It’s that time of year again. The egg shaped balls have been put away and it’s time to break out your A-League kits. There’s been some massive off-season signings and there’s never been more excitement about the start of a season. It all kicks off with a bang on Friday night as Brisbane Roar take on Melbourne Victory but come Saturday, all eyes will be on the massive Sydney Derby to really heat things up!
Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Victory
Venue: Suncorp Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: April 15, 2016 (2-1)
What a fantastic fixture to kick off the season. Roar broke Melbourne hearts with a classic late comeback in an Elimination Final last season. Both teams have beefed up their squads but not without substantial losses. Victory’s defence in particular is untested with the monumental loss of Delpierre while they’ve topped up their attack with Rojas, Austin and Troisi to cover the departures of Finkler, Barbarouses and Thompson. For Brisbane, the loss of Corona will be hardest felt though they’ve gone some ways to replacing him with the capture of former Australia star Brett Holman. They did some good business with the capture of midfielders Kristensen and Arana though they lost Henrique and Clut.
The two teams have had very different pre-seasons with Melbourne Victory winning every game including matches against Athletico Madrid and Juventus. Brisbane lost their first two pre-season games to A-League sides before winning against lower league opposition and Perth Glory.
Key Stastic: The last two encounters between the teams have been tight affairs with no goals before the 86th minute. However, given both teams defensive losses in the off season I expect this game to be a bit more free flowing.
Key Player: Jamie Maclaren. Last years top scorer for Brisbane has started impressively in pre-season scoring 5 goals in their last 4 matches
Prediction: BRI 3 – 2 MVC
Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne City
Venue: Westpac Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: February 26, 2016 (2-1)
Both Wellington and City have made some incredible signings in the off-season and boast ton of attacking talent. Taking all the headlines of course is Tim Cahill but whether or not Luke Brattan can fill the void left by Aaron Mooy will have a huge impact on their season. Wellington’s additions of Barbarouses and Finkler means they now too have options up front but the questions for both these teams will be consistency.
The Nix had a brilliant pre-season going undefeated in 9 outings including a 4-1 demolition of Melbourne City. Their opponents didn’t fare quite so well with 5 wins from 8 matches. Melbourne do have a bit more match practice though having progressed to the semi-final of the FFA Cup. I imagine most punters will back City in this but I can only go off pre-season form and I think Wellington can win this.
Key Stastic: Wellington scored 28 goals for an average of over 3 per game in pre-season. While they weren’t always facing top class opposition it shows that their new attack is gelling well.
Key Player: Gui Finkler. I think the Brazillian can be immense for the Nix this season and he has the passing range to unlock a suspect Melbourne City defence.
Prediction: WEL 2 – 1 MCY
Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC
Venue: ANZ Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: January 16, 2016 (1-2)
I can’t remember there being so much hype about a Round 1 fixture before so lets hope it lives up to expectations. Sydney FC is one club that has gone big in the transfer market bringing back the talented Bernie Ibini-Isei as well as fringe Socceroos Wilkinson, Zullo, Brillante and marque man Bobo. That seems like a pretty good upgrade on their departures of Smeltz, Hoole and Tavares to me. The Wanderers have signed their own fringe Socceroo in Robbie Cornthwaite but getting the headlines will be the return of Bulut.
Sydney FC have had a fairly low key pre-season despite being in the FFA Cup semi-final. They’ve only played 5 games outside the FFA Cup and have won 3 without looking spectacular. We haven’t seen much of Bobo but fans will be hoping he can combine well with Holosko. Western Sydney may also go into this a little under done having only played 5 games as well, though they include a tough tour of Japan. They’ve only lost 1 and Bulut has slotted straight back into the squad scoring twice since returning. Sydney Derbies are notoriously tense affairs and I think this one will be much the same with an entertaining draw my bet.
Key Statistic: Each of their last 6 encounters has either been decided by a single goal or ended in a draw.
Key Player: Matt Jurman. The big defender has become a very important part of Sydney FC and was their most consistent defender last season. He will have to keep his cool and marshal Bulut well under a lot of pressure come saturday.
Prediction: WSW 1 – 1 SFC
Perth Glory v Central Coast Mariners
Venue: nib Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: March 12, 2016 (4-0)
Perth Glory are a team on the up and some smart signings in the off-season have put them in a good position to have a crack at the title this year. They managed to hang on to Johnny Warren Medalist Castro while adding Socceroos Adam Taggart and Rhys Williams to the line up. I fear the worst again for their opposition the Mariners after losing their coach so close to the start of the season while losing two of their best in Austin and Rose. They’ve brought in Faty and Pain along with Powell and Appiah from Wellington but I still don’t see them having a squad that will do any real damage.
Despite suffering the embarrassment of losing in the first round of FFA Cup to a NPL side, the Mariners have had a solid pre-season playing a whopping 11 games. Only 2 of those were losses though they did play a lot of lower level opposition. The new boys all did well chipping in goals but face a much tougher task this week. Perth haven’t had as much match practice, only playing 7 matches and losing 7, however, I think the level of opposition was much higher. Other than a 4 nil thumping by Brisbane a few weeks ago. they only let in 2 goals all pre-season.
Key Statistic: The Mariners endured a miserable 2015/16 season winning only 3 games and conceding 17 more goals than their nearest rival. I don’t think enough has changed to bring around a turn of fortune in Round 1.
Key Player: Diego Castro. I can’t wait to see the reigning Johnny Warren Medalist out on the park again. If he links up well with Adam Taggart and Andy Keogh, Perth have an almost unstoppable forward line.
Prediction: PER 2 – 0 CCM
Newcastle Jets v Adelaide United
Venue: Hunter Stadium | Last Corresponding Meeting: December 18, 2-15 (0-0)
Another team still dealing with off field issues are Newcastle Jets with both the Coach and Assistant Coach being shown the door in recent weeks after infighting. It’s a bit of a pity really as they have a decent line up with some very capable young guns coming into the squad. Clut and Hoole lead the charge here but they’ve also captured Nabbout who is looking to resurrect his A-League career. The only loss that will really hurt their chances is Birighitti who was the best goalkeeper in the league last year and kept the Jets in plenty of matches. Adelaide on the other hand have lost the core of their championship team with Djite, Mauk, Sanches and Kamau all leaving for new challenges. Leading the way for acquisitions is former Brisbane legend Henrique and fringe Socceroo James Holland.
It has been a pretty poor pre-season for the champions, losing every single game against A-League opposition and even being knocked out of the FFA Cup by a NPL side. The Jets have fared a little better with 6 wins from 8 games and their only loss coming against Central Coast. Nabbout has given encouraging performances with 4 goals while Nordstrand and Hoole nabbed 3 each.
Key Statistic: Adelaide United didn’t manage to score in 270 minutes of football against A-League teams in the pre-season. It might be left up to the midfield to score goals since the bulk of their attacking force has left the team.
Key Player: Sergie Circo. As the only established forward left from last seasons championship, there will be a lot of pressure on the Spaniard to lead the line.
Prediction: NEW 1 – 0 ADL