It’s the 10th anniversary of the A-League this season, and interest in football in Australia has never been stronger in the wake of a captivating World Cup in Brazil.
At the beginning of the A-League’s inception ten years ago, many thought the league would fail to make an impression in Australia’s diverse sporting landscape. However, 10 years later the A-League boasts record membership numbers and has begun to attract strong foreign talent to its shores. With the World Cup, upcoming Asian Cup and the recent success of the Western Sydney Wanderers in the Asian Champions League, the A-League is set to flourish once more this season.
The A-League requires each of its clubs to operate under a $2.55 million salary cap, creating equal footing between its clubs.
The season starts on the 10th of October and finishes on the 26th of May, and is played through the Australian summer. There are 27 rounds of the regular season, and the club at the top of the ladder at the conclusion of these matches is crowned the A-League Premiers and is awarded a place in the Asian Champions League. The competition also has a finals play-off series, which is contested by the top six teams at the conclusion of the regular season. The winners of the grand final are named the A-League champions and are awarded a place in the Asian Champions League.
Western Sydney Wanderers
After a dream run to the AFC Asian Champions League final, expect the Western Sydney Wanderers to hit the ground running in the A-League. Coached by the formidable Tony Popovic, the Wanderers are renowned for their tight defensive structure and counter attacking style of football. The club will be hoping that new fiery Brazilian import Vitor Saba remains injury free and firing in the no. 10 role. A lack of depth in midfield could be an issue for the Wanderers later in the season, as they attempt to manage their A-League and Asian Champions league commitments. However, under the helm of Tony Popovic Western Sydney should compete for silverware.
On paper, Melbourne Victory certainly boasts the strongest squad of the entire A-League. An improvement in their defensive stocks will be a welcome a sight for Victory fans, with the memory of consecutive 5-0 thrashings still fresh from last season. The signing of central defender Matthieu Delpierre will be a substantial upgrade on now retired Pablo Contreras. The versatility of Macedonian international Daniel Georgievski will provide great cover at both fullback positions. Coach Kevin Muscat achieved the coup of the A-League by signing goal scoring machine Besart Berisha, who could be serviced very well by Brazilian playmaker Gui Finkler. With the tantalising prospect of a Berisha-Finkler combination, expect Muscat to discard last season’s 4-2-2-2 formation for a 4-2-3-1 formation. Title favourites.
Sydney FC have disappointed for their last two seasons in the A-League, but will be looking to change that under the new management of the highly respected Graham Arnold. The departure of Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero is a blessing in disguise for the Sydney club, with a stronger focus on team unity surely to blossom under Graham Arnold. Sydney FC have an abundance of attacking talent, ranging from the exciting young talent of Corey Gamerio to the pedigree of Austrian international Marc Janko. The return of club legend Alex Brosque will exude positive results not only the pitch, but in the changing rooms too. The myriad of attacking talent means goals won’t be a problem for the Sydney club. If they can grind out more cleansheets than last season, expect the Sydney FC to challenge for top honours this time around.
In his first year on the job, coach Josep Gombau introduced a possession based, attacking brand of football to Adelaide United. It took a while for Gombau’s possession based philosophy to gel with his team, and as a result Adelaide’s form did not improve until the end of the A-League season. However, this year results are expected from Adelaide United. The quality of foreign players Marcelo Carrusca, Isaias and Fabio Ferreira gives Gombau little excuse for error. However, preseason results suggest that Adelaide United have honed their style of play significantly. Definitely the dark horse of the competition.
As last season’s Premiers and Champions, it is hard to suggest that Brisbane Roar won’t be in at least the top four again this season. Although the departure of talismanic striker Besart Berisha is a huge blow for the club, it is worth remembering that the Albanian was suspended and injured for a significant period during the Roar’s stellar season. The new signing of Adam Sarota, alongside last season regulars Luke Brattan, Matt McKay and Thomas Broich, solidifies Brisbane’s claim as one of the best midfields in the A-League. Led by Mike Mulvey, the team will certainly have a fair chance of the defending their titles.
With key players Adam Taggart and Josh Brillante pursuing greener pastures in Europe, new coach Phil Stubbins has had a challenge on his hands trying to replace their quality in the Newcastle Jets squad. Although they have had a surprising amount of activity in the transfer market, the Jets could struggle this season. Fan favourite Joel Griffiths and new signing Edson Montano will have to shoulder the responsibility of matching Taggart’s Golden Boot scoring form from last season, a feat which may seem unrealistic with the lack of depth in the Newcastle midfield. Unfortunately, it seems like the Jets are destined to finish on the bottom this season.
Central Coast Mariners
Financial issues and a lack of recruitment has caused many pundits to predict the Central Coast Mariners to struggle this season. However, nearly every season the Mariners defy expectations and compete strongly in the finals series. Recruitment for the Central Coast team has been lacking this off season, and a bad run of injuries could hamper the club significantly. Last season’s star attacking force Bernie Ibini will be a massive loss for the club, as he follows former Mariners coach Graham Arnold to Sydney FC. To compete this season, the Mariners will stick to a counter attacking system. The club seem destined for a mid-table finish.
Last season was a season to forget for Perth Glory, with controversy and turmoil behind the scenes hindering the club’s form last season. However, coach Kenny Lowe’s new two year deal has afforded the West Australian club some much needed stability. The Glory struggled in front of goal last season, and as a result have bolstered their attacking line-up. Irish international Andy Keogh and promising young midfielder Mitch Nichols are signings that could significantly improve their goal scoring ability. However, it is well documented that the Glory have to contend with a serious amount of travel. If the club can find some form away from home, they could easily find themselves with a place in the finals.
Formerly known as ‘Melbourne Heart’, the newly rebranded Melbourne City made headlines last year after the club was sold for $12 million to the cashed-up City Football Group. Suffice to say, an injection of funds was badly needed for the club after its horror run last season. The club have wasted no time in regenerating their squad, signing former English Premier League players Damien Duff and Robert Koren. David Villa will also join the club for a ten game guest stint, and is sure to dazzle the league. However, will it be enough? The club won only six of 27 matches last season, and need time to rebuild before they are serious contenders. Nevertheless, expect them to produce some exciting, attacking football.
The only New Zealand team in the competition, Wellington Phoenix have been poor in their last two seasons. They were the model of inconsistency last season, and coach Ernie Merrick desperately needs to prove he has the ability to take the Phoenix into the finals series. A lack of defensive signings could be a concern for the Phoenix, as last season saw them conceded 51 goals throughout the season – the worst in the A-League. Holding midfielder Albert Riera proved to be an asset for the Phoenix, and that shouldn’t change this season. With the amount of travel the Phoenix have to deal with, they will most likely occupy the lower half of the ladder.
Players to watch
All eyes will be on David Villa at the beginning of Round One, as Spain’s all-time, leading goal scorer commences his ten game guest stint with Melbourne City. Although his only in the A-League for a short time, the Spaniard will be sure to give A-League defences a torrid time while he is here.
Brisbane Roar’s marquee player Thomas Broich has performed outstandingly since he began his A-League career with the Roar in 2010, and will be one to watch again this season. In his youth, Broich was considered the next superstar in German football and previously played alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski for Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga. Broich predominantly operates on the left wing, but often drifts into the middle of the pitch. The German has an incredible passing range, and is likely to set up the majority of the Roar’s goals this season.
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