How Sky Blues lost their silver lining

1. Game plan

Sydney’s game plan needs to be drastically overhauled before next season. Coach Frank Farina and his assistants must use the off-season to create a strategy that will enable them to compete with the league’s best teams. It’s no coincidence that the three top sides this season have the three best tacticians – and Perth Glory have raced into the finals after Alistair Edwards implemented a modern, dynamic plan. After coming from a low base, the A-League is evolving tactically at warp speed and those coaches who can’t adapt will find themselves falling behind the pack. The way forward clearly combines the three Ps: passing, positioning and possession. They’ve hardly excelled in all three, but being a team of such stature, Sydney should aim to lead the pack in all facets, and tactics shouldn’t be an exception.2. Defence

First things first: defence isn’t about the back four. It’s the whole 11. It starts from the front and each line should feverishly endeavour to pressure and then win back possession. Too often, opponents have been able to glide through Sydney’s front six and then put pressure on the defence. No team defends better as a unit than Western Sydney, who are tight, compact and composed and almost impossible to break down with any frequency. It’s a two-sided challenge – one part is for Farina to recognise this, the other is for the team to execute it on game day. Teams need to fear the defensive pressure coming from the Sky Blues. Right now, they don’t, and it shows. The back four next season should at least be bolstered by the return of Pascal Bosschaart, who brings a winner’s mentality each week.3. Slow start

Sydney have missed the finals in two of the past three seasons and the sloppy starts in both campaigns left them chasing their tails and ultimately falling well short of expectation. Although they won two of their first four matches, they lost their next four, and then won just one of their subsequent four games. Though they also failed to take points late – winning one of their final six – there was always a feeling that the troubles of October and November would ultimately cost them. Next season, the Sky Blues have to commit to getting away to a quick start and then trying to hold their place near the top of the table. As a club that leans so heavily on momentum, particularly in terms of crowd support, they need to chalk up results and confidence, not just among the players but in the stands.4. Fitness and injuries

The Sky Blues need to look long and hard at how they manage the condition of their players. Though all teams go through peaks and troughs, Sydney rarely seemed able to get their best side on the park. Early in the season they didn’t seem fit enough. By the end, they seemed plagued by injuries, and both conspired to cost the team at key stages. There needs to be a cohesive, year-long plan put in place to ensure players are fit and healthy from the first game to the last. Special consideration has to be placed on managing those over 30, of which the Sky Blues have plenty. If the club can co-ordinate a plan to get them to full strength over the pre-season, they’ll be a much better chance of competing for silverware.5. Player discipline

Sydney FC’s players might be well behaved off the field but on it, they need to tone down their hostility. Staggeringly, of the 10 worst offenders for cautions and send-offs in the league this season, Sydney has five players. Between Ali Abbas, Terry McFlynn, Brett Emerton, Sebastian Ryall and Fabio, they picked up 41 cards. It’s fine to be aggressive – and quite a good thing when used correctly – but for players of that ilk and experience, they shouldn’t be attracting the referees’ attention so frequently. Sydney ended far too many games with just 10 men or less on the park and several possible comebacks were invariably thwarted when red cards were shown.

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