Sydney FC coach Steve Corica has expressed concern that his side will head into the finals series with a lack of edge after wrapping up top spot with four matches to play.
The Sky Blues turned in an uncharacteristically low-key performance on Saturday, in their first match since being declared premiers, as Melbourne City collected a well-deserved 2-0 win.
Despite playing their first match in more four months, City looked in prime condition from the outset at ANZ Stadium.
City outplayed the Premiers Plate winners and could easily have been at least two goals in front by halftime, but instead had to settle for second-half strikes from Craig Noone and Jamie Maclaren.
The Sky Blues have three regular season matches and nearly a month to wait until more meaningful encounters in the finals as they seek to retain their title.
"We don't want to switch off now and lose three or four games in a row and then go into the semi-final under done," Corica said.
"The big picture is the grand final as well, so we need to be ready for that."
Sydney have been a shadow of their usual dominant selves since the enforced mid-season break, opening with a fortunate 3-1 win over Wellington Phoenix.
The loss to City was preceded by a defeat to Newcastle Jets and marks consecutive losses for the reigning champions for the first time since April 2018.
"We don't want to lower our standards, we have high standards at the club and we want to be motivated," Corica said.
"I know it is difficult when there's no crowd in the stadium as well, because these players like to play in front of big-ish crowds so that is a motivation as well, but these can be excuses and we can't rely on that.
"We've won the premiership which is fantastic, and full credit should go to these boys, but we can't play like that and expect to win games.
"We're not playing to structure at times, which, you know, I need to fix."
The result has City well-placed to lock up a top-two finish - three points clear of third-placed Phoenix with just two matches remaining for both sides.
Australian Associated Press