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How difficult is a toilet seat repeat?

Not since the talented and resilient Brisbane Roar of 2010-12 has a team managed to back up from A-League success and claim the title in consecutive years.

 

There was a sense of destiny about the achievement for Brisbane, as Ange Postecoglou built one of the best teams to ever grace our shores.

 

Since 2012 the ‘toilet seat’ has been handed over to different teams, one after another, with none able to win multiple championships, let alone in consecutive years.

 

The Mariners had their day in the sun in 2012-13, Adelaide United produced the most remarkable of comebacks after poor early season form in 2015-16 to claim the most unlikely of titles and Melbourne Victory were the most consistent team in 2014-15.

 

The 2016-17 season proved the year of the smurf, as Sydney FC roared to the championship with a stellar defence that was rarely breached and a potent attack that saw them counter and explode when their defensive pressure created turnovers.

 

The early analysis of the Sydney squad for this season has been ominous. Suggestions that the current squad is just as good as, if not better than, the collection of troops Graham Arnold had at his disposal last season have been common and are not folly.

 

The idea of a repeat victory, all the while participating in an Asian Champions League tournament filled with travel, stress and the almost certain onset of fatigue and injury, would make a Sydney FC title an astonishing accomplishment.

 

If the playing group is just as talented, if the tactics remain similar and if the belief in the squad and the manager remains constant, why can’t a team back up and swagger to victory in successive seasons? What makes it so hard?

 

That edge is hard to maintain. While players and management will announce their desire to parlay one championship into another in preseason rhetoric, the reality is that they know they climbed Everest and have nothing left to prove.The most obvious reason is what I like to call the edge. The hard-nosed determination teams show in their quest for the Holy Grail. It permeates through clubs as the players and staff work towards a common goal with an insane persistence that breeds success.

 

Monitoring the corporate, fan and social engagements that Sydney FC have undertaken in the last few weeks through social media, I have seen that there has been a distinct comfort and contentedness in their faces and interactions.

 

No need for that hard-nosed grumpiness inspired by the manager which, according to captain Alex Brosque, has been ramped up a notch. Amongst the playing group there appeared to be more smiles and calm.

 

That’s not to say the squad won’t be as prepared as ever. Perhaps an obvious case of the smiling assassin.

 

No-one in the club will have dragged the chain in terms of preparation. The manager will have had stern talks with individuals, and the massive task ahead will have been laid out in plain language for all to comprehend.

 

It will all feel the same, yet without the edge of 2016-17 the task will prove impossible. Recapturing it as the season unfolds is in the hands of the manager.

There are external challenges as well. Championship teams face opposition clubs that have boned up over the break and developed new theories and approaches in order to combat their effectiveness.
In Sydney’s case I would be surprised not to see teams use a similar approach to the one Kevin Muscat’s men used in last season’s grand final, playing long, deep balls behind the Sydney defence in order to keep the attacking threats of Rhyan Grant and Michael Zullo busy.

 

Allowing the Sydney backs to push up the wings at will proved fatal for many teams throughout the season, as they struggled to take possession and play out.

 

Sydney’s ability to shut an down opponent’s attack instantaneously was a consistent theme throughout season 12 and something that requires extreme fitness levels and commitment, two signs that will be barometers early on as to whether Sydney have managed to emulate the edginess in their game.

 

Furthermore, expect teams to work exchanges of short passes through the heart of the Sydney defence.

 

Alex Wilkinson was, in my opinion, close to MVP for the Sky Blues in their championship campaign, yet just as Besart Berisha found space through the centre of defence to open the scoring in that final and gripping match of the season, there are gaps to be found.

 

Teams should attempt to use the little men and brisk passing to expose some of the less mobile Sydney defenders. Luke Wilkshire doesn’t possess the speed he once did. David Carney will spend time in the backline. Wilkinson will be targeted irrespective of his organisational quality.

 

The speed and dexterity of some of the new signings will certainly form integral parts of the plans of opposition managers and, along with some of the usual suspects, provide Sydney with a new challenge.

 

Ronny Vargas, Wout Brama, Xavi Torres and the like will offer new and nimble threats to the centre of the Sydney defence, and wily customers like Diego Castro, Marco Rojas and Berisha will continue to provide a significant threat.

 

It appeared only Melbourne Victory had the consistent dexterity up front to truly threaten the almost impenetrable smurf defence. This season Perth Glory with their collection of Spaniards, Melbourne City’s new attacking options and Wanderers duo Alvaro Cejudo and Oriol Riera all look to have the arsenal to expose a potential weakness.

 

I wouldn’t be writing off the Adelaide United trio of Isaias, Johan Absalonsen and Karim Matmour to attempt something tactically similar, and both the Jets and Mariners have recruited the sheer speed and talent that potentially gives them the weapons to do the same.

 

Recapturing that edge and responding to the adapted game plans of other managers are fundamental to a team’s success if hoping to repeat a victory, yet, as clunky as it sounds, there is one more ingredient required if a team even dare dream of the imperious back-to-back.

 

Put simply, it is luck.

 

Already Sydney have been dealt a difficult blow, with Rhyan Grant missing the preseason after rupturing his ACL during training in July. In recent weeks captain Alex Brosque and Michael Zullo went down in FFA Cup action before both were cleared of long-term injury.

 

Wilkshire was added to the squad to cover for the significant loss that is Grant, yet the injuries to Brosque and Zullo proved merely to be speed bumps in Graham Arnold’s preparation.

 

In what will be a long and testing season for the Sky Blues, a healthy list and a few lucky breaks along the way are vital, as the opposition, both locally and throughout Asia, are coming after them.

 

They are the hunted, the target, as Arnold dares suggest that the club can back up a remarkable season. The most pleasing news of all is that we don’t have to wait any longer to find out. Season 13 is here.

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