A-League Preview 2013/14

James Clark and Josh Bennett of The Football Sack preview the upcoming Hyundai A-League season.

Adelaide United

Will they be Red faced?

In a season blighted by the sudden resignation of coach John Kosmina, Adelaide were bundled out of the 2012-13 finals with barely a whimper against Brisbane Roar in week one. New Spanish coach Josep Gombau has taken the reins at the Reds and has gone about implementing a possession based mantra in pre-season. The former Barcelona youth mentor wants the Reds to play like the Catalan giants and has brought in two Spanish additions in Sergio Cirio and Isaias Sanchez to the squad.  Cirio will add some attacking flair on the flank with his pace, while Sanchez will provide stability in the heart of midfield. The acquisition of Steven Lustica is a coup for the Reds with his exceptional work rate and willingness to win the ball in midfield.

Returning Socceroo Michael Zullo is another bonus for Adelaide as he attempts to resurrect his career in the city of churches. The left back will provide an attacking threat with his exceptional pace and preparedness to overlap down the flank. Injuries in pre-season to strikers Bruce Djite and Jeronimo Neumann have left Adelaide’s attacking stocks limited and depth in this area will be a concern. The challenge for the reds is whether they can adapt to a different style of play in such a short period of time. A lack of quality in the front third is a worry and the Reds will be relying heavily on Argentinian Marcelo Carrusca for a creative spark. The loss of Dario Vidosic in pre-season is massive blow and leave the Reds without a genuine number 10. Goals will be hard to come by.

Key Player – Marcello Carrusca

The Argentine showed flashes of brilliance in his first season with Adelaide including a cracking long range effort against Wellington. But the midfielder too often drifted in and out of games and lacked the consistency needed as an import player. The loss of playmaker Vidosic means Carrusca must take more responsibility and assert his influence on games if the Reds are to make the finals. His class is unquestionable, but Gombau must get the most out of him for the Reds to be competitive.

United possess a quality squad and should be competitive, but lack a cutting edge up front. It will take time to adjust to a new style of football. Spanish imports Sergio Cirio and Isaias Sanchez need to fire for Adelaide to cause problems for opposition teams. Marcello Carrusca must step up from last season. The Reds to narrowly miss the finals.

Prediction – 7th

Brisbane Roar

In Mulvey we trust?

The Roar had an indifferent season in 2012-13 with managerial disruptions unhinging a smooth transition from the “Ange Era”. Mike Mulvey joined the group and has been meticulous in building a squad to emulate his successor. On paper the Roar team boasts seven internationals and a wealth of premiership winning talent at their disposal. They did struggle at times adapting to a new coaching method and style of play but as confidence grew so did success on the pitch. The Roar fans have been spoilt with silverware in previous seasons but the core group of loyal supporters have always remained long after the bandwagon pulled away from Milton Station. There is plenty of belief in the squad and if they can manage things at the back and continue with the entertaining style that Mulvey brings, then the turnstiles will again require a top-up of WD40 come finals time.  Good news that the “Slippery Fish” Henrique is fit and ready to carve up opposition defensive lines like a well-sharpened sashimi knife

Key Player –  Corey Brown

I know what you’re saying, “Who is Corey Brown?” but come the end of this season there will be plenty of pundits who will know who this young talent is. The local Brisbane boy has plenty of football credentials for his 19 years representing both the Joeys and Young Socceroos. Under the expert guidance of Socceroos Matt McKay and Jade North, Brown’s A League career promises to take off after debuting for the senior team towards the end of last season.  As a fast paced left back, Brown isn’t frightening to push forward when required and has staked his claims by bagging two goals in pre-season match ups against the Mariners and Sydney FC. It wont be hard to keep an eye out for this proud young red head as he compliments the colours of his chosen home kit.

Prediction – 2nd

Central Coast Mariners

Central Coast Mariners

Arnie…. “I’ll be back 2 back?”

After securing their first A-League Championship last season from their fourth attempt, it will be an uphill battle for the Mariners in season 2013-2014. The loss of key players including Matt Ryan, Pedj Bojic, Bernie Ibini and Patrick Zwaanswijk has made their quest for back to back titles all the more difficult. The return of club favourite Matt Simon up-front provides a giant boost and the Mariner’s faithful will be hoping he can strike a lethal partnership with last season’s top scorer Daniel McBreen. The acquisition of mercurial attacking midfielder Marcos Flores from Melbourne Victory will provide a spark in midfield and take pressure off Michael McGlinchey. The retirement of Zwaanswijk in the centre of defence is a huge blow and all eyes will be watching his countryman and new signing Marcel Seip and how he can fill the hole.  With the A-League’s best coach Graham Arnold at the helm, the Mariners will again be very competitive and their starting XI is still quality. Depth of the squad will be a problem as the season develops.

Key Player – Marcos Flores

The former Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory midfielder is one of the most exciting midfielders to have played in the A-League. The Argentinian struggled for consistency last season in Victory colours and found it difficult to cement a spot in the starting XI. His vision, silky dribbling ability and passing range led him to win the A-League’s player of the year in 2009-10 with Adelaide. If he can recapture that stunning form with the Central Coast, the Mariners are a chance of a top-two finish.

The loss of key players will hurt the Mariners, but Arnold is a master at maximising the potential of his squad. Central Coast will again be competitive and Matt Simon will provide an exceptional work rate up front. The big question is whether enigmatic midfielder Marcos Flores will fit into the Mariners structure and work alongside Michael McGlinchey in the centre of the park. Expect the Mariners to make top four but they could struggle to make an impact in the finals.

Prediction – 4th

Melbourne Heart

Do they have the ticker?

The expectation weighed on Melbourne Heart and their coach John Aloisi will be immense after a disappointing campaign last season. Harry Kewell makes his return to the A-League and will provide a spark to the Melbourne Derby which marks the start of the season. Victory fans are still seething after he signed with cross-town rivals and has been vocal in his desire to travel with the Socceroos to Brazil. The only way he will join his mates aboard a QF flight to South America is goals and plenty of them. Aziz Behich also returns to AAMI Park on loan from his Turkish Club Bursapor and will relish regular pitch time after appearing only twice for his adopted Super Lig club. The pre-season hasn’t been kind so far with giant marque signing Orlando Engelaar breaking his leg in a mishap against the Brisbane Roar. The stocks however were boosted with the late signing of experienced Maltese international Michael Mifsud.

Key Player – Michael Mifsud

Michael Mifsud should be at the centre of the Heart’s attack with his speed and goal-scoring prowess. His vast experience should combine well with Kewell and the Heart youth talent on show. Mifsud is nearing 100 games and has 37 goals for his country, and his strike rate continues we can expect to see his name grace the score sheet regularly this season. If the Heart can start the season positively and keep a healthy confidence within the squad then anything is possible. Early markets have the Heart as equal favourties with the Phoenix for the wooden spoon, however with their quality up front and a strong work ethic they are better than that, but only just.

Prediction: 9th

Melbourne Victory

Are they ready to Roar with Ange?

The A-League’s biggest club struggled for consistency last season and a spate of injuries forced Ange Postecoglou to promote a number of youth players to the first team. The team struggled to adapt to Postecoglou’s up-tempo style of play early in the season and conceded too many goals as a result of silly mistakes. A third place finish in hindsight was a terrific return for the victory, thanks largely to A-League player of the year Marco Rojas. The loss of Rojas and Marcos Flores are big blows, but Victory have made some astute signings in Mitch Nichols, James Troisi and Kosta Barbarouses.

Their problematic defence has also been bolstered with the signing of experienced Chilean international Pablo Contreras as their marquee player. The 35-year old centre-back has represented his country on 66 occasions and should provide much needed stability at the back for the Victory. The Iridescent Archie Thompson will again lead the line for the victory and will be ably supported by Barbarouses and Troisi in the front third. If captain Mark Milligan and Guilherme Finkler fire in midfield, the quality is there to fire them to a top-two finish. The youthful looking squad should execute Postecoglou’s up-tempo possession based football to a tee and there is enough experience to ensure they remain consistent. Top Four is a minimum.

Key Player – Mark Milligan  

Unquestionably Victory’s most consistent player last year and his standout performances have propelled him to the Socceroos starting XI. Milligan is the heartbeat of Melbourne’s team and his leadership is vital to ensuring a young and talented squad remains consistent on a weekly basis. His combativeness and willingness to win the ball in midfield are his strongest attributes, but his passing range should not be underestimated. A real leader who inspires his team mates with his work ethic.

Ange Postecoglou has assembled an exciting young squad coupled with some quality-experienced players. The attacking third of the pitch is exciting for victory fans and there is more depth in midfield this time around. Contreras at the back provides the experience and stability which were lacking last year. Another pre-season adapting to Postecoglou’s mantra will shape Victory as genuine title contenders.

Prediction – 1st

Heskey Jets

Newcastle Jets

In a holding pattern or ready for take-off?

It is pressure time for the Newcastle Jets and their coach Gary van Egmond this season. Fans and club officials will demand nothing less than a finals berth. The test will be on the back four, with not too much top-flight experience there to keep the likes of Mark Birighitti quiet in the box. The huge loss of Emile Heskey after a spiteful pre-season clash with Melbourne Victory has left the forward line lacking in attacking options.  If young talent James Brown can get his “groove-thang” back on and put his injury woes in the past, he could be a fantasy league bargain buy.

Last season consistency proved be their kryptonite after an impressive start where they beat the likes of Sydney FC, Central Coast and Melbourne Victory on the trot. From then on their season never got going and were beaten by many of the weaker teams in the competition. Intensity and playing the game out for the entire 90mins will a priority for Van Egmond. Ben Kennedy returns to the squad but will find the going tough to dislodge Birighitti from the number one sport after his impressive stats and five clean sheets saw him debut in a thrilling 4-3 game for Socceroos senior side against China in the East Asian Football Cup.

Key Player –  Nathan Burns

Nathan Burns joined the Jets on loan from his Koren Club Incheon United but it is understood the terms could be extended which could be a positive move in the lead up to next year’s World Cup in Brazil. For now Burns will be looking at cementing his spot and ensuring he plays an important role in creating as many goals on the sheet for his new team. It will be a big change from the hustle and bustle of Seoul back to Newcastle, but the weather and relaxed lifestyle could be just what is needed to get Burns in a winning frame of mind. Newcastle should be a competitive outfit this season but will need to lift their intensity and mostly depend on the skills of Ruben Zadkovich to get them over the line each week. Other squad members need to step up this season and stamp their own mark on a club that has been in a final drought since 2009-10.

Prediction – 6th

Perth Glory

What’s the story?

The Glory have gone about a massive style shift under manager Alistair Edwards since his appointment last season.  Despite their poor showing, which ultimately decided the fate of Ian Ferguson after five successive losses in Round 20, the Glory still managed a credible sixth place, only one shy of Brisbane Roar on the ladder. The Glory’s geographical position on the continent can place them at a distinct disadvantage to the many clubs placed on the Eastern seaboard. The travel demands placed on the players and officials could always be used as an excuse for poor performances but not under Edwards. They do have a poor travelling record with a win percentage of only 21% when they play away from nib Stadium.

Shane Smeltz will be looking to improve on last year’s goal tally of seven. For the Glory to make the finals this season they need to improve on one statistic, goals! In season 2012-13, they finished with the lowest goals “for” record and hitting the net on average 1.07 times per game compared with the Mariners very impressive 1.76.  In a positive sign for the club their new home and away kits turned plenty of heads at a recent launch. Purple is seriously coming into fashion in big way in the West and all the hipsters will be seen in the Glory gear over the summer.

Key Player –  Shane Smeltz

In his third season for the Glory Smeltz will be hoping to team with other key forwards and mid-fielders to improve under new boss Alistair Edwards. The Glory’s long ball game looks to be a thing of the past and the football public will be interested to see if the long off-season has paid dividends. Plenty of praise has been heaped on youngster Daniel De Silva but the question is will he see more game time this season or will a what a see approach be adopted. Ideally he will work well coming off the bench as an impact player, but his certainly has the X-Factor that could help Glory develop their new model of play. We would love to see them improve on last year but a lack of depth and firepower may jut see them slip further down the ladder. Hopefully we’re proven wrong.

Prediction – 8th

Del Piero Sydney

Sydney FC

aka ADP FC

With the hype surrounding the signing of Alessandro Del Piero, the Sky Blues struggled for consistency in a spluttering campaign last season. The Italian maestro regularly produced moments of brilliance for Sydney, but was too often fighting a lonely battle up front. After shedding a number of players, the Sydney have recruited well with the likes of Richard Garcia, Corey Gameiro, Pedj Bojic and Nicky Carle returning from his loan. They have shored up a leaky back line with the signing of Nikola Petkovic from Red Star Belgrade and Matt Jurman from Brisbane Roar. There appears a more balanced look to the outfit this season and the front third oozes class with Del Piero, Carle and Garcia.  Goal scoring should not be a problem for the perennial powerhouse, but consistency and settling on their best defensive outfit will provide their biggest challenge.

Key Player – Alessandro Del Piero

Unquestionably the best player to have graced the A-League, Del Piero will again be key to Sydney’s fortunes again this season. After top scoring for the club with 14 last season, Sky Blue fans will be hoping to see more of the same from the Italian superstar. His dribbling and ability to beat defenders is a nightmare for opposition teams.  ADP is a genuine two-footed player who scores spectacular goals at will and is a match-winner.

Responsibility will need to lift to match the class of their captain if they are to challenge for the top four. Sydney FC will be much improved this season and boast a squad capable of beating any opponent on the day. Consistency and putting back-to-back wins together will be their ultimate challenge, but on paper should make an appearance in the final series.

Prediction – 5th

Wellington Phoenix

The only way is up!

The Phoenix has it all to do this season but a side boasting plenty of years in experience you never know what will transpire. With the departure of Ricki Herbert late into a disappointing season that delivered them the wooden spoon, new manager Ernie Merrick arrives with plenty of expectation for success. Merrick should deliver a more attacking outfit than seasons past particularly with the addition of star striker Carlos Hernandez. Word on the street is that Hernandez has shed a few keggers in the pre-season, which is good news for Nix fans. He has been responsible for some of the most jaw dropping strikes in the past and if he can team with the likes of Paul Ifil, they will worry plenty of quality defensive lines in the league.

The biggest statistical failure that has always dogged Wellington’s ultimate success is their ability to win away from Westpac Stadium. The cake tin is a happy hunting ground but it’s not New Zealand but Australia that is their real life shaky isles. In 79 away games they have an appalling win loss record in only winning 16 games and losing 49. Merrick will know this and will summon his entire managerial to turn this record around. Early results in the pre-season fixtures have been mixed, but form lines are always hard to read into when the starting X1 is continually tinkered with.

Key Player – Jeremy Brockie

Brockie’s return home after his loan to MLS side Toronto FC will be just what doctor ordered for Phoenix Manager Ernie Merrick. Last season was one to forget for the club but Brockie was the shining light finishing second in the league’s Golden Boot battle with 16 goals.  There is no doubting his class but it is the cattle behind him that will ultimately decide his team’s fate this season. It is another huge test this season for the Phoenix and results need to improve markedly to taste any form of success, but stranger things have happened.

Prediction – 10th, Wooden Spoon

Western Sydney Wanderers

They love to go a Wandering…

The league’s new boys far exceeded everyone’s expectations last season winning the premiership and qualifying for the grand final in their first year. Most expect the Wanderers to suffer from second-season syndrome and struggle this year, but don’t count on it. Tony Popovic has proved himself as a top class manager and his ruthless nature will ensure the Wanderer’s remain a force in the league. Popovic’s man-management skills and ability to get the best out of his players ensures his team will be hard to beat again this season. The core of last season’s squad remains for this campaign, but they have added some attacking quality with the signing of Tomi Juric and former Sky Blue favourite Brendan Santalab.

The Wanderers will again be extremely well organised in defence by Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Michael Beauchamp – with the team conceding a league best 21 goals last season. The attacking third is more potent this season with mobile centre forward Tomi Juric leading the line with Mark Bridge, but expect Shinji Ono and the impressive Aaron Mooy to pull the strings in midfield again this season. Hersi and Santalab will provide spark on the flanks. WSW will be hard to be break down and their front third looks more potent. Top four beckons.

Key Player – Shinji Ono

Ono struggled to find his feet early on last season, but when he did he was breathtaking to watch. His juggling goal against Melbourne Victory last season was one of the best goals in A-League history and backed it up with a sublime chip in the 2-0 win over Brisbane in the preliminary final. His technical ability is world-class and provides the creative spark to unlock opposition defences. Like Del Piero, Ono can win a game with his own two feet.  Expect goals and plenty of assists from the Japanese ‘genius’.

Not too much will change with the Wanderers – defensive structure and work rate are keys to Tony Popovic’s side. Tomi Juric will provide more goals than his predecessor (Dino Kresinger) and Santalab adds another dimension to an already strong midfield. With Shinji Ono and Aaron Mooy pulling the strings in midfield it is hard to see the Wanderers dropping too much from last season. Will again be hard to beat and difficult to break down. Top Four.

Prediction – 3rd

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