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It seems almost forgotten that Adelaide started last season’s maiden championship winning campaign with a winless first eight games.
Pressure was mounting but new coach Guillermo Amor managed to turn things around at the South Australian club seeing his side lose just once in the next 19 matches.
The club finished with the best defensive record in the league conceding just 11 goals in the 19 undefeated game streak for a total of 28 against.
Finishing top of the league and winning the Grand Final sees Amor’s side carry the title of both A-League Premiers and Champions going into 2016/17.
The Reds also have the Asian Champions League to contend with making their sixth appearance (including 2016’s qualifying playoff loss) in the competition – the most of any A-League club.
The Tough Ask: Can the Reds continue to play beautiful football?
It was a highlight of Adelaide’s play last term that they were able to maintain possession and move the ball around the field with a touch more polish than any team they faced.
Whether they will be able to maintain this passing style in 2016/17 is hard to see leading into the season’s start. The club have lost the likes of Bruce Djite, Craig Goodwin, Bruce Kamau, Stefan Mauk and Pablo Sanchéz all of whom were key to that style of play.
The replacements brought in, whilst certainly promising, may not be able to offer the same level as the departed stars. Henrique, Sergi Guardiola and James Holland certainly look good additions though are not renowned for their passing ability.
The core of Sergio Cirio, Marcelo Carrusca and Isaías remain but how they will be able to combine with the new faces and immerse them into Amor’s playing style is yet to be seen.
Despite a tumultuous off-season, the Roar have managed to add some experience to a squad that led them to within a whisker of a grand final berth last year.
The Orange Army will hope that the recruitment of some cooler heads will ensure that last season’s finals fadeout doesn’t happen again, while allowing the team to go one better this time around.
The Tough Ask: Will the Roar be able to harness the pain of defeat as a motivating force?
With a three-goal lead inside 23 minutes of last year’s semi-final against the Wanderers, Brisbane had all but booked a ticket to the big dance.
A flurry of finishes and an injury time winner left the Roar broken-hearted and in great need of some soul-searching before the 2016/17 A-League season.
Will the bitter taste of defeat spur the Roar on to greater things? Or will father-time catch up with some aging stars and a supposedly leaky defence be too much to overcome?
Recruits Brett Holman, Manuel Arana and Thomas Kristensen are all on the other side of 30, while last year’s Gary Wilkins Medallist Miguel Corona has returned to his native Spain.
Brisbane’s season balances on the edge of a knife and the club’s ability to answer some of these pertinent questions will see it tipping one way or another.
Melbourne City FC
Tim Cahill, Bruno Fornaroli and Nicolas Colazo could be Melbourne City’s version of ‘The Big Three’. Partner them with Neil Kilkenny, Fernando Brandan, Bruce Kamau and Luke Brattan and talk of breaking their own A-League goals record seems justified.
John van't Schip has a wealth of talent at his disposal, but will need to do better than a semi-final appearance to remain in the good-books with City Football Group.
The Tough Ask: Is the addition of Tim Cahill enough to catapult Melbourne City to their first A-League title?
Of course, City were an attacking powerhouse last season, and the signing of Cahill—coupled with retaining the services of Bruno Fornaroli—only makes them more formidable in the attacking third.
But the loss of Aaron Mooy has the potential to upset some of their attacking balance. City were impressive in their 4-1 demolition of Western Sydney Wanderers in the FFA Cup, but whether their newly formed attack will stand up to the rigours of a full A-League season remains to be seen.
As devastating as City's attack is, their leaky defence is a cause for concern for John van't Schip. Despite their semi-final appearance, City conceded the third-most goals in the A-League regular season. With no defensive saviour in sight, City may need to bide their time before being considered a title front-runner.
After a dramatic mid-season turnaround, spearheaded by January signings Adam Taggart, Shane Lowry and Andy Keogh, Kenny Lowe’s men are poised for another title run this season. The trio of Taggart, Lowry and Keogh are returning, along with Alex Tobin Award winner Diego Castro, as the Glory will roll out one of the league’s most talented squads.
Coincided with the acquisitions of Rostyn Griffiths, Rhys Williams and Joseph Mills, the Glory will be in the hunt for their maiden piece of A-League silverware.
The Tough Ask: Can they win games interstate?
It’s a problem facing most professional sporting clubs located in Western Australia and the Glory are no different – the challenge of winning games across the country is daunting.
Last season, Perth only mustered five victories from 14 games outside of the friendly confines of NIB Stadium. The Glory lost eight of those 14 matches, with just one draw, albeit an impressive one against Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park.
The key for the Glory is to start quickly on the road, after they lost their first six away fixtures last season. It won’t be easy, as the Glory’s opening three matches away from home are against Melbourne City, Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC, but to be a legitimate title contender you need to win games, no matter the location.
The talent is there – Castro, Taggart and Keogh make for a devastating attacking duo, while the likes of Williams, Lowry, Dino Djulbic and Josh Risdon provide defensive depth – it’s just a matter of making it all click when wearing the white kits.
The Jets enter another season with a cloud of turmoil above their head, after the shock sackings of coach Scott Miller and assistant Luciano Trani. The club said Miller’s sacking was based on differences on football matters, while it’s reported Trani clashed with multiple squad members.
All of this mess means Mark Jones will take the reins at Newcastle to begin the season. Jones is familiar with the Jets, as he was an assistant coach when the team won their only A-League championship in 2008. However, this edition of the Jets is a far cry from the 2008 Joel Griffiths glory days.
The Tough Ask: Can they score enough goals?
Newcastle needs goals. It’s that simple, after the club put just 28 balls in the back of the onion bag last season, last in the competition.
It’s hard to identify where the Jets’ goals will come from. Last season’s leading goal scorer, Milos Trifunovic, is gone after he and the club came to a mutual agreement to terminate his contract in April.
Morten Nordstand had a strong finish to last season, scoring four goals in 11 appearances but whether or not he can maintain that form across a full season remains to be seen. At 33-years old, a decline is inevitable for Nordstand, too.
New signings Andrew Nabbout and Aleksandr Kokko will look to add some spark up front, while midfielder Wayne Brown has attacking instincts. How it all meshes, though, remains to be seen.
A disappointing title defence meant Melbourne Victory finished in sixth place at the end of last season, scraping through to the finals before being bundled out by this weekend’s opponent, Brisbane Roar.
A semi cleanout post-season saw the club lose some important players.
Last season’s Victory medallist Mathieu Delpierre retired, cult hero Archie Thompson parted ways with the club and midfield spearheads Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler traded dark blue for yellow and black, joining Wellington Phoenix in the off-season.
The boys in blue will be eager to challenge for silverware this time around, and with an influx of quality signings, they could be poised to do just that.
The Tough Ask: Can Victory’s recruits propel them back towards title contention?
Kevin Muscat has boasted some key signings in the offseason in an effort to replenish and reinvigorate the squad after last season’s shortcomings, but can they take his side all the way?
Marco Rojas and James Troisi have returned to the club, while experienced defender Alan Baro has joined from Ponferradina in Spain’s second division.
They also picked up a Central Coast prospect in lightning quick winger Mitch Austin, and plucked defender James Donachie from Brisbane Roar.
Ex-Chelsea star Michael Essien was also on the verge of becoming Victory’s marquee signing, but pulled out of the deal at the eleventh hour.
The biggest club in the country will want to be the best again, and if these signings can deliver, their quest for a fourth A-League title may well be on the cards.
Western Sydney Wanderers
Western Sydney Wanderers will be hoping to go one better this season after they came off second best to Adelaide in last year’s Hyundai A-League grand final and in the league table.
Tony Popovic’s men will be out for blood, kicking off the season with the Sydney derby
Wanderers fans have gotten used to a rotating door of players in recent years with a high turnover rate and Popovic has again re-vamped his squad.
Popovic has made some big signings in this window including Jumpei Kusukami, Bruno Pinatares and former Socceroo Robbie Cornthwaite which should add strength to the Western Sydney side.
The Tough Ask: Can they take the next step this season?
A massive squad turnover last year led to a similar question of the legitimacy of the Wanderers title aspirations that resulted in a third appearance in the last 4 A-League Grand Finals.
With another 15 players leaving the club since the end of the last season, the question must be asked again, can they finally go all the way this year?
The Wanderers are in for a long season, being back in the Asian Champions League after last year’s second place finish. The ACL is gruelling on top of the regular season but a challenge that Popovic will relish. So once again the fate of the Wanderers lies in the hands of Popovich’s new signings.
Can Uruguayan Bruno Pintares replicate his fellow countryman, Bruno Fornaroli’s heroics for Melbourne City? And can new Japanese signing Jumpei Kusukami rival beloved former Wanderer Shinji Ono to be Western Sydney’s new favourite Japanese player?
Only time will tell, but the 18,000 plus members in Wanderland can enter the season with high expectations of their revamped squad.
Graham Arnold’s Sydney FC will enter season 11 of the A-League following a season that saw them miss a place in the finals.
Some clever recruiting and an intense off season training regimen backed up by a strong pre-season showing shows that the Sky Blues mean business this year.
Sydney will kick off the season against cross town rivals Western Sydney, just two games from glory in the FFA cup and with no Asian Champions League commitments.
The Sky Blues have been active this off season, signing the experienced Danny Vukovic, Alex Wilkinson and Josh Brilliante and bringing back Bernie Ibini on loan from Belgium.
Arnie’s men look to have the depth to challenge for all 3 Australian trophies this season.
The Tough Ask: Can Bobo and Ibini revive Sydney’s attack?
Graham Arnold’s game plan revolves around ball control, dominating possession and passing, much like Arsenal in the Premier League, that won’t change.
The key for Sydney FC this season will be turning defense into offense.
Sydney’s attack has been bolstered with the signing of Brazilian striker Bobo and Australian winger, Bernie Ibini who will join Matt Simon, Alex Brosque, Filip Holosko and breakout candidate George Blackwood.
Last season Sydney finished with a goal difference of 0. With a strong defensive pairing of Jurman and Wilkinson, Sydney’s attackers, mainly Bobo and Ibini should have plenty of opportunity to get the Sky Blues on the scoreboard.
Ibini should re-establish chemistry with is old Sydney FC teammates and Bobo will stay close to former Besiktas teammate Holosko and should provide plenty of goals for Arnie’s men this season.
Wellington could not replicate their excellent form from two seasons ago in the 2015-16 season, finishing ninth with only the Mariners below them.
Despite the poor showing last season, there is plenty of optimism in the windy city for the new campaign. Coach Ernie Merrick raided his old club, Melbourne Victory, and signed Wellington-born Kosta Barbarouses and Brazilian Gui Finkler. The pair’s addition to a squad which already boasts Roy Krishna and Michael McGlinchey has the Phoenix’s attack looking like one of the fiercest in the league.
The Tough Ask: How will the ‘Nix defence fare?
Wellington has every reason to be very confident about the potential of their front half. On paper, their attacking options are up there with the best in the league. However, there are some question marks over their defence. This is the first time the Nix will play without Ben Sigmund in the squad in their history. The defender has been a stalwart of the club and the back four and his absence through injury hurt the team last season. Coupled with the retirement of holding midfielder Albert Riera, the heart of the Phoenix defence will look different this season.
The success of Wellington’s season may well depend on how quickly Italian Marco Rossi and NPL products Jacob Tratt and Ryan Lowry settle into the team and the league. Their combinations with the likes of Andrew Durante, Tom Doyle and Louis Fenton will be crucial if the Phoenix want to make a finals appearance.
Central Coast Mariners
The Mariners weren’t just bad last season, they were awful. With only three wins to their name and a massive 70 goals conceded over 27 games, Central Coast rarely moved off the bottom of the table.
Tony Walmsley looked as though he would be given a chance to redeem himself but was sacked in early August following the side’s 2-1 loss to NPL Victoria side Green Gully in the FFA Cup round of 32.
Paul Okon has been given the chance to turn the Mariners’ fortunes around but there are serious question marks over what he can do in the small amount of time he has been given.
The Tough Ask: Can they recover from their abysmal last season?
Perhaps not yet. Tony Walmsley had been active in the transfer window, picking up multiple players from other A-League clubs including Blake Powell from the Phoenix and Sydney FC duo Mickael Tavares and Jacques Faty. The Mariners lost two of their best in Mitch Austin and Josh Rose – who moved to Melbourne Victory and City respectively. At the end of the day, this is very much Walmsley’s squad.
It is a young group for the most part and while Paul Okon has experience with young players, thanks to his time as the Young Socceroos coach and the Olyroos assistant coach, trying to implement his systems and style of football in a little under two months may be too big a task.
Surprises have been thrown up in the league before but the Mariners appear to be just too far behind most of the competition.