OUR world football expert Will Dyer (@w2Dyer) has delivered us some great winners on the MLS and now he focusses on the Australian A-League.
The 11th season of the top division in Australian football (soccer) kicks off on Thursday and after watching much of last season I feel I’m in a good position to give my thoughts on each team and where they’re likely to finish.
Much like Major League Soccer, this league has the ability to be won by anyone and though a few teams have had markedly more success historically, other teams have come from nowhere to win the title then completely fade the next year – something which is hardly ever seen in the modern European game.
The A-League also has a Play-Off structure to see who wins the trophy. It’s a 27 game season in which you play all other nine teams three times. This of course does mean that some teams will play 13 home games and others 14.
At the end of the regular season the standings in the final table will decide on the seeding for the post-season Play-Offs, with the top six all qualifying. In recent seasons the AFC Champions League has had more and more of an impact on A-League form.
Kevin Muscat actually thinks Melbourne Victory can improve on last year and I tend to agree with him. He has by far the best front three around with Kostas Barbarouses, Besart Berisha and either of Fahid Ben Khalfallah or A-League legend Archie Thompson. Those players have the ability to blow teams away on the break, and regularly do.
Victory won the Grand Final last season and have won all of their pre-season games so they are rightly confident. They have some really gritty midfielders, a towering Brazilian play-maker in the shape of Gui Finkler and probably the best left-back in the league in Daniel Georgievski.
Brisbane managed to retain the A-League in 2011/12 and I feel that Victory can replicate that feat. Top scorers last season and the best defensive record to boot. There’s little change to the starting XI aside from Nathan Coe departing from between the sticks and they have unwavering big support at AAMI Park so I see no reason to oppose them.
Manager Josep Gombau steps down which is cause for concern for the Reds but they have kept together a lovely squad which made the Semi-Finals and won the FFA Cup in 2014/15. The Spanish influence continues with Guillermo Amor, a Barcelona legend, taking the reins.
Under Gombau Adelaide played it out from the back but their main route for that was Nigel Boogard and he’s now gone. I don’t think that’s necessarily a season-breaker though and I think this side has the best midfield in the division – Isaias, Marcelo Carrusca and Sergio Cirio play some wonderful stuff and with alarming frequency.
Another team that tends to play a 4-3-3. They have talented forwards and Iacopo La Rocca, although more a midfielder, should adjust fine to playing centre-back in Boogard’s absence. Awer Mabil leaving is another shame but he’s not irreplaceable on the wing.
I expect them to be the most impressive side to watch this year and because of all their attacking talent their defensive strength has gone under the radar. They conceded the second least last season; just 32 in 27 games is good going in such a high-scoring league.
Sydney were last season’s away specialists under Graham Arnold, they scored an astonishing 33 goals in 14 games and didn’t lose a single game away from home! Arnold looks to have brought stability to a team that has been the complete opposite its whole life.
Marc Janko, last season’s top scorer, gets a big money move to FC Basel which was well earned. I really liked Janko but I think he benefited from a team that created a lot of chances and his successor should do just as well as a result.
They’ve also lost Bernie Ibini-Isei whose loan has expired and Corey Gameiro goes to City. The incomings then… I’ve been impressed with Andrew Hoole when I’ve seen him play and rumours are that Filip Holosko and Milos Ninkovic are classy players so they might have replaced well.
Some pretty important players have left but the side remain optimistic and with the way they were playing towards the end of last season I can’t see them missing out on the top 4.
City have the toughest start possible playing both Victory and Sydney FC away from home, last season’s final contenders, in their first two games of the season. John van’t Schip is under a little pressure to get some silverware. They’ve brought in veteran keeper Thomas Sorenson, Ivan Franjic, Harry Novillo permanently and Michael Zullo among others.
You could go as far to say that David Villa was an unwanted distraction last season. He vanished after four games and that left City in a bit of a mess. They rallied to finish fifth and win a post-season game so all-in-all it was a decent year for the team formerly Melbourne Heart.
This season though the Saudi-owned money-bags will be expecting more and that pressure could make this a tough season in my opinion. Plenty of players promise big things this year; Corey Gameiro, Aaron Mooy, Bruno Fornaroli and the rest of the squad looks really strong too with great back-ups in pretty much every area. Robert Koren never really got going but Premier League fans will know he has the skill in his locker.
That new-look defence looks much better than last season but they’ve a raft of injuries at the minute. I can’t really put my finger on it but this team feels like it has all the ingredients to dominate the league but might not find a winning formula, rather like the Arsenal of Down Under.
Form in the FFA Cup before the league season gets underway is often a good indicator for the season. Perth have progressed to the Semi-Finals and that shows promise for a team that’s had it’s heart wrenched out following the salary cap debacle of last season which saw Glory ousted from the Play-Offs.
Perth have lost Andy Keogh, Rostyn Griffiths, Danny Vukovic, Scott Jamieson, Brandon O’Neill, Daniel De Silva, Youssouf Hersi, Jack Duncan and Riley Woodcock; that’s a long old list.
However, Guyon Fernandez and Diego Castro are rumoured to be good players and Kenny Lowe is a good coach. Chris Harold has the potential to be the star youngster of the season.
They are defensively sound and have made enough signings to pick up where they left off should the team gel quickly enough but it will require some more wizardry from Lowe for a Top 4 spot.
Losing Nathan Burns is a big blow. The Socceroo was their top-scorer last season and scored the first ever hatrick for a player in a Phoenix shirt. He was a key cog in a high scoring side.
Kenny Cunningham will also be missed. Roy Krishna has been in good pre-season form and could be vital this year and a worthy player to follow for goal-scorer bets.
They were far better than they’ve ever been away from home last season but I’m unsure whether that continues. Five of their last seven games are at the Westpac Stadium which will help if they are challenging for the finals but their earlier home games are not all in Wellington as the team tries to find new fans by playing in Auckland and Christchurch respectively.
I expect the new signings like Jeffrey Sarpong, an Ajax youngster (which is usually a good thing), to do alright and the team to be pretty solid at the back again but they look a shade below last season. Still, they should make the finals as there are a few worse teams.
Western Sydney Wanderers
Tony Popovic only has a shell of the team that somehow won the 2013/14 AFC Champions League – only Brendon Santalab, Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Mark Bridge are left. They’ve ditched a whopping 17 players this off-season; Tomi Juric the biggest of those and that’s a bit too much change for my liking.
They only really struggled last season because of their involvement in the AFC Champions League. It’s up front where the problems lie which is where the new boy Italian striker Federico Piovaccari comes in. He’s well fancied in the top-goalscorer market but I wouldn’t be backing a 31 year old who’s never really made it at the top level until seeing him settle in. The A-League gets better every year so simply having a good goal scoring record in the Serie B won’t guarantee you success here.
Wanderers’ full-backs are good and their midfield is not too bad. They are more of a bruising side than a flair team and perhaps that’s been their downfall in the A-League. Without the AFC Champions League they should improve on last season but they’re certainly lacking in top class players.
Brisbane aren’t in the AFC Champions League and are already out of the FFA Cup so they can focus on the league this year. John Aloisi has taken over and the Roar’s era of dominance certainly ended last season. Aloisi likes to play 4-3-3 and that’s a formation that the club have been used to for years now so that shouldn’t cause too much of a fuss.
Luke Brattan is lost but Jamie Maclaren and Corona are exciting additions. Devante Clut impressed last season and should get better still. Roar face Victory twice, Sydney FC and Adelaide United in their final few games which looks incredibly tough and could leave them pretty weary for the Play-Offs if they do make it that far.
They are well known for a quick passing game like Spanish teams. Last season was a bit of a struggle after losing top scorer Besart Berisha from their title winning season in 2013/14.
Jean Carlos-Solorzano and Henrique Silva did their bit but neither were particularly impressive or consistent and don’t have the same quality clinical finishing as Berisha.
Thomas Broich is the most technically gifted player in the league in my opinion but he looks like he might be declining at 34, understandably especially in the heat. He only made 17 appearances last year and Roar struggled when he wasn’t in the team.
They were extremely lucky to get to the finals only making it because of Perth Glory’s salary cap offences. Mid-table isn’t really obscurity as it can take you all the way in the finals but I doubt it will for Roar this time around and even mid-table could be a bit of a tough ask.
Well the one positive for the Jets is it can’t get any worse. Last season’s basement club also scored the fewest goals and conceded the most. Averaging just 0.85 goals per game scored and just over two conceded, yuck.
Just one win in 14 at home was really poor in 2014/15 but it wasn’t surprising either. That’s lead to 10 players leaving, 11 players arriving and Scott Miller being given the job over Phil Stubbins which at least shows the Jet’s know that change is needed.
I think they’ll make it off the bottom rung but a finals spot is surely way beyond them; they haven’t made it to the post season in any of the last five seasons. Worth remembering though that teams do often impress out of the blue.
Central Coast Mariners
It’s remarkable that the Mariners, like the Jets, once won an A-League title. They are a million miles away from that right now but I wouldn’t rule out a return to that level of success by the end of the decade; though granted that’s not much good for 2015/16!
Roy O’Donovan is charged with turning around last season’s 2nd lowest scoring team. A quick striker but at 30 years old the journeyman moving from Indonesia isn’t really a reason to get excited.
Losses to the Jets and Roar in September are worrying for the Gosford team. They are really lacking in creativity and squad depth and losing a leader like John Hutchinson is only going to make matters worse. Could be a long old season.
A-League 2015/16 – Melbourne Victory to win the A-League (3/1 William Hill)
A-League 2015/16 – Adelaide United Top Two Finish (11/4 888 Sport)
A-League 2015/16 – Central Coast To Finish Bottom (2/1 Bet365)
A-League 2015/16 – Roy Krisna Top Goalscorer (16/1 Bet365)
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