Macarthur’s return highlights the A-League Men’s unpredictability after forced breaks

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The A-League Men is unofficially back underway.

Whilst postponements and all other mediums of disturbance are unlikely to stay off the table and out of fans’ wary subconscious, the fact that every club has now ended their enforced footballing fast brings a sigh of relief. A soothing gulp of Gaviscon to smother our football heartburn. So, how did everybody go?

Unsurprisingly, the first games back have proven tough.

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Macarthur’s fightback from 2-0 down against Western United on Tuesday night would be impressive and memorable in any given round of any competition. Let alone their first competitive match in over a month.

“I always knew it would be a difficult one for us, it’s been 36 days since our last fixture,” said Ante Milicic after the game.

“It was difficult circumstances for us with the majority of our squad getting COVID in that time as well. But I’m super pleased that the boys ended up getting a point in the end and the important thing is getting the minutes back into the legs.”

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Accepting that some clubs have been luckier than others with COVID-19 and as such have not been forced to endure a lengthy period of time without football, ‘the break’ in this case is referring to the time between each club’s last game in 2021 and their first in 2022. This is where the bulk of postponements and delays have taken place across the competition.

The average points earned in a club’s first game back in the A-League Men since the COVID disturbance is just 0.75. Five teams lost, six teams drew and only Adelaide United won. Note that this was on the 1st of January after a comparatively short break of only 14 days.

“You could see tonight we were very rusty. Physically, we’re not at the levels that we need to be and you can only get there through playing games. And at the same time it affects the players all differently, to keep the squad motivated is hard,” said Milicic.

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“When you sort of look like you’re getting through that period but the games keep on getting canceled for one reason or another, how do you replicate matchday intensity as much as possible? That was the hardest thing for us.”

There is a fairly obvious link between the amount of time between a club’s fixtures and the outcome of their eventual return. Of the six teams with the longest time off, four lost their returning fixture. That is, every single team that lost their comeback game, is in that unfortunate group of six. The longer the interval, the tougher the return.

Whilst of course there are more contributing factors than just their forced time off, two of these results in particular spark intrigue.

Western United came back from their hiatus in third place, with three games in hand over the two teams above them. They lost to Wellington Phoenix, the team sitting rock bottom of the league, and enjoying the equal-shortest break. A good team with 25 days out lost to a poor team that only copped 12.

Simultaneously, Adelaide United, the only team that won their first game back, did so from last place. They have since rocketed up to third.

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Expect abnormalities in results and inflated league positions to settle as clubs regain their fitness and footing. As the many effects of an involuntary pause filter out of player’s legs and minds, with the mercy of COVID-19 pending, the A-League Men should be on its way back to functionality.

As for Macarthur and Milicic, they have some catching up to do:

“Hopefully we can build on the good things we saw tonight and now focus on the busy schedule I know will be in front of us,” he said.

Statistics sourced from Ultimate A-League

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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