Adelaide United Football Club
Media Prediction: 7th
Following a couple of below-par seasons the buzz of expectation has returned to Adelaide. Ambitious new owners, a charismatic coach with his bedding-in season behind him, and some smart recruitment should return the Reds into the shake-up for silverware. Such optimism has already manifested in a run to the FFA Cup final, a feat achieved without conceding a goal. This form along with six clean sheets in nine other preseason friendlies suggests United will be tough to break down over the coming months.
However, it’s at the other end of the pitch that will determine success for Marco Kurz. Adelaide have scored just 61 league goals over the past two seasons with no striker able to fill the void left by Bruce Djite. Responsibility for that task this season falls on the well-travelled Ken Ilsø and the former Denmark Under-21 international will hope the goalscoring burden is shared by fellow star recruits Craig Goodwin and Ben Halloran. Both now 26, the returning Socceroos are in the prime of their careers and with the well-credentialed Mirko Boland and the outstanding Isaias to feed them they could well light up Coopers Stadium.
There’s no reason Adelaide United shouldn’t be among this season’s leading contenders.
Club Website: https://www.adelaideunited.com.au/
Brisbane Roar Football Club
Media Prediction: 6th
This season looms as a career-defining one for John Aloisi. Entering his sixth campaign as a coach and fourth in charge of Brisbane Roar, the Socceroos legend is under pressure to convert his obvious capabilities into trophies. Worryingly, Aloisi’s three previous seasons at the Roar have witnessed progressively fewer wins and goals, although in mitigation last season was blighted by injuries and off-field volatility. With a new training base and a more stable administration, Aloisi has fewer excuses should he fail to deliver.
The Roar squad looks better equipped to compete, but as with all sides much rests on how successfully the impressive-looking new foreigners adapt to the competition. Álex López has La Liga experience while Tobias Mikkelsen earned eight caps for Denmark. If that pair fire, and Éric Bauthéac shows his true form after an underwhelming debut season, Brisbane should be safely in the finals mix.
The difference between contending for silverware and lifting some could come down Aloisi’s ability to coax the best out of Adam Taggart. One of Australia’s smartest penalty box strikers, Taggart guarantees goals at A-League level and at 25 is still young enough to secure a lucrative move overseas with an eye-catching season.
Club Website: https://www.brisbaneroar.com.au/
Central Coast Mariners Football Club
Media Prediction: 9th
Last year’s wooden spooners are the most difficult side in this year’s competition to appraise. With a new coach, a remodelled squad and the afterglow of an offseason basking in the attention of the global media, there is an air of excitement around Gosford that is all-too welcome after a succession of seasons in the doldrums.
Mike Charlesworth has loosened the purse strings for Mike Mulvey, allowing him to recruit proven quality in Ross McCormack, Tommy Oar and Aiden O’Neill, and bring club legends Michael McGlinchey and Matt Simon back to their most successful stomping ground. However, after failing to reach the finals in the past four seasons Mulvey has a tough job on his hands simply making Central Coast competitive, let alone pushing for the postseason.
Adding to the air of unpredictability is the presence – for now – of Usain Bolt. It remains to be seen if the greatest sprinter of all time will play a competitive match for the Mariners, or whether the PR circus that he brings with him will prove a springboard or a handicap.
A positive start to the campaign is essential. While there are reasons to be optimistic, failure to gain some early momentum could see the wheels fall off in familiar fashion.
Club Website: https://www.ccmariners.com.au/
Melbourne City Football Club
Media Prediction: 3rd
There remains a lingering sense that with the City Football Group empire behind them Melbourne City should be the most exciting ticket in the A-League but reality continues to disappoint. Once again squad turnover has been significant, and once again marquee money has been spent on a player whose profile is unlikely to put additional bums on seats – defensive utility Ritchie De Laet.
Nonetheless Warren Joyce has assembled a strong squad for his second season in charge. Riley McGree’s industry will be important for a side that can often lack dynamism in midfield while Florin Berenguer will be expected to provide the guile in the final third City have often struggled to find since Aaron Mooy’s exit.
CFG have made no secret of their plans to use Melbourne as an incubator to develop and sell on young players and that project’s focus now falls onto Nathaniel Atkinson and Lachie Wales with a troupe of exciting youngsters ready to step up from the NYL squad and fill the boots of the departed Daniel Arzani and Denis Genreau if required. Keep an eye out for Young Socceroo Ramy Najjarine in particular.
Club Website: https://www.melbournecityfc.com.au/
Melbourne Victory Football Club
Media Prediction: 2nd
Victory have capitalised superbly on their championship success, dominating the transfer window with the signing of Japanese star Keisuke Honda and Russia 2018 goalscorer Ola Toivonen. Honda in particular is an inspired recruit from both a playing and marketing perspective, giving the A-League some genuine (and much-needed) marquee hype.
While the big names provide plenty of expectation Kevin Muscat also has some difficult questions to answer. A lot of talent left the club in the offseason, including five of the 12 players that featured in the grand final triumph. Victory’s best two performers last season have gone (Leroy George and Rhys Williams) and while Besart Berisha was on the wane he was a near ever-present in Victory’s attack for four seasons. Muscat must now reestablish his preferred XI and manage a lean squad through both domestic and continental campaigns.
Last season was proof you can never write Victory off but going back-to-back looks to be a tough ask without further recruits. Nonetheless, success this season may be as well measured on the impact Honda has on the club’s and the league’s bottom line, a project that is already progressing exceptionally well with Victory revealing on the eve of the season they are now the second-most valuable privately held sporting club in the country.
Club Website: https://www.melbournevictory.com.au/
Newcastle Jets Football Club
Media Prediction: 8th
Newcastle Jets were the feelgood story of last season and a stable offseason suggests they should be a similar force again this year. Jack Duncan and Riley McGree will both be missed but otherwise it is largely the same squad that illuminated last year’s competition.
An example of the confidence in Lawrie McKinna’s project is the re-signing of both Dimitri Petratos and Steven Ugarkovic. Both have been among the competition’s standout performers in recent seasons with ample quality to flourish overseas.
Alongside that pair there are dependable performers all over the ground. Of those, Nigel Boogaard and Nikolai Topor-Stanley deserve special praise for their partnership at the heart of defence.
Up front Ernie Merrick will hope the absence of the suspended Roy O’Donovan for the opening third of the season does not prove too costly. The return of a fully fit Ronny Vargas following last year’s broken leg should provide some compensation.
Club Website: https://www.newcastlejets.com.au/
Perth Glory Football Club
Media Prediction: 5th
The most intriguing side entering the 14th incarnation of the A-League are Perth Glory. The club has undergone major surgery in recent months with former Sydney FC CEO Tony Pignata recruited to lead the administration and Tony Popovic brought in as head coach.
Together Pignata and Popovic have been active during an ambitious transfer window, replacing a notoriously porous backline with one Graham Arnold could conceivably select for the Socceroos. At a stroke Glory’s squad now seems mature and uncompromising with an imposing defence boasting Matthew Spiranovic, Tomi Mrcela, Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson. Perth fans will hope this is finally the stable foundation to allow the brilliant but mercurial Diego Castro opportunity to shine consistently enough to secure a trophy, and showcase the pace and power of the enormously talented Chris Ikonomidis.
Perth now have a squad and a coach that should be competing for a premiership or a championship, it just remains to be seen how long it will take Popovic’s renovations to gel.
Club Website: https://www.perthglory.com.au/
Sydney Football Club
Media Prediction: 1st
Following a golden run under the stewardship of Graham Arnold the 2018-19 season represents a small diversion into the unknown for Sydney FC. Under Arnold Sydney were a model of consistency but his departure leaves one of his assistants, club legend Steve Corica, in charge of keeping the form club over the past two seasons on the road to glory.
Corica’s job has not been helped by the departures of foreign stars Bobô, Adrian Mierzejewski and Jordy Buijs but their replacements are top drawer with Adam le Fondre, Siem de Jong and Jop van der Linden all impressing early in their Sky Blue careers. The arrivals of Daniel De Silva and Trent Buhagiar from Central Coast point to a more youthful edge to Corica’s version of Sydney FC, although the latter’s potentially season-ending ACL injury last weekend is an unfortunate blow.
If an unbeaten preseason is anything to go by it should be business as usual for last year’s premiers. They could even become the first club to defend the FFA Cup when they take on Adelaide United later this month.
Once again the Sky Blues look to be the team the rest will have to catch.
Club Website: https://www.sydneyfc.com/
Wellington Phoenix Football Club
Media Prediction: 10th
New Zealand’s A-League representatives haven’t made the finals for the past three seasons and it’s difficult to see them interrupting that run this time around. Despite a couple of decent additions Wellington Phoenix’s threadbare squad continues to look short of trophy-winning quality and with rival clubs improving en masse it could be another wearisome campaign for the Yellow Fever.
The major variable in that equation is Mark Rudan. Wellington’s new coach arrives with impeccable credentials as an A-League championship-winning captain and NPL title-winning coach. After much speculation over where Rudan would land as an A-League manager, he has accepted the hardest job in the competition.
Rudan’s recruitment suggests his first priority is making Phoenix hard to beat, using visa spots on a new goalkeeper (Filip Kurto) centre-back (Steven Taylor) and hardworking midfielders (Michał Kopczyński and Mandi). Goalscoring will be the responsibility of Nathan Burns and Roy Krishna, although exciting teenager Sarpreet Singh may prove the most eye-catching figure in yellow and black.
Worryingly, preseason included an FFA Cup exit to NPL opposition and two defeats out of three to A-League rivals.
Club Website: https://www.wellingtonphoenix.com/
Western Sydney Wanderers Football Club
Media Prediction: 4th
Last season was a rare misstep for Western Sydney Wanderers and as a consequence a return to the top seems a little way off. At the heart of the club’s issues has been a coaching merry-go-round precipitated by the departure of foundation boss Tony Popovic this time last year which led to an ill-fated dalliance with Josep Gombau. Markus Babbel has been brought in to pick up the pieces but he joins with the Wanderers still squatting on an AFL oval (Western Sydney Stadium is due for completion mid-2019) and dealing with significant player churn.
Heavy friendly defeats to the Mariners and Jets as well as a 3-0 FFA Cup defeat to Sydney FC suggest there remains plenty of work still to be done by the decorated former German international. He will hope to be afforded more time to get things right than his predecessor.
Babbel returned to Germany to recruit countrymen Alexander Baumjohann (once lauded by Jupp Heynckes) and German second division stalwart Patrick Ziegler, although a knee injury to the latter will delay his start to the season. Other new faces include promising youngsters Jordan O’Doherty, Ruon Tongyik and Bruce Kamau, while there’s also a return for the premiership-winning Tarek Elrich.
At this stage of proceedings the Wanderers seem a little behind the leading contenders but after last season’s chaos a year of stability and rebuilding would be no bad thing with the promise of a return to their own ground next season a catalyst for further progress.
Club Website: https://www.wswanderersfc.com.au/