A-League Preview: Week 1

5 August 2010

Written by: Evan Harding

It has been a long wait but finally season six of the Hyundai A-League is about to begin. With new coaches, new players and a new team, there has been a major transformation in the offseason. Week 1 sees some cracking games including the debuting Melbourne Heart kicking off its campaign at home against the Central Coast Mariners, a grand final rematch and a Queensland derby.

Melbourne Heart v Central Coast Mariners

Thursday 5 August, 7.30pm AEST, AAMI Park, Melbourne

The A-League’s new boys, Melbourne Heart, get the honour of hosting the opening match of the 2010/11 A-League season against a Central Coast Mariners side desperate to atone for a disappointing end to last season, which saw them fade to eighth in the table following a very promising start. Heart coach John Van ’t Schip has publicly stated that he wants his team ‘to play beautiful football,’ so it will be fascinating to see whether this ethos will be in force for the crucial encounter or whether he will be happy to just take the three points. Central Coast has had a major shakeup in the off season replacing foundation coach Lawrie McKinna with ex-Socceroos assistant Graham Arnold. He has bought in highly rated imports Patrick Zwaanswijk and Patricio Pérez and how quickly they adapt will have a major bearing as to how the Mariners will perform. They come into the encounter in good form, having been unbeaten in ten trial matches. However, with quality players all over the park such as Josip Skoko, Simon Colosimo, Michael Beauchamp and John Aloisi the Heart should be a match for any team in the competition, and should be able to sneak over the line for a narrow victory.

Team News: Apart from injuries to John Aloisi and Kristian Sarkies the Heart have a full strength squad from which to choose.  For the Mariners, defender Josh Rose is still waiting for an international transfer clearance.

Prediction: Melbourne Heart 2-1 Central Coast Mariners


Adelaide United v Newcastle Jets

Friday 6 August, 8pm AEST, Hindmarsh Stadium, Adelaide

Last season was a truly miserable campaign for the South Australians, finishing with the wooden spoon and scoring a paltry 24 goals. In order to try and avoid a repeat, the club’s first bit of business in the transfer market was to snap up striker Sergio Van Dijk who scored 25 goals in two seasons with the Brisbane Roar. Adelaide also has a new man in the dugout. Dutchman Rini Coolen was appointed only a month ago to replace Aurelio Vidmar who has become the new Socceroos assistant, so it will be interesting to gauge whether Coolen has made any tweaks to its style of play. The Newcastle Jets have had some major player movement in the off season. Both skipper Matt Thompson and star Korean playmaker Song Jin-Hyung left for greener pastures, but this has been offset by the returns from Europe of Kasey Wehrman and Ruben Zadkovich along with new imports Marcello Fiorentini and Zhang Shuo. The Jets surprised many last season by making the finals, including a stunning semi final win over Gold Coast United in a penalty shootout and if star striker and newly installed skipper Michael Bridges fires they may just be up there again. It should be a close encounter, as they are two sides that do not have the best of defensive records, so expect plenty of goals.

Team News: Both teams should be close to full strength

Prediction: Adelaide United 3-2 Newcastle Jets


Perth Glory v North Queensland Fury

Friday 6 August, 10pm AEST, NIB Stadium, Perth

A lot of the build up to this match has centred upon North Queensland’s former marquee player Robbie Fowler and coach Ian Ferguson squaring off against their former team. Owner Tony Sage has put a lot of money into the club and said ‘nothing less than a top six finish is acceptable’, so the pressure is on Perth to finally deliver what it has struggled to do so far in the A-League. Following an offseason of total upheaval, the Fury is probably just relieved to be able to go out on the field and let its football do the talking. The Fury announced a massive coup in luring ex-Czech Republic coach Franz Straka to the club and he will need all his tactical nous to ensure the club does not get widely predicted wooden spoon. This game will be won and lost in North Queensland’s defensive half. Perth has added Fowler to an already burgeoning striking arsenal that also includes the likes of Mile Sterjovski and Branko Jelic while the Fury, who conceded the most goals last season, have completely changed its back four.  At home Perth should be very tough to beat and the Fury will certainly be happy with a point.

Team News: Perth will be without the services of central defenders Andy Todd and Chris Coyne through injury, while Michael Baird and Josh Mitchell are waiting for international transfer clearances. North Queensland will be without skipper Ufuk Talay and André Kilian through injury, while Ugandan recruit Eugene Sseppuya is awaiting a visa.

Prediction: Perth Glory 3-0 North Queensland Fury


Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory

Saturday 7 August, 7.30pm AEST, Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney

We do not have to wait long for what shapes up to be one of the matches of the season between last year’s grand finalists and bitter rivals Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory. These two sides have played some cracking matches in the history of the A-League and last season’s title decider was no exception; Sydney winning in a penalty shootout. The Sky Blues head into the new campaign with a big turnover of personnel with the likes of Karol Kisel, Simon Colosimo, Clint Bolton and John Aloisi having left the club, but in the likes of Liam Reddy, Scott Jamieson and Nick Carle the replacements are more than adequate. On the other hand, the Victory has had very little turnover in their squad, with coach Ernie Merrick seemingly happy with the squad he has at his disposal. The game is likely to hinge on the battle between the creative geniuses of both sides, Nicky Carle of Sydney and Carlos Hernandez of Melbourne. Carle is one of Australia’s most talented midfielders, back in the A-League after a spell in England with Crystal Palace and has a point to prove. Meanwhile Hernandez, who was often criticised when he first joined the club, is the reigning Johnny Warren Medal winner as A-League MVP. Neither side will want to give up any psychological advantage to the other, so expect a close encounter.

Team News: Sydney head into the encounter at close to full strength, while the Victory has Archie Thompson and Matthew Kemp out with long-term knee injuries.

Prediction: Sydney FC 1-1 Melbourne Victory


Gold Coast United v Brisbane Roar

Sunday 8 August, 3pm AEST, Skilled Park, Gold Coast

The first Queensland derby of the season brings together two sides that simply do not like each other. Gold Coast United coach Miron Bleiberg has publicly said that ‘matches against the Roar (which he coached for two and a half seasons) are worth ten points’. Last year he got his wish with the boys from the glitter strip winning all three encounters including a 3-1 away victory in the club’s inaugural game. As for Brisbane, coach Ange Postecoglou is embarking on his first full year as coach and has engineered a massive clearout of players in order to try and obtain the right formula. Gone are the experienced heads of Craig Moore, Danny Tiatto, Liam Reddy and Charlie Miller, while whiz kid Tommy Oar has moved to FC Utrecht in the Netherlands. The players arriving include premiership-winning goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos, German midfielder Thomas Broich and returning youngsters Erik Paartalu and Rocky Visconte. Gold Coast has been boosted by the news of star striker Shane Smeltz staying with the club after his proposed move to Chinese club Shangdong Luneng fell through. His goalscoring ability combined with an excellent midfield should be enough for Gold Coast to comfortably get the points.

Team News: Both teams should be at full strength.

Prediction: Gold Coast United 2-0 Brisbane Roar

John Takemura is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.