade: A

Outlook

While Sydney did not claim the title of champions and win the three-peat, they came incredibly close.

Corica has one year left on his contract, and he has already spoken in confidence of retaining the bulk of this squad for next season.

The imminent signing of hometown star Max Burgess will reinvigorate this squad, and give Sydney yet another attacking option.

With Danny Townsend leading the club, and Corica underneath him, it would be perilous for any team to believe that Sydney’s run as the in form team in the A-League has ended. Sydney will be strong again next year, and will use this season’s grand final defeat as motivation to go one further.

Feature image credit: Keith McInnes

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Adam Sheldon
Full time football addict. Passionate about any sport with balls. Covering Sydney FC A-League and W-League teams for the upcoming season.
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