The new A-League season is just about upon us, with action getting underway on Friday, October 6.
As we count down to the return of top-flight Australasian football, Commentary Box Sports casts an eye over the 10 teams and how things shape up for the 2017-18 campaign.
After narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon in their title defence year last season, Adelaide will be eyeing a huge improvement this time around, despite a number of big-name players departing the club.
Veteran keeper Eugene Galekovic leaves, but in his place Adelaide welcome back Paul Izzo, who was a revelation in the net for the Central Coast last year, scooping their Player of the Year award.
The creative presence of Marcelo Carrusca will be missed as well, but Adelaide’s major improvements will centre on their work off the ball.
The key to success: They need to make a positive start to the season and build early confidence. Last year Adelaide didn’t pick up a victory through the first eight games, and it meant they were always on the back foot and doubting themselves.
Big stat: United kept a clean sheet only five times in the 2016-17 season.
Ins: Paul Izzo (Central Coast Mariners), George Blackwood (Sydney FC) , Ersan Gulum (Hebei China Fortune), Johan Absalonsen (SonderjyskE), Vince Lia (Wellington Phoenix), Karim Matmour (1860 Munich), Nathan Konstandopoulos (Brisbane Roar).
Outs: Dylan McGowan (Pacos Ferreira), George Mells (unknown), Sergio Cirio (UD Ibiza), John Hall (Wanderers), Jesse Makarounas (released), Eugene Galekovic (Melbourne City), Kim Jae-sung (Jaennam Dragons), Marcelo Carrusca (released) , Iacopo La Rocca (Melbourne City), Riley McGree (Club Brugge).
Predicted finish: Will improve from last year but just miss out on a finals berth – 7th.
The best goal that never was.
Check out this rabona attempt from @AdelaideUnited‘s Karim Matmour.
— Hyundai A-League (@ALeague) September 13, 2017
The caliber of talent the Roar have lost ahead of this season is unmatched in the A-League, with the magician that is Thomas Broich gone and arguably the A-League’s best forward in Jamie Maclaren also departing.
It marks a changing of the guard in Brisbane, but coach John Aloisi has managed to bring some quality in as well, with Fahid Ben Khalfallah a strong performer for Victory last season and striker Corey Gameiro a player of huge promise who has had a torrid run with injuries.
The Roar should have another successful season and it would be surprising if they aren’t playing beyond the regular season.
The key to success: Finding a way to play without the luxury of a versatile forward like Maclaren, who last year got them out of some tight spots with his individual brilliance. Sharing the load and adapting their style will become a major factor.
Big stat: Brisbane have lost both their leading 2016-17 goal scorer (Maclaren 19 goals regular season) and two leading assist men (Tommy Oar and Broich on five assists).
Ins: Fahid Ben Khalfallah (Melbourne Victory), Corey Gameiro (Melbourne City)
Massimo Maccarone (Empoli), Mitchell Oxborrow (Perth Glory), Emilio Martinez (Western Sydney Wanderers).
Outs: Thomas Broich (unknown), Brandon Borrello (FC Kaiserslautern), Jamie Maclaren (SV Darmstadt), Manuel Arana (released), Cameron Crestani (released), Joey Katebian (released), Nathan Konstandopoulos (released), Tommy Oar (APOEL), Kye Rowles (Mariners).
Predicted finish: Will be in the group of the next best teams after FC and Victory, fighting for third position – 5th.
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
The Mariners dodged the wooden spoon by a single point last year, and were in that spot due in large to an awful middle part of the season where they lost eight games in a row.
They should benefit from a full pre-season under coach Paul Okon, but with their current roster it’s hard to see them challenging for a finals berth at this stage.
The key to success: Reducing the gap between their best and worst. Last year the Mariners had a number of games where they didn’t look far off being a play-off team, the big problem was that on their bad days, they were terrible.
Big stat: Central Coast gave up three or more goals in a game on 10 occasions last year.
Ins: Tom Hiariej (FC Groningen), Alan Baro (Melbourne Victory), Antony Golec (Bucheon FC 1995), Daniel De Silva (Roda JC), Wout Brama (FC Utrecht), Asdrubal (Las Palmas), Andrew Hoole (Newcastle Jets), Ben Kennedy (Newcastle Jets), Kye Rowles (Brisbane Roar), Josh Rose (Melbourne City), Tom Glover (Tottenham Hotspur).
Outs: Paul Izzo (Adelaide), Roy O’Donovan (Jets), Fabio Ferreira (PKNS), Ivan Necevski (released), Nick Montgomery (retired), Jacob Poscoliero (Glory), Jacques Faty (released), Scott Galloway (released), Mickael Tavares (released), Michael Neill (released), Jake Adelson (released).
Predicted finish: Hard to see Central Coast improving too much this year and they haven’t recruited that well either – 9th.
— #CCMFC (@CCMariners) September 13, 2017
After winning the FA Cup last season, City ultimately felt short of their ultimate goal in the A-League, but there’s plenty of reason to believe they can be among the best this time around.
Fourth last year, their squad has only improved, with the arrival of Marcelo Carrusca set to bolster their already impressive attack, and Scott Jamieson and Iacopo La Rocca sure to strengthen up the defensive front.
The key to success: Finding some consistency and stringing results together. It will build confidence and allow them to go to another level as a squad.
Big stat: Melbourne City never got on a run of any kind last year, at no stage stringing the same result (a win, loss or draw) together for more than two matches in a row.
Ins: Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide United), Scott Jamieson (ITK Goteborg), Iacopo La Rocca (Adelaide United), Bart Schenkeveld (PEC Zwolle), Stefan Mauk (NEC), Connor Metcalfe (promoted), John Roberts (promoted), Ramy Najjarine (promoted).
Outs: Corey Gameiro (Roar), Steve Kuzmanovski (released), Josh Rose (released), Nicolas Colazo (loan ends), Thomas Sorensen (unknown), Paulo Retre (Sydney), Ivan Franjic (Daegu FC).
Don’t know much about @chelocarrusca? Here’s a video and article to bring you up to speed!
— Melbourne City FC (@MelbourneCity) September 13, 2017
Predicted finish: City weren’t far off last year and they have recruited brilliantly. Should be a better team in 2017-18 – 3rd.
Easily the second-best team in an A-League season dominated by Sydney FC last up, Melbourne had a balanced side who thrilled in attack and were consistently tough in defence.
Well coached and with a culture of success, there’s no reason to think the Victory won’t be among the top two sides again this time around.
The key to success: Finding a way to generate goals without Marco Rojas, who accounted for 52 scoring chances and set up 11 of their goals last year. They have the talent to do it, it’s just a matter of adjusting to new styles.
Big stat: The Victory lost only three of 14 regular season matches at home last year, with Melbourne being a real fortress for Kevin Muscat’s side.
Ins: Rhys Williams (Perth Glory), Thomas Deng (PSV), Kosta Barbarouses (Wellington Phoenix), Mark Milligan (Bani Yas), Matias Sanchez (Temperley).
Outs: Marco Rojas (SC Heerenveen), Daniel Georgievski (Jets), Rashid Mahazi (retired), Fahid Ben Khalfallah (Roar), Nick Ansell (CD Tondela), Alan Baro (Mariners), Alastair Bray (released), George Howard (released), Lucas Spinella (released), James Troisi (unattached).
Predicted finish: Comfortably the second best team in the competition last year, Victory shape as the main rivals for Sydney FC once again – 2nd.
It’s official … welcome @LeroyGeorge_NL to the Victory family!
— Melbourne Victory (@gomvfc) September 16, 2017
Much like their NRL side, the Newcastle Jets have endured a tough run of late as the A-League’s cellar-dwellers.
With a new coach in Ernie Merrick and a host of new playing talent, there is at least some cause for hope in the Hunter, and the signing of Irish forward Roy O’Donovan and keeper Glen Moss at the other end are big for them
The key to success: Developing some resilience in defence is what it’s all about for the Jets. They need to find a way to stop so many goals hitting the back of the net at their end, and if they can’t, it’s unlikely things will improve at all.
Big stat: Newcastle leaked the most goals in the A-League last season, with their 53 goals against being more than Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory’s combined goals against tally (43).
Ins: Daniel Georgievski (Melbourne Victory), Roy O’Donovan (Central Coast Mariners), Kosta Petratos (Perth Glory), Glen Moss (Wellington Phoenix), Dimitri Petratos (Ulsan Hyundai), Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Hatta Club), Mario Shabow (Western Sydney Wanderers), Jake Adelson (Central Coast Mariners).
Outs: Andrew Hoole (Mariners), Iain Fyfe (released), Morten Nordstrand (unknown), Joel Allwright (Adelaide City), Labinot Haliti (released), Ben Kennedy (released), Ma Lei Lei (released), Daniel Mullen (released), Prio Nielsen (released), Mateo Poljak (released), Tomislav Arcaba (released), Kristian Brymora (unknown), Aleksandr Kokko (Eastern SC).
Predicted finish: If they have a good run with injuries they are certainly capable of putting together a few more wins than last year, but may end up in a battle closer to the foot of the table – 10th.
The key to success: Sorting out their defence. Perth scored more goals than any team bar Sydney FC last year, but despite finishing fifth had the equal-worst defensive record in the entire A-League, giving up almost two goals every game on average.
Big stat: In 27 regular season games last year the Glory failed to score a goal in just three games. Their attack was hot in 2016-17, averaging just under two a game.
Ins: Andreu (Aris), Xavi Torres (Sporting Gijon), Mitch Nichols (Western Sydney Wanderers), Scott Neville (Western Sydney Wanderers), Jacob Poscoliero (Central Coast Mariners), Jake Brimmer (Liverpool), Joe Knowles (promoted).
Outs: Dino Djulbic (released), Kosta Petratos (Jets), Richard Garcia (retired), Josh Risdon (Wanderers), Aryn Williams (released), Rhys Williams (Victory), Lucian Goian (released), Nebojsa Marinkovic (released), Mitchell Oxborrow (released), Jordan Thurtell (released).
Predicted finish: Have a talented roster and if they can address their issues without the ball in defence they can be a real contender this year – 4th.
All-conquering last year, Sydney FC head back to defend their title with mostly the same squad which was near untouchable in 2016-17.
The front office has done some amazing work to retain most of their frontline talent, with star keeper Danny Vukovic and striker Bernie Ibini their only major losses.
Everyone will be out to get them, but FC have enough talent to do it all it again 12 months on.
The key to success: Not getting carried away with last year or living off the former glory. After such an amazing campaign last up, it could be a test to get themselves into a new campaign and still want to be better.
Big stat: FC set a new single season record for the most points earned with 66 last season. It was one of many records they broke, including setting a new unbeaten run of 19 straight games.
Ins: Adrian Mierzejewski (Al Sharjah), Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow), Alex Cisak (Leyton Orient), Paulo Retre (Melbourne City), Anthony Kalik (Hajduk Split).
Outs: Riley Woodcock (Sydney United), Bernie Ibini (Vancouver Whitecaps), Filip Holosko (released), George Blackwood (released), George Timotheou (Sydney Olympic), Danny Vukovic (Genk), Bai Antoniou (released), Milos Dimitrijevic (released).
Predicted finish: The only potential stumbling block for this mob is losing Vukovic. Other than that, they look just as strong as 2016-17 and are overwhelming favourites to win it again – 1st.
New coach, new players and maybe new hope in Wellington.
The Nix showed enough to suggest they can do something in this competition last year, but need to find some consistency, with back-to-back wins being their longest streak at any stage last season.
The key to success: Making home a fortress. It’s a given that winning on the road is always going to be tough for the Phoenix, which they can overcome if they win the majority of their games on New Zealand soil. That wasn’t the case last year with only five wins from 14 at home.
Big stat: Wellington spent 20 of the 27 rounds last year either inside or within two places of the top six, but in the end finished six points outside of the play-offs.
Ins: Dario Vidosic (Seongnam), Andrija Kaludjerovic (Port), Scott Galloway (Mariners), Goran Paracki (Istra), Daniel Mullen (Newcastle Jets), Ali Abbas (Pohang Steelers), Sarpreet Singh (promoted).
Outs: Roly Bonevacia (Wanderers), Shane Smeltz (Pusamania Borneo), Jacob Tratt (released), Ben Liftin (released), Glen Moss (Jets), Alex Rodriguez (Boavista), Kosta Barbarouses (Victory).
Predicted finish: Have probably lost more talent than they have been able to bring in for this season, but if they can make a good start there’s reason to believe Wellington can contend for a top-six spot. If not, it’s going to be more pain for their long-suffering fans – 8th.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS
The Wanderers were at the centre of one of most stunning bombshells in A-League history of Sunday as coach Tony Popovic sensationally announced his departure. Hayden Foxe has taken over in a caretaker capacity.
After scraping into the finals last year, Wanderers were perhaps a little unlucky not to have gone further.
While they struggled to score goals, with nine games where they went scoreless, their defence was excellent and if they turn up with that again, Western Sydney are good enough to play through the post-season.
The key to success: Replicating their defensive effort from last year. Averaging only 1.3 goals against, Western Sydney had the third-best defensive record in the competition.
Big stat: No team had more draws last year than the Wanderers (12), and including the finals they had three separate blocks where they drew three games in a row.
Ins: Oriol Riera (Deportivo La Coruna), Alvaro Cejudo (Betis), Roly Bonevacia (Wellington Phoenix), Chris Herd (Gillingham), Mark Bridge (Chiangrai United), Raul Llorente (Platanias), Josh Risdon (Perth Glory), Michael Thwaite (Liaoning Whowin), John Hall (Adelaide United), Marc Tokich (Centre of Excellence).
— WS Wanderers FC (@wswanderersfc) September 10, 2017
Outs: Ryan Griffiths (released), Shannon Cole (released), Mario Shabow (Jets), Scott Neville (Perth), Dimas (released), Bruno Piñatares (released), Liam Youlley (released), Stefan Zinni (released), Emilio Martinez (released), Terry Antonis (end of loan), Nicolas Martinez (end of loan), Jackson Bandiera (released).
Predicted finish: Across the year they are likely to be a little way off the top two or three sides, but should be much better than the competition’s bottom four sides and sneak into the play-offs again – 6th.