Five things we learned from A-League Round 15

Dummy spits, teenage sensations and the VAR’s dreaded return rounded up what was a rather telling round of midweek A-League action.

Arzani, Ben Khalfallah, Italiano

Daniel Arzani (L), Fahid Ben Khalfallah (C) and Jacob Italiano Source: Getty Images

I’m a Roar player, get me out of here

“I don’t want to be rude, but … it’s not the same quality.”

Fahid Ben Khalfallah was disgusted with Brisbane Roar’s performance on Monday night as champions Sydney FC strolled through Suncorp Stadium with a comfortable 3-0 win.

It's not as if the 35-year-old was stranded in a jungle, removed from his family and separated from the rest of the world for a few weeks. 

No, this was worse; Ben Khalfallah instead had to spend 90 minutes surrounded by a number of Brisbane players who simply could not pull their weight.

“It’s just the players,” the Tunisia international said after the game. “The staff, everyone is amazing, but we have to work harder.

“At home, we lost last week. We lose again. I’m done with that. I can’t accept that.”

John Aloisi’s men have now lost their last four home matches and, as a result, sit second from bottom, five points adrift of Western Sydney in sixth having played one game more.

And with a trip to second-placed Newcastle on Friday night, Brisbane’s baneful campaign could yet get worse.

Arzani eyes Sydney move

Melbourne City’s wonderkid Daniel Arzani is reportedly open to offers from both Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers.

The 19-year-old was heavily involved against Perth Glory on Tuesday night, playing a key part in both of Ross McCormack’s goals as City eased to a 2-0 win.

It is believed the Iranian-born midfielder has become disillusioned with his lack of game time, despite starting against the Glory, and is open to a return to his home state.

Despite coach Warren Joyce previously backing City as the best location for his development, Arzani, who is off contract at season’s end, may yet think otherwise.

If game time is the young midfielder’s sole reason to head home, it seems Western Sydney may prove the more suitable destination as Sydney FC appear set on their attacking quartet of Milos Ninkovic, Adrian Mierzejewski, Alex Brosque and Bobo.

With Josep Gombau previously in charge of the Olyroos, Arzani would likely slot straight into the Wanderers starting line-up given the departure of Jumpei Kusukami and the inconsistent form of Jaushua Sotirio, Mark Bridge and Alvaro Cejudo.

As City press on to solidify a top-two berth, Arzani’s exit will hinge on whether Joyce believes arguably the league’s most talented teenager can play a more prominent part down the season’s stretch.

Red card for VAR

It hasn’t even been one month since A-League boss Greg O’Rourke revised the VAR module, but Melbourne Victory’s 2-1 defeat to Wellington Phoenix on Wednesday proved that nothing has changed.

Rhys Williams’ last man challenge on Andrija Kaludjerovic nine minutes into the first half was upgraded to a red card after the VAR deemed referee Matthew Conger’s initial yellow incorrect.

While the Phoenix faithful applauded the decision, it proved contradictory to O’Rourke’s guidelines stating that tackles could no longer be punished.

“The on field referees should back themselves to identify the appropriate sanction,” the memo said.

Though Kosta Barbarouses handed Victory an unlikely lead, it was soon surrendered courtesy of a Lawrence Thomas fumble and Mark Milligan own goal.

“I was lead to believe that the VAR wasn’t going to interfere or change a yellow card to a red,” a confused Kevin Muscat said after the game.

He wasn’t alone. And despite Muscat’s attempts to steer post-game questions away from the technology’s verdict, he knows full well that it decided the game.

Smash and grab

The scoreline from the F3 derby may have read 2-0 in favour of the Newcastle Jets, but the story of the match itself swung overwhelmingly the other way.

Paul Okon’s Central Coast Mariners had one of their best performances this season but, like so often in recent weeks, could not put the ball in the back of the net.

If Blake Powell wasn’t squandering a routine volley from six yards out, Kwabena Appiah-Kubi was missing the target from everywhere else.

This seemingly irreversible form in front of goal has seen the side net just one goal in their previous six games, averaging less than a goal per game with the worst attack in the competition.

“If you don’t finish chances off the opposition stays in the game,” Okon said.

And he was right, as Dimitri Petratos and new signing Patricio Rodriguez pounced on loose balls to bury their rivals in a matter of minutes and earn Ernie Merrick’s men their first home derby win since 2012.

Fountain of youth

The 2017-18 A-League season is holding firm as the most contentious since inception.

But despite the governing body disputes, infamous VAR decisions and decreasing viewership headlining the current campaign, the abundance of young players has been a breath of fresh air.

With key players battling injury, teenage sensations Daniel Arzani (City) and Jacob Italiano (Glory) in particular have made the most of their originally limited opportunities, and the nation was introduced to another on Wednesday night.

As Adelaide United trailed Western Sydney 1-0 with five minutes remaining, head coach Marco Kurz turned to 18-year-old Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, and the young forward did not disappoint, reacting quickest to Ryan Strain’s cut-back to earn his side a share of the spoils.

Not only did Stamatelopoulos’ finish ensure the Reds remain fourth at round's end, but it perhaps secured his position for another impressive cameo against champions Sydney FC on Sunday.

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5 min read
Published 11 January 2018 at 11:37am
By Jonathan Bernard