Why Western United will be A-League Men champions

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Western United were the best team for the majority of the regular 2021-22 A-League Men season.

They held a spot in the top two up until the business-end of the campaign – which unfortunately for John Aloisi’s squad – is when it matters most.

All of a sudden, the famous defence which had conceded so few goals, conceded 16 in the last 10 games. It included heavy defeats to both Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix in a run of only three wins in that period.

It took the expansion side from first-place to being forced to beat Wellington Phoenix 1-0 in an elimination final on Saturday.

But despite the extra game, they are still well placed to win their maiden A-League Men championship in Aloisi’s first season at the helm.

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If the club can rediscover the defensive form that saw them concede only one goal in the first five games, they will be almost impossible to beat. It’s a large part of the narrative as to why current premiers Melbourne City have yet to defeat them this season.

A now fully-fit partnership of Leo Lacroix and Tomoki Imai will go a long way to finals success. The towering Swiss international has been one of the best players – let alone defenders – in the league this season.

Imai has been similarly impressive in the multitude of different positions that he has been forced to play across this season.

Regardless of where he lines up across the back four, United can always rely on his tenacious ability to win the ball back, and non-stop work rate right across the field.

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These two players act as the unofficial barometer for the team, and if they remain fit, healthy and in-form over the next three weeks, teams such as Melbourne City will be fearful.

The only team within the top four that Western haven’t beaten this season is Melbourne Victory. This is despite several close games where the Tarneit-based outfit weren’t able to take their chances.

They won’t be overly concerned with that record.

They are undefeated against Melbourne City this season, and have an even record with Adelaide United.

This bodes well for confidence in the big games. The players clearly understand the game plan against these sides, and the club’s defence-first approach is well suited to playing against these teams.

The other man that could make the difference this finals series in talisman Aleksandar Prijovic. The Serbian striker has had an unbelievable back-half of the season, being directly involved in 14 goals.

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He has found form playing in between the lines of Lachlan Wales and Connor Pain, and will look to bully opposition defences with his strength and aerial ability.

The three-pronged attack has hit form just at the right time. Wales is starting to fulfil his undeniable potential under Aloisi with five goal involvements in the past five games.

With attacking players hitting form at the right time, and Western United rarely conceding goals when playing well, it bodes as a recipe for success.

Add in the previous coaching success of Alosi at Brisbane Roar and it looks extremely promising. While he never won the grand final, he made the semi-final in both seasons, showing that he knows how to win and how to do it consistently.

Learning those lessons from the consecutive semi-final defeats holds the key, and given the resurgence of the club since his arrival, fans should have massive confidence in his abilities.

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With captain and superstar Alesandro Diamanti being ruled out this finals series the task is made tougher. But with an experienced manager and a squad primed to erupt, this could be the season that a trophy is taken back to Tarneit.

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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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