In the A-League semi-finals, Sydney FC booked their place in a third straight Grand Final after defeating Adelaide United, whilst two quickfire goals from Melbourne City saw them beat Macarthur FC.
Supreme winning mentality
The Sky Blues may not have fully deserved to go through against Adelaide. However, one sure thing is that Sydney has a winning mentality ingrained in them that is unrivalled by everyone else in the league.
They consistently find a way to win crunch games, and no matter how much the opposition throws at them, they find a way to survive the pressure and get the result.
They did it on Saturday despite not having Andrew Redmayne, Ryan McGowan or Rhyan Grant or maestro Milos Ninkovic in the squad.
But they had others come in, such as Tom Heward-Belle and Ben Warland, who stepped up in big moments and proved that the culture at Sydney has already been ingrained in them.
Heward-Belle made a clutch save to deny a Tomi Juric header that would have levelled the game. Meanwhile, Warland was constantly in the right place at the right time to clear several dangerous crosses from the Reds.
Alexander Baumjohann, who filled in for the injured Ninkovic, may not have been at the club for long but did the double last campaign and was one of the best players on the pitch.
Corica’s side is primed for another championship and a historic three-peat. If Ninkovic also returns to the squad, then they would have to be favourites too.
For someone who supposedly can't coach Steve Corica is doing pretty good. #SYDvADL— Les Street (@official_lesdog) June 19, 2021
A strange vindication of progress
Strangely, Saturday's semi-final was arguably the most significant validation of Carl Veart's work in Adelaide.
Against the most experienced side in the league, away from home and very much against the odds, Veart’s side stuck to its principles and philosophy.
They produced a performance they should be proud of using as a yardstick for next season and proved that their style of play could challenge every team in the league.
Sydney was pegged back for periods in the first half, and the Reds largely controlled the entire second half.
With a better quality end product in and around the box and cutting out silly defensive errors of judgement, they might be able to go one step further next season.
Getting to this point in the season with our squad is an achievement. Now onto the next season hopefully with less injuries and a steady defensive line. #SYDvADL— Sausage King (@suneato) June 19, 2021
It’s not often a team goes to Sydney and pegs them back as Adelaide did. So the relatively inexperienced Reds can end this season with their heads very much held high and look forward to next season.
City can rely on their youngsters
Both Stefan Colakovski and Marco Tilio proved that Melbourne City has an array of young talent on their hands on Sunday.
Despite playing in a fixture of such magnitude, both took their second-half strikes with brilliant composure.
2 - Only Riley McGree and Mitch Nichols have been younger when they have scored a goal in an #ALeague Semi Final than Marco Tilio (19y 301d) for @MelbourneCity today. Decisive.#MCYvMAC pic.twitter.com/TBFRZI8UAR— OptaJason (@OptaJason) June 20, 2021
City was without their usual attacking threats of Andrew Nabbout, Jamie Maclaren and Craig Noone.
The opportunity fell for the young duo to take their chance, and they came to life after halftime.
In the space of two minutes, Tilio first set Colakovski up for a tap-in before the latter returned the favour almost immediately.
Colakovski showed excellent composure to steady and put Tilio through on goal with Federici.
The ex-Sydney FC youngster did the rest by sliding the ball past the veteran goalkeeper to seal a Grand-Final spot next week.
It is a testament to the setup at City that young players can come in and be trusted with handling such a big occasion.
Patrick Kisnorbo has done a fantastic job understanding each of his players and finding a role for them in his very fluid 4-3-3 system.
But what is also so impressive is how well each member of the squad knows their role.
They play the most attractive football, are tactically superior, and now have a couple of up and coming stars to boot.
The future is very bright at AAMI Park, regardless of the result in this week's Grand-Final.
Defence means more in big games
City’s Portuguese defender Nuno Reis made a crucial last-ditch goal-line clearance to thwart a Charles M’Mombwa strike in the first half of their Semi-Final with Macarthur.
It looked for all money that M’Mombwa would score his second goal of this season’s finals series after rounding Tom Glover.
Still, Reis got back to slide in and clear an opening goal for the Bulls.
The intervention helped City preserve their clean sheet and allow them to go on and put Macarthur to the sword in the second half.
Nuno Reis been quietly a Rolls Royce in this league. Great pick up. #MCYvMAC— Jon (@JonDT96) June 20, 2021
Being able to preserve your clean sheet in finals games is vital.
If you're able to do that, you can take a match to penalties or extra time and increasingly frustrate and wear down your opponent.
City boasts creativity in abundance; they were always going to have their chances, meaning defensive actions such as Reis' clearance were necessary when required.
The moment was the turning point in City eventually dismantling Macarthur.
The Bulls were arguably the better side in the first half. They had grown in confidence as the first 45 went on, and had Reis not been in the way of that strike, they might be preparing for a Grand-Final instead.
You have to be clinical in the finals
Adelaide and Macarthur learnt a valuable lesson over the weekend and one that has been an Achilles heel all season for both of them.
Both sides had their chances, but neither has understood the importance of taking clear-cut chances when they come, particularly in big games.
The Reds clear-cut openings in their meeting with the reigning champions were going to be limited in number.
Ryan Strain had to take his chance in the opening fifteen minutes that hit the crossbar.
Even right at the end, although inexperienced, Mohamed Toure got way too overexcited when the ball dropped to him in the box to equalise, blazing well over the crossbar.
All that to end with Toure kicking it onto the airport runway. #SYDvADL.— West Sydney Football (@WestSydney) June 19, 2021
Meanwhile, Macarthur faced a different type of game against Melbourne City. The game was very evenly matched, with the first goal probably going to decide the winner.
Although Reis did well to get back and clear, M'Mombwa will know he should have scored, particularly after rounding the goalkeeper.
Anyone else think M'Mombwa should have hit that chance harder? #MCYvMAC— Brett Griffo (@BrettGriffo) June 20, 2021
Meanwhile, although more unfortunate than anything else, had Ivan Franjic's 25-yard pile-driver been a little lower than Glover was beaten all ends up.
With clear-cut chances in big games, it is more about the ramifications of not taking them that can hurt you most.
Adelaide and Macarthur don't possess the variety of proven goalscorers that both Sydney and City have, but they can bridge the gap by being more ruthless with chance conversion.
The finals series always shows that the most clinical sides play in the Grand-Final, even if they don't play the most entertaining football or truly dominate games.
Sydney and City know they will take their chances when they come because it’s in their DNA, and it’s one of the reasons they are the two most consistent sides in the country right now.