No Arnie, no worries: Corica shines in the face of Sydney FC adversity

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The fledgling Sky Blues coach was under pressure to start the season but has come through at the other end

It was always going to be an extremely hard act to follow. Sydney FC were arguably the greatest team the A-League has seen under Graham Arnold - winning an FFA Cup, two premierships and a championship.

During their strongest two campaigns, the last two seasons with Arnold at the helm, the Sky Blues only lost four of 54 A-League home-and-away games in an incredible period of dominance.

Enter the succession plan to new boss Steve Corica this season - who was assistant coach during this successful reign but had never managed his own team.

Immediately Corica had to contend with the departure of three of the Sky Blues most important cogs - Adrian Mierzejewski, Bobo and Jordy Buijs.

He managed to sign English hitman Adam Le Fondre, injury-prone Dutch maestro Siem De Jong and his compatriot centre-half Jop van der Linden as replacements - but the wolves would be waiting to pounce on any significant reduction in the team's performances with such a hard act to follow.

However at the end of the regular season, Corica deserves a tick for negotiating a tough campaign and getting the Sky Blues to their third semi-final in three years and only one match away from the big one.

Steve Corica Sydney FC

The journey actually started off quite rocky, despite Le Fondre hitting the ground running in front of goal, with several key injuries in the opening months and a defeat in the FFA Cup final to Adelaide.

Trent Buhagiar, an acquisition from Central Coast who was earmarked to play alongside Le Fondre, was struck down by a season-ending knee injury and De Jong almost instantly began to be plagued by the same fitness issues that had cut short his promising career in Europe.

After starting the season with two wins and two draws, home defeats against Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix signalled warning signs for the Sky Blues under their new manager.

When Oriol Riera put the Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 up in the second derby of the campaign, the situation was starting to look significantly dire and it took a horrific brain fade and straight red card to red and black goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic to allow the Sky Blues to storm to a 3-1 victory.

It was around this time that Corica realised Van der Linden, who came from solid pedigree in the Dutch Eredivisie, was not the high-quality central defender he thought.

Despite the early setbacks, the new boss took the problems in his stride, getting almost-retired captain Alex Brosque to play some of the best football in his career and dealing with Van der Linden's shortcomings by introducing relatively inexperienced duo Aaron Calver and Ben Warland.

Corica has deployed utility Paulo Retre in a variety of positions including full-back, central midfield and attacking midfield to great effect with the Melbourne product producing easily the best football in his career no matter where he was stationed on the pitch.

Eyebrows were also raised when unwanted Melbourne City journeyman Anthony Caceres was signed in a position the Sky Blues look flushed with players, but the Manchester City-owned playmaker is currently displaying his most productive form and looms as a key cog of the upcoming finals series.

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It appears no Sydney FC player who was with the club last season has produced worse form under Corica - except Josh Brillante, who has been visibly shaky since having his head turned in South Korea's direction.

The likely return of Brosque and Michael Zullo from minor injuries means the Sky Blues will likely head into a semi final against Melbourne Victory or Melbourne City with a full complement of players.

However, Corica's season shouldn't be judged outright on that performance - with the aura of Arnold and injury hurdles overcome in a campaign that will have Sydney FC's head honchos full of confidence that they have made the right decision in the long term.

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