Manchester United – Why They Can Win the Premier League This Year

For many the 2016-17 season was to be the year that Manchester United returned to their familiar place at the top of the Premier League.  In Jose Mourinho they had the coach that they had been crying out for since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.  On the field, the then World record signing of Paul Pogba along with the capture of Henrikh Mkhitaryan added some much needed creativity to a one paced midfield whilst Zlatan Ibrahimovic promised, and ultimately delivered goals.  However, whilst they proved hard to beat, they lacked the overall goals to turn draws into wins and finished the season in a disappointing sixth place, 24 points behind eventual winners Chelsea.

Despite the disappointment of last season though, 2017-18 looms as an exciting one for the Red Devils for a number of reasons.

Once again, United have strengthened their squad.  The loss of club legend Wayne Rooney to Everton does not hurt as much as it may have given the recent decline in his production and though many fans were hoping that the club would offer Ibrahimovic another contract, the club looks stronger in attack now that an any point since Robin Van Persie left.

The key arrival up front is that of Romelu Lukaku.  Whilst a transfer fee of a reported £75m would have made the eyes water a mere two years ago, the way that transfer fees have exploded this year makes it look like a reasonable amount to pay for a forward that has scored a phenomenal 85 goals in 186 Premier League games and is still just 24 years old.  Perhaps most importantly for Manchester United is that Lukaku is the sort of forward that Mourinho loves to have in his teams, the comparison to Didier Drogba is a lazy one but the truth is that Lukaku plays a similar game, he is quick, strong and a good header of the ball.  At Chelsea Mourinho had Drogba, at Inter he had Milito and at Real Madrid he had Ronaldo.  If Lukaku can have the same impact in a Mourinho team as these guys did then he will be a very good signing for Manchester United.

What is also significant for United from a forward perspective is the progression of the other younger players in the squad.  Marcus Rashford is developing nicely and seems to be high in the coach’s plans for the new season, perhaps even starting in a wide role supporting Lukaku.  Anthony Martial had an unimpressive 2016-17 season but has raised eyebrows in pre-season, none more so than with his scintillating run and assist against Real Madrid in Orlando.

In the wide attacking positions United are well stocked.  Mkhitaryan took some time to settle into life in the Premier League but is now a favourite of the coach, Juan Mata though not always a Mourinho favourite is a classy creator whilst Martial can play anywhere across the front line.  Manchester United don’t really have traditional wingers and usually play a fairly narrow, high pressing game but these players are all capable of playing effectively out wide.

In the midfield Paul Pogba may finally be able to sleep easy, safe in the knowledge that Marouane Fellaini should get less playing time this year given the arrival of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea.  For all of Pogba’s qualities, he does sometimes have a tendency to try and do too much on his own resulting in a larger number of turnovers than United would like.  However, with a true, ball winning lynchpin like Matic sitting behind him, Pogba should have more freedom to continue to try and make things happen.  If the European Super Cup Final defeat to Real Madrid was any kind of guide we can expect to see a central three of Pogba, Matic and Ander Hererra.  The evergreen Michael Carrick and enigmatic (if we are being kind) Fellaini offer experienced back up, whilst youngster Andreas Perreira proved he is ready for first team action after an impressive loan spell at Granada last year and could see plenty of action if Mourinho decides not to loan him out again.

In defence, Mourinho looks set to consist with a back five with width being supplied by the excellent Antonio Valencia on the right and Daley Blind on the left.  The strength in depth that Manchester United posses means that these wide players can be selected based upon the needs of the team and Mourinho is not afraid to play more attacking players in these roles with Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young having appeared there last year.  Whilst neither Lingard or Young would be players that you would expect to feature often in a championship challenging team, they are effective options to have when needed.

In the centre of defence, the first choice three look to be last year’s success story Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and new boy Victor Lindelof (though the fans don’t seem too happy with his early showings).  Phil Jones has proven that he is a good option when he stays fit, which unfortunately is becoming rarer and rarer, whilst Marcos Rojo is an adequate back up.

Back stopping all of the above is possibly the World’s best goalkeeper in David De Gea.  Rumours of De Gea’s departure have followed the club for the past few years but still he remains a Manchester United player and he just gets better every year.  A goalkeeper of De Gea’s quality gives any team an opportunity to win and United need to take advantage of that before he does move on.

There is no doubt that Manchester United have strengthened their squad and now look well placed to launch an assault not just on the Premier League but also on the Champions League which they qualified for as beneficiaries of the recent rule changes decreeing that the Europa League champions gain entry to the Champions League.

The problem for Manchester United is that, perhaps barring Chelsea, their rivals have also strengthened.

Manchester City clearly decided that full-back was a position of weakness for them and have spent a considerable amount to rectify that in addition to other areas.

Arsene Wenger has had his usual summer of promising much and delivering little, but Alexander Lacazette does look to be the forward that Arsenal were missing.

Alvaro Morata spent much of this summer awaiting the call to become a Manchester United player and ultimately ended up signing for Chelsea and their ever decreasing squad of players.

Liverpool haven’t had the summer that they or their fans were hoping for as of yet and the jury is out as to whether former Chelsea flop Mohamed Salah can justify his large transfer fee, however, they are pushing hard to get more targets in before the end of the transfer window.

Tottenham have perhaps had the most significant season of all of the title contenders by not losing any of their key players.  Whilst Mauricio Pochettino would love to bring some quality into the squad, he is not one to panic buy and if the players aren’t available to improve his team then Tottenham won’t do too much more this window.

However, despite the moves that their rivals have been making, when you consider all of the other squads in the Premier League, it is hard not to see Manchester United’s as the strongest.  With Jose Mourinho in his second season as coach and a number of the younger players developing further, this is the year for Manchester United to show that they are once again the top team in England and I’m backing them to do so.

Ian O’Brien

@VFTCS_Blog

AFL: Mid-Season Reviews – Part One

Now that the bye weeks are done with and all teams are sitting on 12 games played, it is time to take a look at the season so far for each of the AFL teams in part one of our mid-season review.

1. Adelaide Crows

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Positives

Any team that is sitting on top of the ladder heading into the second half of the season can consider this a good season so far and the Crows are no different.  With 9 wins under their belt and a league leading percentage of 141.8 the Crows are leading the way in attacking football.  Their potent forward line has led the team to a number of big wins and they look well placed to finish in the top two come the end of the season

Negatives

As impressive as the Crows have been in the majority of games this year, their performances in their three defeats to North Melbourne, Melbourne and Geelong have been poor.  Perhaps most concerning for the Crows is that those defeats have all come in games where star midfielder Rory Sloane was tagged out of the game, the message seeming to be, stop Sloane and you stop the Crows.  Fortunately for Adelaide, stopping Rory Sloane is easier said than done.

2. Greater Western Sydney Giants

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Positives

The early season flag favourites have largely lived up to expectations and along with the Crows have 9 wins going into the second half of the season.  Star midfielder Josh Kelly is in potentially Brownlow winning form in a year where he looms as the most in demand upcoming free agent.  The form of Kelly and Dylan Shiel in midfield has gone a long way to covering for a shocking injury list whilst Jeremy Cameron and Jon Patton are now two of the best key forwards in the game.  The long anticipated GWS dominance looks to have arrived.

Negatives

Those injuries.  GWS have lost more man hours than any other team this year and have lost some very important players along the way.  Star recruit Brett Deledio is yet to play for the Giants whilst star midfielders Stephen Coniglio, Tom Scully and Ryan Griffen have missed a significant chunk of the season so far.  With more injuries this week to Josh Kelly and Jacob Hopper, the Giants need to keep finding ways to win without their first choice 22 available.

3. Geelong Cats

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Positives

Any teams that contains two of the best, hard bodied midfielders in the competition is going to give themselves a chance to win.  In Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield the Cats have probably the best midfield pairing in the league and both players have shown their best form at different times of the year.  The retirements of club champions Jimmy Bartell and Cory Enright along with some other aging stalwarts could have signalled the start of a slow demise for the Cats but with young talents such as Jordan Parfitt showing promise and Irish recruit Zach Tuohy in career best form, the Cats are once again in the Premiership hunt.

Negatives

Rounds 6-8 were frankly terrible for Geelong.  They followed up a 5-0 start to the season with defeats to Collingwood, Gold Coast and Essendon, managing just 167 tackles combined across the three games and an embarrassing 40 against Essendon with just 15 to half time.  The intensity that sparked their unbeaten start to the season disappeared and the Cats suffered for it.  Thankfully for Geelong they re-discovered it in round 9 where they won a battle against the Bulldogs and have again built from there.  A hard-nosed West Coast side put the Cats to the sword the week after the bye and Geelong will need to ensure that they do not suffer a hangover from that loss going forward.

4. Port Adelaide Power

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Positives

On the back of a year in which the Power missed the finals completely, they entered 2017 looking like a side re-born, starting the year with an impressive win away at losing Grand Finalists Sydney and not looking back since.  Built upon excellent home form, Port lead a pack of four teams on 28 points courtesy of their strong percentage gained from huge wins over Fremantle, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Carlton.  Ollie Wines at 22 is becoming one of the best on-ballers in the competition and is in Brownlow contention.  If Port can maintain strong home form then they should play finals at the very least.

Negatives

Though Port have been impressive in patches this year, they have come up short when tested against quality opposition.  Their five defeats have all come to fellow challengers in Adelaide, GWS, West Coast, Geelong and Essendon, two of which have come in home games.  Until Port can win a game that they are not favourites for, it is hard to see them as genuine challengers, regardless of how good they look against the also-rans.

5. Melbourne Demons

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Positives

A season that looked to be going off the rails after round six when the Demons sat on 3-3 has been recovered in an impressive manner, especially in the past two weeks where the Demons emerged victorious in a tight Queen’s Birthday match up with Collingwood and then went on to demolish the Bulldogs this past weekend.  What makes Melbourne look a genuine threat is the spread of ages throughout their team, for every veteran star in Jordan Lewis and Nathan Jones there is a young gun like Clayton Oliver or Christian Petracca.  Baring in mind that the Demons have been without Jesse Hogan and talismanic ruck Max Gawn for the majority of the season so far (though he looks ready to return this week) there is a real chance that this Demons team could go deep into September.

Negatives

Inconsistency has been the story of the year for the Demons.  A huge win over ladder leading Adelaide was followed up with a poor defeat to North Melbourne.  Throw in a poor home defeat to Fremantle where the Demons were leading only to concede nine third quarter goals and it is fair to say that the Demons could be even further up the ladder.

6. Richmond Tigers

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Positives

Much like Port Adelaide, the Tigers have been one of the surprise packages of the season.  Few people who watched the terrible Richmond team of last season could have predicted that they would be in a position for a flag tilt this year, yet that is exactly where they find themselves at the half way point.  Though the Tigers have a strong spine in Alex Rance, Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin and Jack Riewoldt, it has been the small forward brigade that have made the biggest impression so far this season.  The speed and tenacity of Daniel Rioli, Shai Bolton, Jason Castagna and Dan Butler has made the difference for the Tigers and made all teams sit up and take note.

Negatives

No other team in the competition is as good at throwing away a lead as the Tigers are.  Rounds 7-9 saw the Tigers lose games to the Bulldogs, Dockers and Giants all by less than a kick and all in games that they were winning in the final quarter.  Round 13 also saw defeat to the Swans in a game that the Tigers led for the majority.  Unless the Tigers can find the resolve to get over the line in these tight games, another ninth placed finish could beckon.

7. West Coast Eagles

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Positives

Expectations are high at the Eagles and although they find themselves in the finals hunt, it is hard to find too many clear positives in what has been a disappointing season so far.  There have been strong wins away at Port Adelaide and at home to Geelong and Sydney but results have been inconsistent and unpredictable.  Despite that the Eagles key position players have been strong.  Jeremy McGovern has become one of the best defenders in the game, ably supported by young Tom Barrass whilst prior to injury Josh Kennedy was once again leading the Coleman count and ruck recruit Nathan Vardy has done as well as any one could have expected in the absence of Nic Naitanui.  Elliot Yeo’s permanent move to half back has also proven to be a master stroke as he has played himself into Brownlow contention and currently leads the coaches votes after round 13.

Negatives

At this point it could be said that the Sam Mitchell experiment has failed, not because Mitchell himself has been poor but because of the effect that his presence has had on an already slow Eagles midfield.  The early rounds saw Priddis and Mitchell in a midfield that also contained on other one-paced players such as Jack Redden and Chris Masten and they always looked likely to over ran, culminating in a demolishing at the hands of Essendon.  The addition of Lewis Jetta has added some zip and class and the Eagles need to inject some leg speed to be effective this year.

8. Essendon Bombers

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Positives

It could be claimed that almost everything has been a positive this year for the Bombers given the turmoil that they have been through in recent years.  John Worsfold has re-integrated the banned players to good effect and the year in the spot light has been the making of Zach Merrett who continues to rack up the disposals and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is probably the most exciting player in the game.  The Bombers are playing, fast, attacking football and will be happy with their efforts so far in a year where they have won the Anzac day game and recorded strong wins over West Coast, Geelong and Port Adelaide.  Keep this sort of form up and the Bombers will be playing in September.

Negatives

As with Melbourne, there has been a lack of consistency at times to the Bombers and poor defeats to Fremantle and Carlton will sting a lot if they are the difference between playing finals and not at the end of the season.  Early in the season after a big defeat to Adelaide John Worsfold claimed that the returning players had ‘hit the wall’ and it remains a chance that, given their year out of the game, the returning players struggle for stamina towards the end of the year.

That concludes part one of our mid-season review.

Stay tuned for positions 9-18 later in the week

Ian O’Brien

@VFTCS_Blog

The (Slightly Late) 2017 Stanley Cup Final Preview

37 minutes and nine seconds.  That is how long the Pittsburgh Penguins went without registering a shot on goal in today’s game one of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.  Yet, despite registering a measly 12 shots for the game, the Penguins emerged 5-3 victors over the Nashville Predators in a ripping start to this year’s show piece exhibition.

We might be a game late but without further ado, we present our Stanley Cup Final preview.

Nashville Predators

Story So Far

Though the Nashville Predators have spent the last few years quietly building an elite roster, their road to the Stanley Cup Final can arguably be traced directly back to June 29 2016.  It was on this day that the Predators and the Montreal Canadiens stunned the hockey World by pulling the trigger on the biggest trade to hit the NHL for years.  The Predators sent their captain, spiritual leader and possessor of the most booming shot in hockey, Shea Weber, to Montreal in exchange for the enigmatic yet supremely talented P.K. Subban.  The debates over the virtues of the trade have been raging from the moment it was announced and the science of picking a ‘winner’ from blockbuster trades is often cloudy, but for the Predators there is little doubt that the arrival of Subban has been a catalyst for a season that few could have predicted.

A solid, if unspectacular season saw the Predators finish in a wildcard spot for the second season running and in the playoffs for the third year in a row.  Drawn against recent powerhouses and Central division champions Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, many expert predictions saw Nashville falling at the first hurdle.  However, against the odds they blew the Blackhawks away sweeping them in four games.

Next up came St Louis Blues, though the Blues provided more of a challenge than Chicago, they could only manage 2 wins and the Predators won it in 6.

The Western Conference Final saw a match up with the Anaheim Ducks, the team the Predators had beaten in the first round of the 2016 playoffs. Once again the Predators were barely tested and they brushed past the Ducks in 6 games meaning that they have made it to the Final in relatively easy 16 games where they will be hoping to do the same to the Penguins.

Three to Watch

P.K. Subban

PK

The biggest trade arrival to hit the NHL in years has had the sort of season that he might only have dreamed of.  A smooth moving defenceman with a laser shot and an eye for a pass, Subban ended the regular season with 40 points in 66 regular season games.  Entrusted to be on the ice at the most important moments of games, Subban forms one half of possibly the best defensive pair in the NHL alongside the equally impressive Roman Josi (49 points in 72 games).  Averaging almost 26 minutes of ice time through the playoffs so far Subban is guaranteed to be one of the most prominent players in this final series and should be watched closely.

Filip Forsberg

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Whilst we are on the subject of significant trades that Nashville has made in recent years, it seems almost unbelievable that they were able to land the super Swede, Filip Forsberg, in exchange for Martin Erat and Micheal Latta.

Forsberg is one of the most dangerous goal scoring wingers in the NHL and whilst his regular season was not quite as impressive as last year (58 points in 82 games) he has been excellent in these playoffs with 15 points including eight goals in 17 games.

Aged just 22 Forsberg is now showing the sort of form and ability that had him rated so highly before he was taken with the 11th selection in the 2012 entry draft.

If Forsberg can continue to perform in the final as he has in the rest of the playoffs then he has the potential to be a cup winner for the Predators.

Viktor Arvidsson

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Another talented Swedish forward, 2017 has been a breakout year for Viktor Arvidsson as a 45 point improvement saw him lead the Predators in points during the regular season with 61 in 80 games.

The sort of player that opposition fans have come away from games remarking ‘I didn’t realize he was so good’ Arvidsson has been a sleeper star for a large part of the season but there is no way he can be ignored any more.

Arvidsson has added a further 10 points to his tally in these playoffs and looms as a very important player for this talented Predators team.

Biggest Injury Loss

Ryan Johansen

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Having emerged as one of the best young centers in the game, the loss of Johansen to a season ending thigh injury during game 4 of the Western Conference Final against Anaheim had the potential to derail the Predators’ season.

Whilst they seem to have coped so far in his absence, the importance of Johansen to this Nashville side cannot be understated and they are undoubtedly a weaker team in his absence.

Number One Celebrity Fan

Carrie Underwood

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Country music superstar Carrie Underwood is not just the wife of Predators captain Mike Fisher, she is also their biggest fan.  Expect the cameras to pan to her at any break in play, lets just hope she stays away from the microphone in future.

Biggest Potential Weakness

Powerplay

Despite cruising their way through the playoffs so far, the Predators’ scored on just 18.9% of their power plays in the regular season, good for 16th in the NHL.  That figure has dropped to just 18% throughout these playoffs.

These are not numbers to be too alarmed about but for a team that have generally had things their own way in these playoffs they would be hoping to convert on more of their man advantages.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Story So Far

For reigning champions Pittsburgh, their defence of the cup they won in a 6 game series against San Jose this time last year has gone as well as they could have hoped.  Finishing second in the extremely competitive Metropolitan division behind only the Washington Capitals, the Penguins shrugged off injuries to key players such as Kris Letang and superstar Sidney Crosby to qualify for the playoffs at a canter.

Things have not been quite as straight forward through these playoffs though.  Round one was a comfortable win in five games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, however, round two saw the Capitals take them to seven games, and Crosby suffered yet another scary concussion.

That seven game battle was followed up by another, unexpected seven game war against the plucky Ottawa Senators.  The Sens managing to take the series all the way to double overtime in game seven before finally succumbing to defeat.

As previously mentioned, the Penguins secured game one of this Final series on home ice despite a less than stellar performance and they will need to improve to lift the cup again.

Three to Watch

Sidney Crosby

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Who else could it be?  Despite the challenge from young pretenders Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, Crosby is still the best center in the game and his performances act as a barometer for the Penguins as a whole.  When Crosby fires, so do Pittsburgh.

Injuries have once again played their part in limiting Crosby’s ice time, most concerning is the regularity that he seems to suffer concussions.  However, in the 75 regular season games he played, Crosby was exceptional, ending the season with 89 points.

Luckily for the Penguins the head injury Crosby sustained against the Capitals saw him miss just one game and his form in the playoffs has been a continuation of his regular season form (22 points in 19 games).

Conn Smythe trophy winner (playoffs MVP) as the Penguins won the cup last year, Crosby is in similar form again and if the Penguins are to win the cup this year, you expect that they need Crosby to do enough in this series to ensure his name is on the trophy again.

Phil Kessel

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The Penguins have a number of potential game winners in their ranks, Evgeny Malkin could be the second best player in the NHL behind Crosby and break out star Jake Guentzel has had an incredible playoffs so far but Phil Kessel is the man you would want with the puck on the end of his stick in game seven overtime.

After bouncing around the Penguins line up in the first year following the trade to land him from Toronto Maple Leafs, Kessel is now very comfortable on the Penguins second line with Brian Rust and Malkin.

Blessed with the best snap shot in hockey and deceptive pace and power, Kessel is an old-time classic sniper.  Don’t close your eyes when he has the puck at the hash marks or by the time you open them it will be in the back of the net.

Matt Murray

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The story of the Penguins goal tending has been a fascinating one.  Injured in the warm ups before game one of the playoffs, Murray, the man who back stopped the Penguins to a cup last year, was kept out of the playoffs for the first 15 games.  In which his replacement and more senior figure Marc Andre Fleury was in league best form leaving the Penguins with a very difficult decision to make when Murray regained fitness.

Ultimately, Murray came in for game three of the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa and won three of the remaining four games to help his side reach the final.

In the six games since Murray returned to the line up he has posted a save percentage of .936 a figure that would be good enough for best in the NHL over the regular season for all goalies that have played six or more games so it is safe to say he is in good touch.

With the firepower that the Predators have in their line up Murray needs to be at his best for the Penguins to win the cup and signs are that he could well be there.

Biggest Injury Loss

Kris Letang

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Remarkably, for a team that has suffered more than their fair share of injuries through these playoffs, the Penguins are now, relatively injury free.  Patrick Hornqvist returned in game one leaving just Kris Letang of the senior players remaining on the injury list.

Having said that, Letang has been a massive loss to the Penguins, his elite skating from the defensive zone and ability to create play cannot be directly replaced.  Instead the Penguins are reliant on solid team defence and sensible play from their defensive pairings.  Veteran Ron Hainsey and Brian Dumoulin are being leaned on more than most and are standing up to the challenge.

Number One Celebrity Fan

Shawn Michaels

SMichaels

For a team with a such a strong recent record, there are surprisingly few famous Penguins fans, Google tells me Russel Crowe is a fan but I suspect he just likes Penguins, not ‘the’ Penguins.

That leaves us with former WWE superstar Shawn Michaels.  Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want the Heartbreak Kid in their corner?

Biggest Potential Weakness

Faceoffs

A contentious issue among the hockey analytics community is the level of impact that faceoff wins have on a game of hockey.  Old school style of commentators would have you believe that it is a vital part of hockey and winning faceoffs is key to winning hockey games.  Modern, statistical driven analysts argue that, on the evidence, there is little correlation between winning faceoffs and winning hockey games.

Depending on which way you lean, faceoffs could be a weakness for the Penguins given that they are only winning c.47% of their faceoffs this season.

The Verdict

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Given the relative strengths of the two teams this promises to be an intriguing Stanley Cup Final.

The Penguins have had to battle a lot harder to get to this point and could be feeling the strain but possess incredible offensive talent and elite goal tending.

Nashville have had an easier run to the final and are built upon an excellent defence but are weaker for the loss of Ryan Johansen and don’t have the same experience to draw on as the Penguins.

Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins in 7 games

Let me know your thoughts in the comments

Ian O’Brien

@vftcs_blog

 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – AFL Round 9

It may be a topsy turvy kind of a season but some things never change, Richmond find new, more heart breaking ways to lose, Buddy Franklin kicks monstrous goals off one step and West Coast lose in Melbourne.  Let’s look at The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of round nine of the 2017 AFL season.

The Good

Geelong

The first game at the new look Kardinia Park brought a lot of fan fare and a well deserved win for a Geelong side that has been under a lot of pressure after three very disappointing defeats on the bounce.

The focus following last week’s defeat at the hands of Essendon was on the lack of fight from the Cats’ as they registered a lowly 40 tackles for the game and only 15 to half time.  This was a very different performance from the Cats though as they attacked the Bulldogs with relentless pressure and fierce tackling, ending the game with a phenomenal 134 tackles and 162 contested possessions.  Led by Mitch Duncan with 18 tackles and Scott Selwood with 17 in his first game of the season, Geelong looked like they had taken every single bit of criticism as a personal affront and were determined to prove the World wrong.

Whilst they were good value for their win against an equally desperate Bulldogs side, the challenge now for the Cats is to bring that intensity on a consistent basis.  There is undoubtedly talent in the Cats’ squad, but all too often they look like a team that expects to win games without trying and this year more than ever is proving that that simply cannot be done in the AFL.

Next Up: Port Adelaide (H)

Sydney

Finally the Swans that we all expected to see this year look like they have shown up to play, all be it six weeks too late.

In a normal season any team that starts a season with zero wins from six games would find it nigh on impossible to make the finals.  However, this is not a normal season and with three strong wins now under their belts the Swans are already starting to knock on the door of the top eight sitting just two wins outside.

Whilst big wins over Brisbane and North Melbourne can be partly dismissed due to their low positions on the ladder, a 50 point thumping of the previously impressive Saints cannot be ignored.

What is most promising for the Swans is that their good recent form is being built off strong performances from their star players.  This week Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebury and Luke Parker registered 35, 30 and 28 disposals respectively whilst Buddy kicked four goals.

It is also no coincidence that Sydney have improved with the return of young gun Isaac Heeney from illness, already considered one of, if not, the best young players in the competition, Heeney has carried last season’s form into the last three games and added a new dimension to the Swan’s game.  With Callum Mills also recovering from some shaky early season performances the future continues to look bright for Sydney.

A big win over Hawthorn this week will confirm the suspicion that the Swans are going to make a huge impact this season.

Next Up: Hawthorn (H)

North Melbourne

Whilst the bulk of the attention at the bottom end of the ladder has been on Sydney’s revival, North Melbourne are putting together an impressive run of their own.

Winners now of three of their last four games including their unbelievable win over table toppers Adelaide, the Roos continued their recent strangle hold over the Demons with a convincing 14 point victory.

North Melbourne showed last year that when games get feisty it brings out the best in them and so it proved again this weekend with a particularly feisty encounter seeing them come out on top.

Where a lot of the league is adopting a fast moving, ball carrying kind of the game, North Melbourne have remained true to a more traditional kick and mark style of game.  It might not be too pretty but it can be effective, especially with Ben Brown in good form and Todd Goldstein approaching something like All Australian form.

Unlike Sydney, North Melbourne almost certainly will not be playing finals, they are at least beginning to bring some respectability to what promised to be a very disappointing season though.

Next Up: Carlton (A)

The Bad

Richmond

It would be unbelievable that a team could lose to a last minute goal twice in two weeks if that team weren’t Richmond.  The joke’s are beginning to write themselves but it really is no laughing matter for Richmond and their supporters.

The three point defeat to GWS this week came in a game in which, for three quarters, the Tigers were the better team, played the better football and looked like the potential flag winner of the two teams.

However, the fourth quarter was a story of inaccuracy and sloppiness for Richmond as the Giants kicked 33 points to the Tigers five in the final stanza that culminated in a long punt up the corridor being punched on to a horrible mismatch and a cool finish by Giants star Jeremy Cameron.

The questions are being asked of the Tigers as to how this can keep happening and the answers are not forthcoming but the fact of the matter is that three defeats by less than a goal in three weeks, two of those in games that the Tigers were winning comfortably, are threatening to derail a season that could have been so very good.  Where the Tigers are still in contention with five wins, eight wins would have them comfortably top of the ladder.

The silver lining for the Tigers is that they are still playing (for three quarters of games at least) good football and don’t look to be intimidated by any team in the competition.  This week they face a rejuvenated Essendon team in what looms as the game of the round.

Next Up: Essendon (H)

Hawthorn

An awful season just continues to get worse for the Hawks with a deeply disappointing defeat to the ever unpredictable Collingwood at the MCG.

The Hawks came out like a bull at a gate, limiting the Pies to just one behind in the first quarter and racing out to a game high 43 point lead in the second.  Whilst Collingwood clawed the margin back to 34 points at half time, no one could have predicted what would occur in the second half as the Magpies blew the Hawks away to eventually win by a comfortable 18 points.

No team expects to lose a game that they are winning by 43 points but to see Hawthorn throw a game away from that position is unfathomable.  That Tom Mitchell is in potential Brownlow winning form in the midst of this horror show is even more remarkable as Mitchell racked up a lazy 50 disposals in defeat.

Whilst the temptation at Hawthorn might be to write this season off as a failure and rebuild, their task has been made even harder by the fact that they traded their first and second round draft picks to land the talented but injury prone Jaeger O’Meara meaning that they won’t enter the 2017 draft until pick number 33.

The future is looking bleak for the Hawks

Next Up: Sydney (A)

St Kilda

Under normal circumstances a heavy defeat at home to Sydney would be disappointing but understandable.  However, given the Saints excellent form and performance in beating GWS recently coupled with the Swans lowly ladder position, this is a result that could have a huge demoralising effect on St Kilda.

Though both teams traded goals early on, the Saints were ultimately smashed at the contest and eventually blown away by a clinical Swans side.

St Kilda have impressed a lot of people this season and still have plenty of time to turn this into a very good season but face another tough game this week in the Bulldogs.

Next Up: Western Bulldogs (A)

The Ugly

West Coast Eagles

They may hate the tag ‘flat track bullies’ but the Eagles are never going to shake it if they continue to put in such insipid performances away from home.

Poor skills or misguided effort can be excused but a total lack of effort or application cannot and once again people like Mike Sheahan are justified in labeling this Eagles group ‘mummy’s boys‘ and other such insults.

Just as they were against Richmond in round three and Hawthorn in round five, the Eagles were embarrassed by a hungry side that quite simply wanted to win the game more than they did.  Essendon tackled, harassed and bullied the Eagles to the point that by half time most of the West Coast players looked like they would rather be anywhere else but the Etihad.

What is perhaps most frustrating about this Eagles side is that, even though they were so poor at the weekend, they are just as likely to beat GWS at Domain this week and for that reason you cannot write off their flag chances just yet.

Next Up: GWS (H)

Ian O’Brien

@VFTCS_Blog

@PPAstonVilla

 

 

 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – AFL Round 7

Every round of this young AFL season has had its fair share of upsets but no round in recent memory can quite compare to this week.  For the first time since 1975, the team placed lower on the ladder won every game to once again prove that tipping footy is a mug’s game.

The Good

North Melbourne

Despite the Kangaroos impressive recent record at their second home in Hobart, very few people gave them any hope of beating the all conquering Adelaide Crows this weekend.  All that changed in one remarkable quarter of football where North Melbourne piled on 64 points to the Crows zero, incredible in so many ways, not least that it seems inconceivable that this Crows forward line could be kept scoreless in a quarter of football by any team, never mind the struggling Roos.

The Crows attempted to mount a comeback in the second quarter and for a brief moment it looked like they might have a chance but North Melbourne soon settled to win the game at a canter, running out 59 point winners.

There was a lot to like for the Kangaroos, Jarrad Waite marked his return from a shoulder injury with an impressive six goal haul, Todd Goldstein continued his slow progress towards finding his best form and Ben Cunnington turned in his best performance of the year so far with a 29 disposal, six tackle showing.

After a poor start to the year, North Melbourne have now won two games on the bounce and face a run of winable games against Sydney, Melbourne and Carlton.  Had the Kangaroos held on to win from winning positions in tight losses to the Bulldogs and Fremantle, their season would have a very different look to it than it does now.  However, the signs are there that they can compete with the top talent of the competition and they will still believe that they can play finals this year.

Next Up: Sydney (H)

Gold Coast

Another team that still believes that they can play finals this year are the Gold Coast Suns.  The Suns took confidence from a valiant performance in defeat to North Melbourne in round six to record an impressive win against Geelong.

Whilst Gary Ablett Jr wasn’t quite as dominant as he was against North Melbourne, he still followed that 43 disposal game with a 32 disposal, one goal effort this week against the club that many believe he will be playing for again next season.

However, there was a lot more to this Gold Coast performance that just Gary Ablett Jr.  Steven May loomed as a big in for the Suns pre game and so he proved, adding an assertive and calming presence to the back line that has been sorely missed in his absence.  The enigmatic Aaron Hall had his best game of the season, chasing the ball for four quarters and using it well when he got it. Star forward Tom Lynch kicked a steady three goals but could have had a massive game, ending with five behinds to go with his three goals.

After seven rounds the Suns find themselves with a 3-4 record and have once again proven themselves to be impossible to predict.  This is a team that, on their day, can challenge any side in the competition, unfortunately there are too many games where they just don’t turn up and for that reason they won’t play finals again this season.

Next Up: Port Adelaide (China)

West Coast

Unfortunately for the Eagles, their impressive win away at Port Adelaide will do little to shake the tag of ‘Flat Track Bullies’ simply because it didn’t come at the MCG.  However, the Adelaide Oval is one of the toughest away trips of the season and as such, the Eagles should savour this result.

Though West Coast have one of the most damaging forward lines in the competition, this was a result built on strong defence.  West Coast led at every change but were unable to completely pull away, leaving themselves open to the fourth quarter onslaught that came their way.

Port would finish the game with 29 more inside 50s than the Eagles, but many of the entries were hopeful rather than dangerous and the notoriously strong intercept marks in West Coast’s back line were able to deal with the danger.  Brad Sheppard was given the task of keeping Robbie Gray under control and was able to keep him goalless whilst the increasingly influential Elliot Yeo was once again one of the best on ground.

Ultimately the Eagles were good value for their ten point win and despite looking shaky at times this year, once again find themselves in the reckoning for a top four finish with a 5-2 record after seven rounds.

Next Up: Western Bulldogs (H)

The Bad

Greater Western Sydney

Perhaps it is the pressure of being pre-season favourites, perhaps there is disharmony in the camp, the reasons are not clear, but for some reason GWS are not hitting the heights expected of them this year.

This weekend, St Kilda were the team to take the Giants on head first and a strong fourth quarter was enough to see the Saints beat the Giants at their own game.

One of the more concerning issues to come out of the game for the Giants were the very public disagreements taking place on the field.  Captain Phil Davis was the main culprit, forcibly pushing young ruck Rory Lobb in the chest then having stern words with Devon Smith.  Whilst late in the game Steve Johnson and Jeremy Cameron were caught in a heated discussion following a St Kilda goal.

This is not to suggest that there are problems within the GWS camp but it is unusual to see so many public demonstrations of discord.  Many would point to it as a sign of passion from a team that hates to lose, however, the Giants coaching team will want to see less of it in the coming weeks.

GWS are still a very strong side and they will still be one of the teams to beat come the end of the season.  They now have to compete with a growing injury list, defender Adam Kennedy damaged his ACL at the weekend and is out for the season whilst there are still clouds over other key players such as Ryan Griffen, the yet to debut Brett Deledio and Shane Mumford faces a test this week on an ankle injury sustained at the weekend.

Next Up: Collingwood (H)

Essendon

Ahead of the Anzac Day clash in round four, Bombers coach John Worsfold suggested his team may have ‘hit a wall’ following the enforced 12 month suspension of a large number of key members of the squad.  The Bombers would ultimately win the Anzac Day game in an impressive manner, however, the suggestion that they are already tired has not gone away and their defeat to Fremantle this weekend seemed to confirm the suspicion.

On a hot day in Western Australia the Bombers laboured to a 27 point lead in the second quarter only to fade out in the game and get over ran by a younger and more mobile Fremantle side in the second half, the Dockers eventually winning by 37 points.

In a week where Jobe Watson was already rested, the Bombers did not have the energy to compete with the Dockers at the end of the game with returning players like Brent Stanton and Dyson Heppell looking especially heavy legged.

Joe Daniher returned to form after last week’s wayward kicking with three goals and Cale Hooker added two of his own but there are major improvements needed from the Bombers to make an impression this year,

Next Up: Geelong (H)

Geelong

A second defeat in a row for the Cats and both defeats have come against teams the Cats would have expected to beat.

As previously mentioned, Gold Coast were good value for their win but Geelong have been let down by some senior players in the past two weeks.  Joel Selwood had more of an impact than he did against Collingwood but was still a little underwhelming by his own high standards.  Champion Cat Harry Taylor looked like he was lacking confidence at both ends of the ground and Steven Motlop again flattered to deceive.

Having won their first five games of the season Geelong are still well placed to make a challenge but they will want to arrest this mini slide before it becomes a major issue.

Next Up: Essendon (A)

The Ugly

Collingwood

It doesn’t get much uglier for the Magpies that losing their 125th anniversary game to their most hated rivals, Carlton.

On the back of an excellent performance against Geelong in round six, it appeared that a number of Collingwood players had the cue firmly in the rack this week.

Perhaps most embarrassing for the Magpies was that the bulk of the damage was inflicted by Carlton players in their first and second years in the AFL.  Sam Petrevski-Seton was the best midfielder on the ground in a game that contained Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar and Steele Sidebottom whislt Jacob Weitering continued to show that he can be very effective at either end of the ground.

Collingwood’s own youth stocks look limited in comparison to their cross town rivals and you have to wonder if there is more pain on the horizon for the Magpies.

More pressing will be the increase in pressure on coach Nathan Buckley.  Despite the public declarations of confidence coming from Eddie Maguire, the questions that are being asked of Buckley are largely fair.

This Collingwood side is more than capable as they have shown in wins against Geelong and Sydney, but all too often they flatter to deceive and Buckley must wear some of the responsibility for that.  At this point in time it is hard to see Buckley remaining in charge come the end of the season.

Next Up: Greater Western Sydney (A)
Photo courtesy of aflphotos.com.au

Ian O’Brien

vftcsblog.wordpress.com

Twitter: @vftcs_blog

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – AFL Round 6

Round six of this fascinating AFL season is in the rear view mirror and the ladder still looks like someone tipped it on its head with Sydney Swans rock bottom with a 0-6 record, followed closely by Hawthorn on 1-5.

At the other end of the ladder Adelaide Crows’ march to September continues to pick up pace as they now sit alone on top of the pile as the only remaining undefeated team.

The Good

Collingwood

Just as the pressure mounting on coach Nathan Buckley was starting to look insurmountable, Collingwood go and do what only Collingwood seem able to and win a game that no one fancied them to win.

Uninspiring in last week’s ANZAC day defeat to Essendon, the Pies were a very different team this week against Geelong.  Following on from a standout ANZAC day performance, Daniel Well’s second game for Collingwood helped inspire a midfield display that out ran, out worked and outmaneuvered their more fancied opposition.  Joel Selwood, just one week removed from a 43 disposal performance, was held in check by a masterful tag by Levi Greenwood whilst reigning Brownlow medalist Patrick Dangerfield could only muster 21 disposals and a goal for his own efforts, well down on his normal output.

It is no surprise to see a midfield that contains Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar, Steele Sidebottom and Daniel Wells dominate a game and it is not the first time this year they have done so.  The difference this week was that the Pies found some much needed fire power, The Pies had 13 different goal scorers for their 15 goals.  In the absence of a genuinely dominant key forward, Collingwood need more goals from around the ground and they need this week to be a sign of things to come if they are to feature this September.

Next Up: Carlton (H)

St Kilda

Previous to this week, Hawthorn had won 19 straight games at their Tasmanian fortress, spanning back to a 2012 defeat to Sydney.  The challenge of playing the Hawks in Launceston is intimidating for even the best of teams, but these are not the Hawks of old and although they only have a 3-3 record, these Saints aren’t scared of anyone.

Leading at every break, St Kilda buried the sorry Hawks with an eight goal to one third quarter and eventually ran over them in the fourth to register a 75 point win.  They even managed to accommodate possibly the most embarrassing miss in AFL history into their Saturday afternoon stroll.

It is hardly a unique view to suggest that this St Kilda team has the makings of a very strong side but they are really starting to show it now.  Speedy midfielder Jack Steven registered 36 disposals in his second game back from a punctured lung and showed why he is regarded as one of the best midfielders in the competition whilst evergreen Nick Riewoldt scored four goals including his 700th career goal.

With a young spine that includes emergint talent in the likes of Jake Carlisle, Tim Membrey, Josh Bruce and Jade Gresham, this Saints team has all the tools to make finals this year and for many years to come.

Next Up: GWS Giants (A)

Melbourne

It has been a strong week for the Melbourne teams on the cusp of finals contention and that includes a welcome return to form for the so far underwhelming Demons.

Whilst the Demons have been disappointing based on pre-season predictions, they do have some valid excuses.  Key ruckman Max Gawn is out for a large chunk of the season with a serious hamstring injury, forward Jesse Hogan has missed three games through a combination of suspension and personal leave and star recruit Jordan Lewis has also sat out three games through suspension.

That Lewis’ return to the team this week coincided with a comprehensive victory over Essendon comes as no surprise.  However, the strength of their performance is not why the Demons find themselves in the ‘good’ column.  In fact, their win over the Bombers came in a terrible game riddled with personal errors and poor skills.  Essendon looked tired on the back of their five day break and Melbourne were just sloppy, pulling it together just enough to come out on top in the end, thanks in no small part to Joe Danniher’s wastefulness in front of goal for Essendon.

At this stage of the season there are not too many must win games, but for Melbourne this one was and they managed to do enough to register the four points.

Next Up: Hawthorn (H)

The Bad

Fremantle (and West Coast)

With three tight and ultimately deserved wins under their belt in the weeks leading up to the Western Derby the Dockers went into this week’s game against arch rivals West Coast with all the momentum and no lack of belief.  On the other side of the coin, the Eagles entered the game on the back of a 51 point thumping from the previously winless Hawthorn.

Whilst the Eagles were still favourites, the conditions seemed ripe for an upset and most people expected a barn buster of a Derby.  Instead, the fans were treated to a damp squib of a game that was over by quarter time with the Eagles having piled on seven goals to Fremantle’s one in the first quarter.  What threatened in the early stages to become a one sided blowout instead tapered out to an uninspiring plod of a game that, at times, resembled a training match such was the lack of passion from either team.

The Dockers, for their part, once again showed an inability to score goals.  Each of their recent victories have come in low scoring affairs where the Dockers ability to limit their opposition’s scoring threat proving the difference.  Against the Eagles they had no answer to Coleman medalist Josh Kennedy and in response had nothing to offer beyond new man Cam McCarthy’s respectable three goals effort.

Nat Fyfe continued his indifferent form with just 19 disposals and a fortunate escape from suspension after a frustrated swing at the impressive Elliot Yeo.  Whilst Michael Walters was anonymous in his 100th game and Lachie Neale is yet to recapture his Doig medalist form of 2016.

On the evidence of this game, neither the Dockers or the Eagles are likely to make too much of an impression on the competition unless both teams can rediscover some passion and intensity.

Next Up: Essendon (H)

Western Bulldogs

Whilst a two point defeat to GWS Giants in Canberra is not a result to be ashamed of, this was a game that the Bulldogs would have wanted to win, not just for the points but for the symbolism of beating the team that many have tipped as flag favourites.

In a disappointing display in front of goal the Bulldogs kicked 9.19 to the Giants’ 11.9 to eventually lose by two points.  Josh Dunkley was the worst culprit kicking four behinds without scoring a goal.

There was still plenty to like from the Bulldogs, Bontempelli was a stand out as he often is, Jake Stringer worked hard for his 3 goals and Caleb Daniel impressed on his return after a one week VFL demotion.

Although it is still early in the season and the Dogs have registered four wins so far, there seems to be something missing from the side that lifted the flag last year.  The speed is still there and they are scintillating to watch when they attack through the middle, but they don’t seem quite as damaging and their defence looks vulnerable at times.

A big win over Richmond next week will go some way to restoring confidence

Next Up: Richmond (H)

Richmond

It is hard to be too critical of the Tigers considering the excellent start they have made to a season where little was expected of them.  However, Sunday’s shellacking at the hands of Adelaide will have brought the buoyant Tigers fans back to Earth with a bump.

For a quarter of football the Tigers competed hard and looked every inch the Crows’ equals, going in at quarter time with a slim lead.  That was as good as it got though for Richmond as the Crows blew them away from quarter time onwards to eventually win by 76 points.

Richmond’s success this year has been built on the pressure and speed of their rookie small forwards Daniel Rioli, Jason Castagna and Dan Butler.  Against the Crows they had little impact beyond Rioli’s two goals and were no match for the experience and cool heads of the Adelaide back line.

Star midfielders Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin carried the fight to the Crows with 26 and 25 disposals each but all to often they were burrowing a lone furrow as their teammates went missing.

Anonymous displays have been a hallmark of a large number of Richmond’s players in recent seasons and something that had not occurred this season up until this week.  The Tigers face another tough test next week against the Bulldogs and their fans will be keen for a good showing so that their darkest fears of a return to middle of the pack obscurity can be kept at bay.

Next Up: Western Bulldogs (A)

The Ugly

Brisbane

Brisbane entered round six with just one win under their belt against neighbours Gold Coast and on the back of a very spirited performance in defeat to the Western Bulldogs.

Though still expected to be down the bottom end of the ladder, there were hopes of improvement for the Lions this year with highly rated draftee Hugh McCluggage joining the team along with second year players Eric Hipwood and Josh Schache and the return from serious injury of former Magpie Dane Beams.

For the most part this year, Brisbane has definitely improved.  Under Craig Fagan, they don’t look as intimidated as they did under Justin Leppitsch, their youngsters are contributing and former skipper Tom Rockliff has been a ball magnet in their midfield.

However, for all of the improvements that the side has shown, Saturday’s humiliation at the hands of Port Adelaide was as bad as anything they have produced since their three-peat glory days.  The Lions’ ball use was atrocious in the first half as they continually coughed up hard won possession either through frustration trying to force plays or through sheer lack of skill and as the game wore on the Lions’ players visibly sagged in confidence.

The Lions are now on a five game losing skid and are going to have to battle hard to avoid the wooden spoon, starting next week against bottom placed Sydney.  If the Lions are serious about their improvements, they will take the game to Sydney and knock another nail in the Swans’ coffin.

Next Up: Sydney (A)

Ian O’Brien

vftcsblog.wordpress.com

@vftcsblog

 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – AFL Week 3

Week three of this so far, so crazy AFL season is in the bag and it was another week with shocks a plenty.  Without further ado we present, the good, the bad and the oh so very ugly.

The Good

Fremantle

Credit where credit is due, after two horrific performances that had many questioning the strength of Ross Lyon’s position, the Dockers responded in style this week with a comprehensive and well deserving victory over the reigning Premiers, Western Bulldogs.

It took six unforced changes, a monumental effort from new captain Nat Fyfe and the overdue demotion of the uninspiring Zac Dawson, but, after a full season and two games of dross, the Dockers put in a performance reminiscent of their Grand Final losing team of 2013.  They were fierce in the tackle, fearless in the contest and moved the ball as well as any of the elite teams in the competition with the Hill brothers and the underrated Lachie Neale supporting Fyfe in an excellent midfield display.

One swallow does not a summer make and it remains to be seen whether the Dockers can continue to play in such a manner but for one week at least they can be very proud of their efforts.

Gold Coast

The Dockers weren’t the only team this week to react to recent criticism in the best way possible, the much maligned Gold Coast Suns produced the best result of their short tenure with an 86 point walloping of Hawthorn at Metricon Stadium.

The Suns are one of the AFL’s biggest conundrums, they have a more than capable defense underpinned by the giant Steven May, one of the quickest midfields in the league supported by the wiliest veteran in Gary Ablett Jr (though his own situation is far from simple) and perhaps the best young full forward in the game in Tom Lynch.  Yet, year after year they continue to under perform, which, like the aforementioned Ross Lyon, has had many in the media questioning whether Rodney Eade is the man to take the Suns forward.

Though the Hawthorn of 2017 is no where near the Hawthorn of years gone by (I’m looking at you Ty Vickery) this is still a stunning result.  Yet, rather than put to bed the questions surrounding the club, it just creates more new ones.  Why, if this team is capable of playing this well, can they not do it more often.  I suspect we won’t know the answer to that question any time soon.

Adelaide

Ever so slightly lost in the confusion of so many upsets this year has been the qutie terrifying and formidable form of Adelaide.  Though they were challenged by their neighbours Port Adelaide in a highly enjoyable Showdown this weekend, the Crows ran out comfortable winners, their superiority perhaps personified by Tex Walker’s decision to smash a goal from fully 70m rather than look for other options when on paper the game still looked close.

So far the Crows have beaten the Champions select GWS, recent titans Hawthorn and a much improved Port Adelaide, all at a canter.  Though it is still early, the Crows have shown that they are more than just challengers this year, they may just be flag favourites.

The Bad

Melbourne

Not so much for the results as a 29 point defeat to Geelong is, in itself, nothing to be ashamed of, but the manner of the defeat will rankle with the Demons.

Deprived of star players Jordan Lewis and Jesse Hogan due to AFL imposed suspensions, the Demons were still able to take the game to the Cats for three quarters of a tight game.  At 3QT the Dees held a narrow three point lead that should have been a lot higher. As has been the case with a lot of games so far this season, the Demons inaccuracy cost them as the kicked just 12.17 to Geelong’s remarkable 14.2 over the first three quarters.

The Cats found another gear in the fourth quarter inspired, as always, by Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood to eventually run over a Demons team depleted of talismanic ruckman Max Gawn who left the field just before half time.

Scans this week have shown that the hamstring injury Gawn sustained is worse than first thought and he is likely to miss 10 weeks of the season.  In addition the Dees will be without Hogan for another week and Lewis for another two weeks, all of which add up to make this game a missed opportunity amid some tough games to come.

Sydney

Not many would have predicted that the Swans that lost last years Grand Final would find themselves with three defeats from three games to start the season but that is where they find themselves.

The 1 point defeat to the previously winless Collingwood this week was perhaps the worst of the lot as the Swans once again left it too late to mount a challenge just as they had the previous week against the Bulldogs.

There is no doubt that this Swans team is a good side, they are probably the best contested team in the league and have the biggest star in the AFL in Buddy Franklin.  Theyhave also been unfortunate with injuries this year, having been forced to blood a number of young players in trying circumstances.

However, the ladder does not lie and the task of even making finals for this year’s Swans has been made much tougher by their horrific start to the season.

North Melbourne

Another team without a win so far this year, you have to wonder whether the Kangaroos are regretting their decision to release much loved veterans Boomer Harvey, Drew Petrie and Nick Dal Santo last year given that they look to be missing a bit of nous around the ground.

Whilst last week’s one point defeat to Geelong was a kick in the teeth for the Roos having held a 30 point lead at one point in the game, this week’s defeat to GWS may be more demoralizing.

In recent years the Roos have been dominant at their second home in Hobart losing only one of their past nine at Blundstone Arena and went into this game confident of an upset on the back of this.  However, they were no match for the Giants and wound up on the end of a 42 point thumping.

North have been largely uninspiring in their three defeats so far this year and next week play the reigning Premiers.  After going 10-0 to start the year last season, it is not inconceivable that they could go 0-10 this year.

The Ugly

Hawthorn

It is far too easy to pin the Hawk’s failings this year on the decision to trade out star veterans Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell for the equivalent of a bag of magic beans but there is the overwhelming sense that the towel was thrown in before a ball was even kicked this year.

Against a vibrant Gold Coast side, the Hawks looked one paced and unimaginative.  The same players that carried the Hawks to the third part of a threepeat just two years ago were made to look like statues as Gary Ablett played around them and Adam Saad ran past them.

Perhaps most concerning for the Hawks were the 19 intercept possessions that the Suns registered.  Whilst they have never been a particularly quick team whilst dominating the league, the Hawks set themselves apart with their elite ball use.  Without it they are just another plodding group of tryers, we knew the end was in site, we just didn’t know it would come so soon.

View From The Cheap Seats

Ian O’Brien

Twitter: @vftcs_blog

Photo courtest of aflphotos.com.au