Western United FC broke the shackles of history to clinch their maiden A-League Men title at the weekend, defeating Melbourne City FC 2-0 to lift the trophy in just their third season in the competition. It was an all-Victoria affair in the post season with all three of the Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City FC and Western United FC progressing to the semi-finals, while the rest of the field fought for precious mid-table points.

The team at OptaJason have run the rule over the 2021-22 season and decided on their best XI of the season based on the data.

Jamie YoungWestern United FC

Jamie Young was by far and away the most effective goalkeeper in the 2021-22 A-League Men season, steering his side to victory in the Grand Final. Indeed, Young’s 12th clean sheet of the season in that Grand Final meant he finished the campaign with three more than any other goalkeeper and was the first to log 12 in a season since Liam Reddy in 2018-19 (13).

Young finished the season with the most saves (114) of any keeper and the highest save percentage (78%) of any goalkeeper to feature in at least 10 games. The United man’s 114 saves are in fact the most saves recorded in a single A-League Men season since Opta began collecting this data at the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign.

A-League most saves in a single campaign

Lewis MillerCentral Coast Mariners

Lewis Miller’s presence on the right wing often shut down attacking wingers in the 2021-22 season, with the Central Coast Mariners defender stymieing more attempted crosses than any other player. Miller blocked 12 crosses throughout the year, four more than any other player in the competition.

A-League men most blocked crosses

He was no stranger to a good scrap either, posting an average of 11 duels contested throughout the season which was the second most of any Central Coast Mariners player in the competition.

Léo Lacroix Western United FC

Léo Lacroix was the master of stealing possession and getting the ball clear of Western United FC’s penalty area in the 2021-22 season. The 47 interceptions to his name were the second-most of any player throughout the campaign, while his 106 clearances were the third-most. Lacroix’s harmony with the Western United FC defensive unit made them one of the hardest teams in the competition to break open.

Western United FC conceded 32 goals throughout the 2021-22 season, 11.6 fewer than the expected goals tally levelled against them for the campaign, the biggest positive overperformance of any side. While it is difficult to credit that solely down to the work of Western United’s defence, and not to the profligacy of their opponents, Lacroix and company did force their opposition to take the poor quality shots against them. Their xG against per shot of 0.10 was the second-lowest rate in the competition.

Curtis GoodMelbourne City FC

Melbourne City FC’s Curtis Good was one of the most involved players this campaign, posting league-high numbers in several key metrics. No player carried the ball more times this season than Good, but it was his progressive carries that stood out. Good made 16 progressive carries per game this campaign, two more per game than any other player in the competition.

Curtis Good Progressive Carries 2021-22

Good’s 1,902 passes were 100 more than any other player in the competition and a duel success rate of 73% from his 175 duels contested saw him lead the league in those who featured in at least 100 duels.

Benjamin GaruccioWestern United FC

Benjamin Garuccio was a key cog in Western United FC’s breakthrough championship triumph this year. His six assists were a joint-team high (tied with Lachlan Wales, Connor Pain and Aleksandar Prijovic) and the most by any defender overall in the competition.

Among defenders, only Jason Davidson created more chances (55) than Garuccio’s 36, while the Melbourne Victory man was also the only defender to eclipse Garuccio’s expected assists tally of 4.7.

Garuccio was heavily involved in everything Western United FC did going forwards. His 1,876 touches were the second most of any Western United FC player (Neil Kilkenny – 2,097).

Benjamin Garuccio assists A-League 2021-22

Right Midfield
Jay O’Shea Brisbane Roar FC

Jay O’Shea was a wizard from open play this campaign, creating a league-high 57 chances from such situations, eight more than any other player in the competition. And that’s despite his side not featuring in the post-season. From those chances came 10 assists, the second-most of any player in the season while his total of 7.1 xA was the highest of any midfielder.

Jay O'Shea open play chances created 2021-22

O’Shea laid on three assists each for Juan Eduardo Lescano and Luke Ivanovic, making him one of only two players to log three assists for more than a single team-mate in the competition alongside the Newcastle Jets’ Daniel Penha.

Centre Midfield
Jake BrimmerMelbourne Victory

Jake Brimmer’s rise as one of the most potent players in the league continued in the 2021-22 campaign, coming to a head in a clutch final month as the Melbourne Victory fell just one game short of a shot at the championship. Brimmer made 20 carries ending in a chance created this season, the joint-second most of any player in the competition behind (spoiler alert) only Opta’s Player of the Year Craig Goodwin (22) and created 74 scoring chances overall.

Jake Brimmer Chance-Creating Carries

Brimmer did his best as the season drew to a close to take Melbourne Victory all the way, scoring a goal in each of his last four appearances in the competition. He’ll be on the cusp of a record when the 2022-23 season begins with Ola Toivonen (five games) the only player to have scored a goal in more consecutive A-League Men games for the Victory.

Centre Midfield
Florin BerenguerMelbourne City FC

Florin Berenguer was the fulcrum around which the Melbourne City FC attack revolved and – as one of the most creative offensive units in the competition – that made him a premium player in the 2021-22 season. Berenguer was a key part of the most dangerous duo in the competition, creating 18 scoring chances for team-mate Jamie Maclaren throughout the campaign – more than any other player in the competition made for a single team-mate.

A-League Men 2021-22 – Chances Created for Team-mates:

Player 1Player 2TeamP1 to P2 Chances Created
Florin BerenguerJamie MaclarenMelbourne City FC18
Andrew NabboutJamie MaclarenMelbourne City FC15
Lachlan WalesAleksandar PrijovicWestern United FC14
Beka MikeltadzeDaniel PenhaNewcastle Jets14
Jay O’SheaScott NevilleBrisbane Roar FC14
Craig GoodwinHiroshi IbusukiAdelaide United13
Anthony CáceresAdam Le FondreSydney FC13
Jay O’SheaLuke IvanovicBrisbane Roar FC12
Florin BerenguerAndrew NabboutMelbourne City FC12
Craig NooneUlises DávilaMacarthur FC12
Ulises DávilaCraig NooneMacarthur FC12

He also created 12 scoring chances for City forward Andrew Nabbout, making Berenguer one of only five players to created 10 or more scoring chances for multiple players in the competition.

Overall, Berenguer created 50 chances and finished with 5.2 expected assists for the season, slightly higher than the five actual assists assigned to him throughout the campaign.

Left Midfield
Craig GoodwinAdelaide United

Craig Goodwin is the 2021-22 A-League Men Player of the Season according to the Opta Index. He enjoyed a standout individual campaign as he led Adelaide United into finals football. Goodwin led all players for chances created (87) with a league-high 38 of these chances coming from set plays – six more than any other individual.

When he seized an opportunity to carry the ball forward and take on the opposition Goodwin made defenders pay, making a competition-high 22 carries ending in a scoring chance created. Only Macarthur FC’s Craig Noone (289) played more passes into the box (inc. crosses) this season than Goodwin (289) – a testament to how vital he was to everything the Reds did when attacking. He also led the press from the front well, with only the Newcastle Jets’ Daniel Penha (25) and Melbourne City FC’s Mathew Leckie (25) winning possession in the campaign more times in the final third than Goodwin (24).

Craig Coodwin Chances Created 2021-22 A League

Not only a master creator, Goodwin also established himself as a goal threat. His 10 goals in 2021-22 has only been surpassed by two Adelaide United players for a single season in A-League Men history (Serginho – 17 in 2010-11 and Bruce Djite – 11 in 2015-16). Indeed, in the process Goodwin (38) surpassed Bruce Djite (35) as Adelaide United’s all-time leading goal scorer in the history of the competition.

Nicholas D’AgostinoMelbourne Victory

Nicholas D’Agostino settled in with style in his first A-League Men season at Melbourne Victory scoring 10 goals – his best return for a single season in the competition and twice his previous best tally (five in 2020-21). His efforts have seen him called up to the Socceroos squad for the final stage of FIFA World Cup qualification.

D’Agostino certainly enjoyed a clinical streak in front of goal. His 10 strikes came from just seven expected goals – the best performance by a Melbourne Victory player in a single edition since Ola Toivonen (+7.1) and Kosta Barbarouses (+3.5) in the 2018-19 season – while his shot conversion rate of 21% was the second highest for any player to take 25 or more attempts.

Nicholas D'Agostino xG map 2021-22 A league

D’Agostino’s presence up top meant that Melbourne Victory could play direct to him. His 106 aerial duels contested in the 2021-22 campaign was the second most by any player (Aleksandar Prijovic – 188).

Jason CummingsCentral Coast Mariners

Jason Cummings turned the competition on its head when he joined the Central Coast Mariners midway through the season in late January, quickly rocketing into Socceroos discussions for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers. Cummings’ goals were enough to help drive the Mariners to a finals berth as he bagged 10 goals and made five assists in his 21 appearances. His 15 direct goal involvements were the second-most of any player in that time (Aleksandar Prijovic – 18).

Jason Cummings goal map 2021-22 A-League

No player attempted as many shots at goal since January 30 than Cummings, who logged a joint league-high 29 shots on target since joining the competition. Those shots came at an accuracy of 67%, which was the highest of any player to make at least 15 shots on target in that time.

John AloisiWestern United FC

Three teams and 163 games as head coach in the A-League Men later and John Aloisi clinched his first championship as coach headlining a remarkable return to the managerial ranks in his maiden season in charge of Western United FC.

As the club faced the first season in its existence without the greatest scorer in A-League Men history Besart Berisha (142 goals), Aloisi brought with him a brand of toughness that saw them wrench grand final glory from the clutches of season premiers Melbourne City FC.

Western United FC won eight games by a margin of 1-0 in the 2021-22 campaign, the most of any team in a single A-League Men campaign and won eight games when they had finished with a lower xG tally than their opposition on the day – including the Grand Final – which was the most of any team in 2021-22. They did all this while having the second lowest rate of possession (45%) of any side in the competition.

Aloisi – one of the most experienced managers and players in A-League Men history – now has a championship as coach on his record and a future ahead full of possibility for Western United FC.


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