A-League season preview

10 October 2014

Written by: Callum Godde

Another A-League season is upon us, and once again it’s been an off-season of big signings, manager firings and hirings and ownership changes.

Here’s what you can expect to see from each side this season.

Adelaide United

Perhaps the biggest signing for Adelaide over the off-season was in the back rooms. Guillermo Amor, a former Barcelona player who was part of the development system at the Camp Nou, brings his knowledge to Adelaide where he becomes the Director of Football.

Amor will help instil the Barcelona style – something manager Josep Gombau has already modelled – of controlling possession and momentum in games to a higher degree.

With Jeronimo Neumann leaving for Newcastle, the Reds want Bruce Djite to stay out of the medical room and increase his output on the park, and also hope new signing Pablo Sanchez fires so to help cover the loss of Neumann’s scoring ability.

Craig Goodwin comes over from the Jets and brings plenty of speed, flair and excitement on the left flank.

Overview – Expect to see an improvement from Adelaide. They’ve had a great FFA Cup run and pre-season. Another season under Gombau means the ‘Barcadelaide’ project should be off and firing. Finals is definitely the target.

Brisbane Roar

The biggest issue facing Brisbane heading into the season is the departure of striker Besart Berisha. Controversial as he may be, his deadliness in front of goal was a large part of why they were so dangerous.

Mike Mulvey has introduced Macedonian striker Mensur Kurtisi as the replacement. He’s proven to be a capable scorer in Europe, but there’s still a lot to discover about him. He’s largely a wait-and-see project for the Roar.

Adam Sarota coming back completes arguably the best midfield trio in the competition with Luke Brattan and Matt McKay. Their ability to read the play and make the right pass will compliment Thomas Broich and Dimitri Petratos out wide.

Their young fullbacks need to take a step up in the absence of Ivan Franjic and to rotate an aging Shane Steffanutto. Corey Brown, James Donachie, Jack Hingert and Daniel Bowles will try claim either left or right back as their own.

Overview – It’s hard to see the Roar fading away. They’ll remain the team to beat, but other sides are catching up and the competition is levelling out. Goals may leak early on in the absence of the injured Michael Theo. Still, they’re favourites.

Central Coast Mariners

The Mariners: the team everyone writes off, the team that always exceeds expectations.

Their form seesawed last season, but the biggest issue for manager Phil Moss is finding a source of goals.

Their leading scorer, Bernie Ibini, netted a mere five times after arriving in January. He’s not in the team anymore. The next best was Marcos Flores (now at Newcastle) and Mile Sterjovski (retired) with three.

They scored the second fewest goals overall last season with 33.

Malick Mané is the only striker they’ve signed, so almost everything relies on he and Matt Simon to lead the line.

Richard Vernes comes in to cover the loss of both Michael McGlinchey and Marcos Flores – two of the most influential attacking midfielders seen in the A-League. By all reports Vernes is a special talent.

A lot rests on the shoulders of the young yet promising players like Mitchell Duke, Nick Fitzgerald and Anthony Caceres to help create and score.

Overview – Despite their scoring woes, they still managed to finish third and make the semi-finals last season. Their off-season sales outweigh their purchases. There is nothing to convince they’ll either succeed or fail. At this stage, it’s anyones guess.

Melbourne City

The remodelling of Melbourne City certainly doesn’t mean they’ll succeed instantly, but the inclusions of Damien Duff, Robert Koren and the ten game cameo from David Villa will give City what they lacked under the Heart name: a sharp edge and a genuine attacking threat.

Aaron Mooy and Erik Paartalu are smart signings and become the nucleus of the team from midfield, controlling matches.

There still remains issues in their defence, especially out wide.

Striker-cum-defender Jason Hoffman starts at right back, but left back is a Pandora’s box.

Jonatan Germano and Ben Garuccio are potential options, Connor Chapman could be pushed wide, while it seems Iain Ramsey plays on the left to cover for injuries in the opening weeks, despite being a winger.

Their goalkeeping stocks are arguably the weakest in the competition. Andrew Redmayne and Tando Velaphi haven’t been as convincing between the sticks as the senior goalkeepers of the league.

Overview – It’s a top-heavy side. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but a knock to one or two defenders and it’s back to scraping around for replacements like the Heart of old. The new owners want to win the championship, but they must focus on making the finals first. Wait and see if they sign another big name mid-season to replace Villa.

Melbourne Victory

Victory fans are heading into this season full of confidence.

Besart Berisha’s the headline act for the Victory. He’s the number nine they’ve wanted since Danny Allsopp left many seasons ago.

Melbourne conceded 43 goals last season, the second most in the league and the most of the finals teams. Mathieu Delpierre could be the missing number to the defensive equation and is a man with an imposing stature, while Daniel Georgievski adds UEFA Champions League experience to an otherwise young department of fullbacks.

Carl Valeri and Mark Milligan is a central midfield combination to make the mouth water.

Many are split over Archie Thompson. At soon-to-be 36 years of age, there are signs of him slowing down and losing his touch. A few bad performances would see his spot snapped up by Fahid Ben Khalfallah or Connor Pain; the latter of which had a big pre-season.

Kevin Muscat has a complete squad at his disposal, and a lot comes down to whether he has the ability as manager to take the squad all the way.

Overview – It’s a squad with depth in all departments, bar up front. If Berisha goes down, there’s not much to replace him with. As long as their defence isn’t sieve-like as it was last season, then they’ll have big hopes of winning the lot. No Champions League to contend with always helps in the long run.

Newcastle Jets

The road to A-League glory is a lot longer for the Jets than it is for other clubs.

Losing Golden Boot winner Adam Taggart hurts; he scored 16 goals last season. The next top scorer was own goals, meaning, apart from Taggart, other teams scored more for Newcastle than their own players did.

Jeronimo Neumann and Marcos Flores come in and they’ll be the ones the team revolves around in attack. Either can be used in any position across the front third.

Tim Cahill’s former New York teammate Johnny Steele adds drive in midfield after losing Josh Brillante.

There still remains doubt over the Jets. They’re the wooden spoon favourites, and there are questions about them that nobody has definitive answers to.

Can Ben Kantarovski hold midfield by himself? Can Joel Griffiths still find the net at 35 years of age? Who is new manager Phil Stubbins? And what can he bring to the table?

Overview – Their team looks decent on paper, but they aren’t being tipped for big things. Neumann, Steele and Flores must all play well in order for the Jets to be a threat. Edson Montano could be the point of difference. Keep an eye on Andrew Hoole as well.

Perth Glory

Undoubtedly the underdogs of the competition. The Glory have done heavy recruiting during pre-season.

Mitch Nichols comes into the team. He has been one of Australia’s most promising midfielders for several seasons and can spot a pass like no one else. Kenny Lowe has already described him as one of the most gifted talents he’s managed.

The main area Perth were deficient in is scoring. Just 28 goals were scored last campaign, the fewest overall. This season, they have duly addressed that problem with the signing of Andy Keogh.

A former Wolverhampton and Millwall striker, Keogh has found the net in almost every pre-season and FFA Cup match he’s played in, and he’s already firming as one of the best transfers of the competition this year.

The inclusions of Youssouf Hersi, Ruben Zadkovich and Richard Garcia adds some much needed experience to the otherwise young midfield and striker combinations of Chris Harold, Jamie Maclaren, Cameron Edwards and Daniel de Silva.

Overview – Their new buys provide a great mix of youth and experience, as well as depth. Expect the Glory to be the surprise packet of the league. And keep an eye on their youngsters – the Glory have the best youth stocks in the league. Finals is in their sights. Savour Daniel de Silva while you can, before he heads off to Roma.

Sydney FC

Sydney are another team ready to take giant leaps.

The biggest signing for them has been Graham Arnold. Arnold has seen great amounts of success in the A-League, and Sky Blues fans are praying he brings some of that to their club.

There’s no doubt Arnold is implementing an attacking agenda. The transfer of one of the A-League’s most prolific strikers, Shane Smeltz, as well as Bernie Ibini, Alex Brosque and Austrian captain Marc Janko would suggest that.

The midfield takes a big hit without Alessandro Del Piero. Terry Antonis and Chris Naumoff have shown frequent moments of exceptional ability, and are two of the A-League’s hottest young talents. They’ll be dealt the role of architects in midfield, but we’ll need to wait-and-see if they’re able to fill ADP’s boots.

The only area on the park that may be liable in is in goals. Vedran Janjetovic has shown in the past he is prone to the occasional howler and inexplicable flapping-of-the-arms at wrong moments.

Overview – Having Arnold at the helm helps. Aside from their great attacking options the team thins out once you look around the park, and especially when it comes to squad depth. They’ll rely on their young guys more than ever. They’re a chance for the top six, but could also just miss it. Keep tabs on Corey Gameiro; the kid eats goals for breakfast.

Wellington Phoenix

The biggest enigma of the A-League.

Wellington have shown in the past they have an incredible knack for not winning games, despite a deplorable home record of just three victories at ‘The Cake Tin’ last season.

They’ve signed one of the best midfielders in the competition in Michael McGlinchey who returns to his hometown. Wherever he goes, another dimension follows, and that’s what he’ll bring on the park.

Add the pace and goal sense of Nathan Burns, and the auspicious talent of Alex Rodriguez to compliment Albert Riera, and the Phoenix may just have one of the more dangerous midfields in the league.

It almost makes you forget they’ve lost Paul Ifill and Carlos Hernandez.

However, there could be one or two minor issues up front. Jeremy Brockie, although a noted goal scorer, might have to play as the out-and-out striker in the team now Stein Huysegems has left; a role he hasn’t had too often. Tyler Boyd could also fill the gaps.

Overview – Normally one of the underachievers of the league, this midfield is one of the better sets of players the Phoenix have possessed. Brockie needs to go berserk in front of goal. On the brink of finals, although the wheels are prone to falling off the wagon.

Western Sydney Wanderers

Tony Popovic and his squad are the team that keeps on giving.

They’ve made the final of the Asian Champions League, and the basic facts of this achievement confirms the Wanderers as the best team this side of Asia.

The problem for the other nine clubs in the A-League is, each week, one of them actually has to face the Wanderers. It’s like sending in one soldier at a time to fight a whole army.

What makes them so daunting is their ability to control games with almost any squad they put on the park. Oppositions aren’t able to take the foot off just because a few second-stringers are playing.

Losing players like Mooy, Hersi, Michael Beauchamp, Adam D’Apuzzo, Jerome Polenz and Shinji Ono would affect any team, but Popovic works with what he has and they do the jobs he wants them to do.

He has his men playing for the club. There is a difference between this and playing at the club.

Vitor Saba replaces Ono at the attacking pivot of the team, while Romeo Castelen, a player with Eredivisie experience, comes in for Hersi on the flanks.

There’s not much else to say about a well-oiled team except that they possess all the ingredients to produce something special.

Overview – They’ll look to finally go one further and win their first A-League title. One more good season for Tomi Juric and he should have a spot in the Socceroos squad for the Asian Cup sewn up. Grand Final success is definitely the target.

Jordan Kounelis is a first-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. Follow him on Twitter:@JordanKounelis