Thursday, August 05, 2010
The first season featuring two teams from the one town (more on that later) has been overshadowed by the World Cup hangover, but some of the teams at least look capable of producing good football. The increasing move towards foreign coaches, with two new Dutchmen and a former Czech international among the coaching ranks, will make for some interesting comments however they fare.
Defending champions Sydney appear in reasonably good shape despite the loss of several players who provided the requisite quality to push them over the line last term - Steve Corica, Clint Bolton, Simon Colosimo, and, on his better days, John Aloisi. The chief worry for Vitezslav Lavicka must be the lack of an out-and-out striker to throw on when the chips are down; the combination of Nick Carle, Alex Brosque and Mark Bridge promises much, but there are few attacking options in reserve if these three run into a brick wall.
The "old" Melbourne side looks in pretty poor shape, with Archie Thompson out for a long time, Carlos Hernandez having "a season too far" written all over him and few other players looking likely to prove match-winners. The possibility of the A-League's most successful team being badly eclipsed by their new neighbours is a very real one.
And so to "new" Melbourne, otherwise known as pun central. The squad is incredibly strong by A-League standards, raising serious questions about how it was brought in under the salary cap. In terms of playing strength they should be favourites already, although, as we saw with the Gold Coast in 2009/10, things can take a while to click properly. Gerard Sibon, whom I remember leading the line fairly convincingly for Sheffield Wednesday many moons ago, has been in good form in pre-season; whether he can sustain top form for a whole season at his age is another matter. In any event, there are plenty of others who can carry the attacking burden, and the first-choice defence is probably the best ever assembled in the A-League's history.
The two most far-flung teams, Wellington and Perth, should be able to consolidate the improvement they both made last season, with Wellington in particular looking a force to be reckoned with in 2010/11 with Paul Ifill still among the ranks. Oscar Cornejo is an interesting addition, and if Jade North can find some form in defence alongside the still underrated Andrew Durante, the Phoenix will be hard to breach. Robbie Fowler should notch a fair few goals for the Glory, but service might be thin on the ground, especially if the injuries mount. Already, it's hard to see who will perform the creative duties for David Mitchell's side.
The omens don't look good for Adelaide. The lingering bitterness of Phil Stubbins at being overlooked for the managerial hot seat might cause problems, and the backline looks dreadfully brittle without Mark Rudan. Nevertheless, Sergio van Dijk is an excellent addition in attack (the first good No.9 that Adelaide have possessed since Shengqing Qu, in fact), and Travis Dodd remains one of the most incisive players in the competition.
Gold Coast United are a settled side by now, and if Shane Smeltz can put his bizarre Chinese embarrassment behind him and concentrate on bagging A-League goals once again, they should finish in the top four. The other new side of 2009/10, by comparison, might take quite a while to gel, after the massive changes forced on the club by having their financial rug spectacularly pulled out from under their feet.
Still in Queensland, but further south, Brisbane Roar will face the real test of their volte-face this season. Ange Postecoglou has rebuilt the side around youth, and although the losses of Tommy Oar, Michael Zullo, Liam Reddy and especially Sergio van Dijk will hurt, there is still plenty of young talent at the club. Kosta Barbarouses is a good acquisition, and Henrique is still getting better. Ultimately, though, they might not have the experience to survive a tense scrap for finals places.
That leaves the eternal rivals of the F3. Finally Graham Arnold gets to test himself in a club situation again after living off the fat of the FFA for many years, and it will be interesting to see how he copes under pressure; on recent form, the answer may be not very well. There have been some good additions, not least Oliver Bozanic, but Arnold may find it difficult to imbue the squad with a new mentality after the determined mediocrity of the last two years.
Newcastle began to look like real contenders towards the end of last season, and they should be able to carry on in the same vein in 2010/11, especially if the canny Michael Bridges stays fit and if Ali Abbas can keep improving. In Ben Kantarovski they have probably the best young player in the league, and his progress this season will be intriguing to watch.
I am probably wrong (I realise) but I have a funny feeling about Gold Coast, perhaps they will disappoint this year.
Fury looked good last night. Exciting to Perth's dull long balls.