End of 2021/22 season report card: Western United

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The 2021/22 A-League Men season has now come to an end, and in typical fashion, here is the end of season report card for champions Western United.

Considering how the season played out for the green and black, this is likely to be a fun read.

Season Summary

Western United almost set an Australian footballing record for the number of 1-0 wins in a season, with six of their first 10 matches holding that scoreline in their favour.

The club started strongly and never looked back, built upon a strong defensive partnership and a fierce second half of the season from Aleksandar Prijovic and his supporting cast.

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Whilst dropping points in their last three regular season games to Adelaide United, Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets prevented them from winning the Premiers Plate, a strong finals series saw them crowned A-League Men champions for the first time in their three-year history.

It was a remarkable turnaround from John Aloisi and all those involved in taking the club from the second-worst defensive record in finishing 10th last season, to the second-best defensive record and winning the grand final.

Areas of Excellence: Defence

The old saying goes that championships are built on the back of a strong defence.

In this case, there is no other place to start than the defence. Leo Lacroix was signed from FC Sion in Switzerland, and the former Swiss international needed no time getting acclimatised to his new surroundings.

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Arguably the player of the season, Lacroix marshalled a Western back four that conceded only 30 goals in 26 regular season games.

Come the finals series, they remarkably only conceded two goals in their four games played and both were scored by Melbourne Victory’s Jake Brimmer.

The first choice partnership of Lacroix and Tomoki Imai was impenetrable at times, and even whilst the attack struggled to get going at the start of the campaign, it enabled the club to sneak away with six 1-0 wins in the first 10 games.

That kept the squad at the top of the table, and when Lachlan Wales and Prijovic began to find their feet midway through the season, the team had a solid foundation to build upon.

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Benjamin Garuccio had a bounce back year that saw him rewarded with a spot in the PFA team of the season, whilst vice-captain Josh Risdon came back from an injury-marred campaign to star across the four games of the finals series.

Area in need of improvement: CAM

It’s very difficult to pick an area to improve on the back of a championship trophy, but one area that Western will look to build depth in is the centre attacking midfield spot.

Alessandro Diamanti only played the 10 games this season due to a knee injury, and there were times when United struggled to maintain possession and break through opposition lines.

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This is partly why the 1-0 scoreline was so prominent this season. They rarely conceded but also rarely scored enough times to put games to bed.

Whilst it remains to be seen whether the mercurial Italian will return to the club next season, regardless of if this happens, the green and black would be foolish not to look for a linking player in a similar style to Florin Berenguer or Milos Ninkovic.

Top Student: Leo Lacroix

This isn’t even up for debate.

Lacorix was the best defender in the league, and arguably the most valuable player when judging a team’s success based on a specific player’s impact.

His ability to marshall the back four and keep calm when on the ball provided United with an outlet even in the most desperate of situations.

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Not to mention that his six-foot-four frame negated aerial weapons, usually turning opposition set pieces into nothing more than wasted opportunities.

Whether he stays at the club – or takes up more lucrative offers that are no doubt coming his way – will go a long way to Aloisi’s chances of building long-lasting success rather than just a one-off piece of silverware.

Class Clown: Rene Krhin

There is no-one in the squad deserving of this title.

However, considering the hype surrounding his arrival, Rene Krhin did not live up to his lofty expectations.

He only made 16 regular season appearances for the club, and one 74-minute cameo in the finals series before injury struck.

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For a player that was meant to be a crucial cog in Aloisi’s starting 11, he was definitely a letdown.

Fortunately for United, the stellar play of Neil Kilkenny overcame the absences and saw the club rise to the top.

Grade: A+

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Outlook

An unbelievable season for all those within the club saw them raise the championship trophy. The memories of choking away the Premiers Plate will be nothing more than a distant memory.

The next challenge for Aloisi and his team will be keeping hold of his superstars. Diamanti is out of contract, whilst Prijovic and Lacroix are likely to entertain lucrative offers from the Middle East or Asia over the coming months.

However, the club go into the off-season in celebration mode, and looking forward to their first appearance in the AFC Champions League next season.

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Dillon Izon
Marketing graduate at Monash University. Sports addicted, fan of Manchester United and Melbourne City. My gran “knows” Gareth Bale.

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