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Sydney FC's Robust Defence Can Continue to Shine

by isport

The curtain came down on the 2016-17 A-League season on May 5th, with Sydney FC securing an on-penalties victory in the Grand Final. The Champions had led the division for the majority of the campaign, with their defence looking particularly impressive. But can their backline continue to be miserly next season?

Despite needing a penalty shootout to sneak past Melbourne Victory in the Grand Final, Sydney FC deserved their status as champions. They finished on 66 points – 17 ahead of their nearest rivals – and conceded just 12 goals all season. The structure of the side remained solid throughout, with the spine of the team avoiding too many absences, allowing consistency and team spirit to flourish.

The A-League is synonymous with goals and attack-minded teams. High-scoring games are a regular fixture throughout the season but Sydney FC did it their way. They controlled games with their calm, measured approach and it allowed their defence to remain in position throughout. This helped them pick off several sides in the division who play with a 'gung-ho' approach.

Alex Wilkinson played 29 times in all competitions alongside Rhyan Grant, who started 27, with Michael Zullo also managing 28 appearances. Young defender Aaron Calver managed just six starts, but looked assured and wise beyond his years when featuring; the 21-year-old has given the club a huge boost by signing a contract extension.

Coach Graham Arnold must take a lot of credit for ensuring his side were well-drilled and focused even when Melbourne Victory threatened to close the gap in February. He has underlined the importance of keeping the squad together ahead of pre-season with Jordy Buijs and A-League player of the season Milos Ninkovic also agreeing new deals with the club.

Arnold has already informed the media he won't be watching any replays of the A-League Grand Final and has stressed the importance of planning for next season. A friendly with Premier League side Arsenal awaits in July ahead of the new A-League season at the beginning of October. The coach was disappointed not to make the finals in the 2015-16 season but his side have more than made amends for that blip this year.

Many of Sydney's key players remain at the club and they will be fancied to retain their crown next season. Indeed, they have been priced up as 9/4 favourites for success next year according to the latest odds, positioned ahead of the two Melbourne sides in the market.

Fans will be pleased to see the side sticking together and with a few savvy additions, it could be another season to remember. Arnold will have to ensure his side are able to deal with the pressure that comes with being defending champions as every opponent will be determined to beat the Sky Blues and knock them off their perch.

The Allianz Stadium is likely to be a fortress once again next season and if Sydney FC can maintain their resolute approach in front of their own supporters it's hard to see them being toppled. After winning the league by 17 points, the club must continue to lead the way and their stingy back-line should help them in their quest for back-to-back silverware.