What we learned from Adelaide and Sydney's FFA Cup 2018 Final dress rehearsal
Adelaide United’s clash with Sydney FC on Friday night was more than just the Hyundai A-League 2018/19 Season curtain-raiser.
The fixture also served as an important dress rehearsal for the pair’s FFA Cup 2018 Final date on October 30, and there’s plenty for both camps to contemplate after an engaging 1-1 stalemate.
With the Final just over a week away, what did we learn from Adelaide v Sydney FC in Round 1 of the Hyundai A-League?
Adelaide are up to the task
Sydney FC have been firing in goals left right and centre over the past few Hyundai A-League seasons.
But Adelaide United showed they’re capable of holding the reigning Premiers at arm’s length on Friday.
Until Adam Le Fondre’s late equaliser, the Reds had frustrated their opponents and denied Steve Corica's side any fluency on the ball.
The former Bolton striker may have left Adelaide feeling robbed by the full-time whistle, but that 78th minute reply only blemishes what was a well-executed defensive strategy by the hosts.
Adelaide boss Marco Kurz has clearly been doing his homework on the Sky Blues. Sydney were unable to generate their usual rhythm in possession and their passing game was nullified by waves of relentless Adelaide pressure.
It was an energetic, committed and dogged display by the Coopers Stadium outfit, and a blueprint that may well serve Kurz and Adelaide again in eight days’ time.
Sydney FC’s Buhagiar-shaped hole
It’s no secret that Trent Buhagiar has been pulling up trees for Sydney FC during pre-season, and the Sky Blues certainly missed the 20-year-old on Friday night.
Buhagiar looked at home in Corica’s set up instantly following his arrival from Central Coast Mariners, but an anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered last week comes as a bitter blow for both club and player.
With four FFA Cup 2018 goals to his name, few players can match Buhagiar's goal return throughout this year’s tournament and his speed on the flank has served as one of Sydney's most effective attacking assets.
Buhagiar’s ability to dart in behind defences was exploited to great effect and his mere presence on the pitch had opposition defences caught in two minds.
In Friday’s Hyundai A-League season opener, Sydney were often caught flat-footed moving forward and were crying out for a direct, explosive attacking outlet.
It means Corica may just be forced to shuffle his pack to compensate before taking on the Reds again on October 30.
A tale of two number nines
There wasn’t much between Adelaide and Sydney on Friday, but the adage rung true – goals win games. And Sydney possess one of the country’s finest in Adam Le Fondre.
Le Fondre was an isolated figure for most of the match but ruthlessly dispatched his one opportunity in front of goal. It was enough for Corica’s side to salvage a point despite not playing near their best, and the 31-year-old has now scored a goal every game for his new club.
That alone will give the Sky Blues belief they can successfully defend their title.
It’s a slightly different story in the Adelaide camp. With Baba Diawara succumbing to injury, Kurz opted to hand Ben Halloran the number nine role.
And while the former Caltex Socceroo performed well and was involved in several enterprising sequences of play, he’s not an out and out goal scorer of Le Fondre’s calibre.
In Ken Ilso and Diawara’s pending return, Adelaide do have options to change things around if needed – and they should still remain buoyed by a makeshift front line’s heartening display – one that saw the Reds register their first Hyundai A-League goal against Sydney in over 10 hours of play.