A-League Men’s 2021/22 mid-season report card: Macarthur FC

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The commencement of the A-League Men’s 2021/22 season feels like an eternity ago, which makes it easy to forget the brilliant start Macarthur FC made.

Amidst COVID-19 breaks and injury setbacks, they have since slipped into a humbler position at the foot of the finals placings.

Semester summary:

The Bulls flew out of the blocks, despite the wealth of talent that left the club in the offseason. Lachlan Rose stepped up early in the fitness struggles of Tomi Juric and Al Hassan Touré as Macarthur took 13 points from their first five games.

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The onslaught of match postponements resulting from COVID’s ravaging of ALM squads came at what looked like a bad time with Macarthur sitting in second place. The 36-day break, however, gave time for Jordon Mutch and captain Ulises Dávila to return to full fitness after their injuries.

Former Socceroos centre-forward Apostolos Giannou and Jamaican centre-back Adrian Mariappa also completed their moves from OFI Crete FC and Bristol City respectively. Since their return to football on February 1, Macarthur drew with Western United and Central Coast Mariners, sandwiching a disappointing 3-1 loss to Wellington Phoenix, before another 3-1 defeat at the hands of Brisbane Roar on Sunday.

Area of excellence: 

Squad depth amid injury setbacks.

Milicic’s most memorable press conference this season came on the cold, wet asphalt out the back of Kogarah Stadium after Macarthur’s FFA Cup exit at the hands of Sydney FC. It was Dávila’s first game out due to injury and he had just seen Charles M’mombwa awkwardly slip on the rain-soaked grass, forcing him off the pitch during extra time.

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“Yeah, I do want to see more going forward,” he said.

“You give me Mutch, Dávila, Juric, Craig Noone, and you know what? I guarantee there’ll be more going forward. I’m not a miracle worker.”

Macarthur would go on to win their next two games.

Milicic has utilised players that are far from household names this season, some players that may not have been called upon had it not been necessary given the wave of injuries. M’mombwa has started every ALM match this season, Rose has featured in every game, and Moudi Najjar, Jake Hollman, Nick Suman and Michael Ruhs have all had their part to play in the campaign. Their inclusion in what has been a demanding season has been a pleasure to watch.

Area in need of improvement: 

Defensive solidity.

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After their first five games, Macarthur had conceded just two goals. Their back five serving as a perfect base from which to attack and an even better shield for Filip Kurto’s goal.

In the five games since then, they have conceded 14 times. They had to score twice to draw with Western United and three times to draw with the Mariners, putting immense pressure on new man Giannou, with Rose his only support given the constantly faltering fitness of winter recruits Touré and Juric.

Kurto’s form behind the defence has also dropped off. One of, if not the individual performance of the season, against the Mariners in round three to protect their 1-0 win will remain in Bulls fans’ minds as this stretch of defensive vulnerability continues.

Experienced players need to find, or rediscover their feet to arrest the slide and take advantage of their games in hand over the clubs around them.

Top student:

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Milicic had a very big job coming into this season. The departure of Matt Derbyshire took away the provider of 42 per cent of their goals last campaign.

It looked like Milicic covered this well, as Juric had 21 ALM goals to his name at the time of signing, and Toure had broken into the Adelaide United setup in 2019, with a man of the match performance in their FFA Cup final victory.

All did not go to plan, however, as both strikers have infinitely struggled for fitness, playing just 166 minutes of ALM football between them this season. This has left Lachlan Rose to pick up the pieces as a lone striker, despite being used largely as a winger last season.

He started Macarthur’s first six games of the season, scoring two goals against Wellington and Sydney FC which were both the deciding goal in the game. Even when Giannou took his starting spot against Western United, Rose’s heroic performance after being introduced as a substitute began their late comeback to rescue a point at Campbelltown Stadium.

Needs improvement:

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Adrian Mariappa scored his first ALM goal half an hour into the draw with the Mariners and again in the 3-1 defeat to Brisbane on the weekend, but has dramatically failed to add the defensive solidity that his 168 English Premier League appearances suggest he would. His proficiency in attack rather than defence fitting well with Macarthur’s habits as the season progresses.

Throughout this season the Bulls have conceded 16 goals, despite featuring only five times, which is just half of Macarthur’s games, Mariappa has been on the field for 12 of those goals. He has had precisely the opposite effect that a team would desire from a defensive signing, particularly one with his wealth of experience.

Grade: B

Outlook: Even with the drop in results after theirs one of the longest COVID-19 breaks endured by anyone in the competition, Macarthur should be admired for their efforts this season.

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Their two big striker signings chosen to replicate Derbyshire’s incredible tally from last season have hardly featured, Mutch too has struggled for fitness and last year’s player of the season, Dávila, suffered a knee injury against the Mariners that kept him out for four games across all competitions.

To be sitting in sixth place with games in hand over four of the teams above them is a tribute to how well they started this season with absolutely no right to do so.

If Milicic can rally his men and recreate their earlier form, the Bulls are well worthy of keeping an eye on as the season approaches its pointy end.

Feature Image Credit: Macarthur FC

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Tom Macrae
Tom Macraehttp://medium.com/@macraetomr23
Communications undergrad at Western Sydney University covering Macarthur FC in the 2021/22 season. Newcastle United. Jack Grealish fangirl.

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