This weekend sees the kick-off of A-League Season 10. It’s come a long way in a short space of time, and this year promises to be a highly competitive campaign so Gavin Bergin is here to preview this season’s A-League.
Melbourne City (formerly Melbourne Heart until being bought out and re-branded by Man City’s owners) join the likes of reigning champs Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanderers, Adelaide United, Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners in pursuit of a Grand Final Victory next May.
We’ll be bringing you a weekly roundup of all the goings on throughout the season. This year sees the Irish contingent grows as Damien Duff turns out for Melbourne City alongside the great David Villa, Andy Keogh lines up for Perth Glory, and Liam Miller looks to win back-to-back titles with Brisbane Roar.
For the moment, here’s a quick preview of how things are shaping up ahead of the season opener between Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday night (9:40am GMT).
The A-League’s proponents of tiki-taka, led by ex-Barcelona youth coach Josep Gombau, who happens to be the most un-Spanish looking Spanish man ever. Gombau’s Adelaide got off to a slow start last season when they were perhaps tiki-takiing a bit too much. However, as the season wore on they became slightly more direct in their approach and things clicked into gear for them as they finished top scorers in the league season.
Their manager has stated previously that they will be better come his second season in charge, so it’s time for him to put his money where his mouth is. They’ve not made huge signings during the off-season, with the most interesting seeing Gombau bringing in fellow Spaniard Pablo Sanchez Alberto.
He comes with a fairly unremarkable goalscoring record from Spain’s lower leagues, but Gombau has previously brought in unheard of Spanish players to great effect. In former Chelsea youth player Fabio Ferreira and Marcelo Carrusca they have players capable of providing plenty of chances for Alberto, while contributing a few goals of their own.
If United continue to build on the form they showed in the second half of last season, expect them to be making an appearance in the semi-finals at the very least.
Reigning Champions, The Roar became the most successful club in A-League history with 2-1 (a.e.t) victory in the Grand Final against Tony Popovic’s Western Sydney Wanderers last season. They’ve been Grand Final winners in three of the last four seasons, so they’ll once again be the team to beat this season.
Current Australia manager Ange Postecoglou laid the foundations at the club, which Roar manager Mike Mulvey has built on and led the team to a deserved Premiers Plate and Grand Final double last season. They’ve lost their top scorer for each of the past three seasons, Beshart Berisha (remember the name, he’s likely to be involved in some controversy throughout the season) to Melbourne Victory after his contract expired.
In his place they’ve signed another Albanian by the name of Mensur Kurtishi, who comes with an impressive goalscoring record from his previous clubs. Brisbane will be hoping that both he (and possibly Dimitri Petratos) can make up the goals they’ve lost with the departure of Berisha.
Ex-Ireland International Liam Miller will again be an integral part of the Roar’s midfield, while inThomas Broich the Roar possess the Johnny Warren medal winner for two of the previous three seasons.
>The most high-profile signing they’ve made was the arrival of Australian International Adam Sarota on loan from FC Utrecht, and he’ll add to an already classy midfield unit. While they’ve seemed quiet enough in the transfer market in comparison to their opponents, the truth is the Roar were head and shoulders above the competition last year, finishing 10 points clear before going on to win the Grand Final. They’ve got be favourites for the title, and it’s going to take a very good team to stop them.
Central Coast Mariners
One of the most consistent teams in the A-League over the past few years, the Mariners’ story is one of building from within. They are in every sense of the word a “community” club. They recruit and produce players via their academy on a regular basis and it is this sense of togetherness that the Mariners use throughout the club to connect with the local community.
They don’t have a big financial backing, yet the regularly trouble the top end of the league table. They’ve lost some of their more experienced players since the end of last season, so they might be hard pressed to match last season’s 3rd place finish.
Expect to see more of their youth products break through to the first team squad this year, and keep an eye out for Korean attacking midfielder Kim Seung-Yong. They’ve only ever once finished outside the top six in the history of the A-League, a remarkable record that they look like they’ll continue this season.
David Villa (on loan), Damien Duff, Robert Koren. Just some of the names that Melbourne City (formerly Melbourne Heart) have signed since being taken over by City Football Group. Add into that mix some very accomplished (Erik Paartalu, Aaron Mooy) and some very promising (Conor Chapman and James Brown) A-League players, and it’s fair to say that City have got a very strong looking squad for the new season.
There has been some controversy over the fact that Villa only arrived into Melbourne earlier this week, but he’s training with the squad and is expected to make the bench for this weekend’s opener against Sydney. In signing Duff and Koren, City have added a lot of Premier League experience, and no shortage of class, to their squad.
How quickly it all gels together is the real question. Will they do a WSW on it and hit the ground running with a new team, or will there be a repeat of the Melbourne Heart early days? Villa will only be around for 10 games, so they’ll be hoping he can find his scoring touch almost immediately to get them firing.
Whatever happens, it’ll be very interesting to watch it unfold, and they will be expected to finish much higher than last season’s 10th place finish. A top six finish should be the bare minimum.
One of the biggest clubs in the history of the A-League, the Victory face into a first full season under Kevin Muscat (yes, that Kevin Muscat) with some new “noisy neighbours” to contend with. The jury is very much still out on Muscat, having overseen consecutive 5-0 defeats during one particularly tough period last season, yet having still managed to lead his team to a semi-final defeat to eventual champs the Roar.
That man Ange Postecoglu once again (as he did at Brisbane Roar) laid the foundations for the Melbourne Victory club that Muscat took charge of last season. Having added the prolific Beshart Berisha to a squad that contains the likes of Archie “13 goals vs American Samoa” Thompson, club captain and “Socceroo” Mark Milligan, and the mercurial Gui Finkler, Victory will be expected to challenge for a first Grand Final title since 2009. If nothing else, Victory will be a very interesting club to observe this year, with Muscat on the sidelines and Berisha on the pitch there’ll likely be no shortage of drama. A top six finish is expected and should be more than achievable, but whether they can better last seasons semi-final remains to be seen.
Stay tuned to Pundit Arena for part two of our A-League preview.
Gavin Bergin, Pundit Arena.