Almanac Soccer: A-League Preview, Part Two

Melbourne Victory


The Victory suffered from a Championship hangover last season, putting in an underwhelming campaign after managing to hang on to much of its title-winning squad. This season’s starting XI will be vastly different, although there will be a sense of familiarity with Marco Rojas and James Troisi returning for second stints at the club.


Mattheiu Delpierre retired as one of the finest defenders the league has seen, but has been replaced by Spaniard Alan Baró and former Brisbane defender James Donachie. Mitch Austin has been signed from Central Coast to further help fill the creative void left by Gui Finkler and Kosta Barbarouses both heading to Wellington.


Kevin Muscat has established himself as a clever manager, but he has to demonstrate his ability to tinker with his side throughout the season rather than relying too heavily on too few. If Lawrence Thomas can perform as the number one ‘keeper, and if Victory’s key players can stay injury-free, they’ll once again contend.


Newcastle Jets


Newcastle’s knack for becoming unstable and uncompetitive by creating its own off-field issues has dogged the club yet again. Scott Miller, in charge for just one season, was last month sacked for having “differences relating to football matters”, according to the board. Despite losing almost half its games under Miller, Newcastle appeared to be heading in the right direction after recovering from the Nathan Tinkler ownership fiasco.


Little-known Mark Jones, 50, has taken the reins, but his job will be to unite a squad affected by unwanted change. The Jets never really threatened to make the Finals last season and they’ll need to get plenty more from their international recruits if they want to contend this time around.


It’s a relatively even squad that should be defensively sound enough to not leak a massive amount of goals and be competitive in most games, but they’ll struggle to win enough to reach the top six.


Sydney FC


The failure to make the Finals last season was the catalyst for several changes to Sydney’s squad for the upcoming campaign. Departures that include Mikael Tavares (Central Coast) and Shane Smeltz (Kedah) won’t be of concern to Graham Arnold, who has done well in the transfer market.


The Sky Blues signed five players capped for the Socceroos, including Alex Wilkinson and Josh Brillante. There’s no doubt that the squad, on paper at least, has improved, so it is up to Arnold to make sure they gel and play the way he wants them to. He was widely criticised for a defensive mindset last season, but the signings of forwards Bernie Ibini-Isei and Brazilian Bobo will help to solve that problem.


Sydney has been outshone by the Wanderers almost every season they’ve been in the competition. The first game of their season, a derby at Olympic Stadium, is a must-win for Sydney or else the fans will become restless and demand change very quickly.


Wellington Phoenix


The Nix secured its status in the A-League during last season after a terrifying period of uncertainty threatened to dissolve the competition’s only New Zealand club. The fact that players’ futures were in such treacherous doubt for a large portion of the season is probably a valid explanation as to why Wellington finished ninth.


Manager Ernie Merrick is not one to rest when his side isn’t experiencing success, and he worked hard to get the signatures of two former Victory stars Gui Finkler and Kosta Barbarouses. Andrew Durante is now the only remaining member of Wellington’s trio of stalwart defenders after Ben Sigmund (retired) and Manny Muscat (Melbourne City), which is probably for the best.


A Finals spot is achievable if the fringe players at the Nix can go to another level, but anything beyond a mid-table finish seems unlikely.


Western Sydney Wanderers


The Wanderers story is unquestionably one of success. But for a club that’s perceived as having been so dominant, it hasn’t actually achieved much success on the field. The Asian Champions League was an incredible effort, but it only has one piece of domestic silverware. Western Sydney has lost three of the past four Grand Finals, including last year’s convincing defeat to Adelaide.


There’s been significant change to the Wanderers’ list after every season of its short history, as is the case this year. Mark Bridge (Chiangrai) and Dario Vidosic (Liaoning) left for Asian leagues, but a wealth of international and local talent has arrived. Argentinian Nicolas Martinez, Uruguayan Bruno Pinatares and Japanese winger Jumpei
Kusukami are far from household names, but given the Wanderers’ recent recruiting prowess expect them to perform.


Western Sydney are a safe bet to make the top two, such is the consistency of Popovic’s sides, but those Grand Final losses may once again haunt them in the Finals.


About Tom Riordan

Tom Riordan is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism at Swinburne University. He loves all sports, and plays for Brunswick Cricket Club. He supports the Western Bulldogs and can be found on weekends among half a dozen others in Q38 on the top level of the MCC.

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