By Oliver Walker-Peel (@olliewalkerpeel)
Sydney FC have secured its first points of the 2022-23 A-League Men season, defeating Western United 3-1 at AAMI Park on Sunday evening.
The visitors, who were looking to respond following their Big Blue defeat in the opening weekend, started the stronger of the two sides, and were unlucky to not be in front when an Adam Le Fondre header cannoned off the crossbar.
The Sky Blues’ early dominance did not initially count for much though, as Western captain Josh Risdon was the beneficiary of a fortuitous deflection, with the hosts gaining the ascendancy just past the quarter of an hour mark.
Léo Lacroix’s subpar start to this league campaign worsened minutes later when he brought down Adam Le Fondre inside the penalty area, but his blushes were spared as the English marksman saw his spot kick saved by Jamie Young.
Nikolai Topor-Stanley was not to be so lucky, as his infringement on Joe Lolley gave the former Bolton man a second chance from 12 yards, which he duly fired home.
Róbert Mak then secured a collector’s item moments later, cutting in from the Sydney left before unleashing a curling shot past Young, who could only watch helplessly.
Joe Lolley sealed the result with a wonderful finish not too dissimilar to that of Mak, as the visitors travel back to the Harbour City with all three points.
Oh no, Léo
After a performance well below his lofty standards last week, the onus was on Swiss defender Léo Lacroix to respond.
The clash against Sydney was not perhaps the return to form he was yearning for, as he was comfortably second-best to Adam Le Fondre throughout the piece.
The Englishman got the right side of the former Sion defender before being brought down in the box, one instance of Le Fondre’s influence and Lacroix’s inability to limit it.
It presents worrying signs for not only Lacroix but John Aloisi also, as the Australian hero no longer seems to have his ever-dependable defender to rely on.
We know Léo Lacroix is capable of things not many other defenders in the league are at his best, but at the present moment he looks a shadow of his former self.
Among all the fanfare regarding A-League Men marquee signings before the campaign, the acquisition of Slovakian international Róbert Mak seemed to fly under the radar.
Boasting an impressive CV including six years of development at Manchester City and 73 caps for his country, he has added a new dynamic to the Sydney frontline.
After getting the better of Josh Risdon on a number of occasions, his goal emphasised his imprint on the game, showing how United were unable to deal with him throughout the game.
That is now two goals in as many games for the import, detailing how impactful he has been so far on Australian shores.
The only knock on his day was his withdrawal during the second half, with his gesturing to the bench not ideal on the eye.
Fans of a Sky Blues persuasion will be hoping there is nothing doing by way of injury concerns, because Sydney may well have a route up the table with him in their ranks.
Defensive woes for Aloisi and his men
While Lacroix was certainly culpable for some of Western United’s mishaps, he was by no means the only one at fault.
His efforts were symptomatic of wider defensive issues for John Aloisi and his charges, as they were caught out multiple times as Sydney’s attacking flair came to the fore.
At times, it looked as though the Sydney attackers were given the keys to the city of Melbourne, and United’s attempts of nullifying them were minimal, if not entirely non-existent.
The club simply do not look the formidable force that terrified teams last season, and they look a far cry off of the champion teams they became only five months ago.
Western United 1 (Josh Risdon 16m)
Sydney FC 3 (Adam Le Fondre 40m, Róbert Mak 42m, Joe Lolley 69m)
Image credit: Kelly Defina/Getty Images