With Sydney FC having secured the Premier’s Plate three weeks ago and the top six clubs finalised, there may be a sense that Round 27 in the A-League is a mere formality.
But with positions three to six still in flux, Melbourne City, Brisbane Roar, Perth Glory and Western Sydney Wanderers have plenty to play for this weekend.
Home ground advantage is set to be critical in the A-League finals.
Of the 45 games between the top six sides this season, the away team has won just nine times.
If you factor in that Sydney have accounted for five of those victories on the road and three came in derbies, it’s clear that most A-League teams struggle when travelling.
The advantage of playing in front of your own fans is even more pronounced when looking at games between City, Roar, Glory and the Wanderers – just one away victory in 17 matches.
Leading into the final round of the 2016-17 season and with an eye on the upcoming finals, Goal has crunched the numbers and the statistics aren’t kind on a couple of clubs.
City must beat Glory
Michael Valkanis’ side is in pole position to finish third as they enter Round 27 as the incumbent and know a win in Perth on Sunday will ensure they stay ahead of Brisbane Roar and their hosts.
But achieving that feat will require City to do something they haven’t achieved all season – win outside Melbourne against a top-six club.
City’s only ‘away’ win of 2016-17 against an A-League finalist was in the Round 2 derby against Melbourne Victory at Etihad Stadium.
Tim Cahill, Melbourne City
Finishing third would give City their best chance of reaching the grand final – not only would they host an elimination final in the first week of the finals but Victory would await them in the semi-finals, meaning Valkanis’ team would play in Melbourne again.
Fail to beat Glory and Bruno Fornaroli and Co. would be likely to finish fourth – Brisbane would leapfrog City with a win over Wellington Phoenix – while the Bundoora-based club could even fall to fifth if they lost 4-0 at nib Stadium.
Regardless of who they face in the finals, City will have to find another level as they have lost seven matches against top-six rivals this season – more than any other finalist.
Perth shouldn’t care where they play
Just one win in their past five matches has severely hampered Glory’s chances of earning a home final.
But if coach Kenny Lowe has done his research, he will be backing Perth to cause trouble no matter where they end up in the finals.
Kenny Lowe, Perth Glory
Glory shouldn’t fear any of their potential elimination final opponents – Perth are the only side that can finish in any position from third to sixth.
Lowe’s side have the best win percentage (37.5%) in matches involving finalists outside the top two of Sydney and Victory and are the only team to have won on the road in those fixtures.
Considering a draw could be enough to progress via a penalty shootout, Perth’s record against City, Roar and Western Sydney of three wins and four draws from eight matches would make them dangerous opposition in an elimination final.
The worry for Glory is their record against the Sky Blues and Victory this season as they have lost four of those six games and only won once.
Western Sydney’s late surge may be for nothing
Regardless of what the Wanderers do against Adelaide United on Saturday night, Tony Popovic’s side cannot play at home in the first two weeks of the finals.
That should be worrying for fans of a red-and-black persuasion, as Western Sydney have just two draws and four defeats from six away trips against fellow finalists this season.
The Wanderers’ late surge to secure a finals berth has come on the back of five straight matches in New South Wales, including four games at their own stadium.
Brendon Santalab, Western Sydney Wanderers
A cynical view of their upturn in form would highlight that in their five-game unbeaten run they have beaten two sides outside the top six – Wellington and Newcastle Jets – plus poor-travellers City and failed to breakdown Victory last week despite having one extra player for almost an entire half.
Of course, if the Wanderers can continue their run to eventually face Sydney in either a semi-final or final, they have arguably the best chance to deny the Sky Blues the championship with one win, one draw and one loss against Graham Arnold’s side this term.
But to do that they will probably need to beat one of City or Roar – plus potentially Victory – on the road, and they have lost three and drawn one of four similar fixtures this campaign.
It’s hard to look past Sydney
This may be the easiest of ‘hot takes’ to tip a team that has lost just once all season to go on and lift the championship trophy, but anyone hoping the premiers have been flat track bullies this season will be sadly mistaken.
Yes, Sydney’s win percentage does drop against their fellow finalists compared to across the entire league – 73% to 66% – but Arnold’s men have still won 10 of 15 games versus Victory, City, Roar, Glory and the Wanderers.
Bobo and Alex Brosque, Sydney FC
With Sydney set to host their semi-final and the grand final, should they qualify, the numbers get even better for them – Alex Brosque and Co. have won 71 per cent of their home games against the rest of the top six.
The Sky Blues’ only defeats in all competitions this season came on the road against Western Sydney in Round 20 and in the FFA Cup Final versus City.
Considering Victory are the most likely team to face Sydney in the season-decider and the premiers have dominated the Big V with three wins from three in 2016-17, it appears almost certain that Arnold and Brosque will lift ‘the Toilet Seat’ on May 7.
Football can be a funny game though.