There are so many things to look forward to in the A-League this season. Here's how I see the fortunes of each club in 2012-2013.
We may be treated to three different versions of Adelaide this season: the one that stumbled to ninth in the 2011-2012 A-League, the galvanised version that counter-attacked its way to the AFC Champions League semi-finals, or the new incarnation that "plays out from the back", according to coach John Kosmina. All three 'Adelaides' have been on display during the pre-season. Adelaide is nearing peak condition for its ACL semi-final first leg against Bunyodkor and if it can carry that momentum into the start of the domestic season, it will have an important jump on the rest of the competition. How John Kosmina uses Sergio van Dijk, coupled with his team’s ability to adapt tactically to match situations, will decide which version of Adelaide prevails in 2012-2013.
Key Player: Dario Vidosic
One to Watch: Marcelo Carrusca
Using pre-season form to judge Brisbane Roar is like looking at your used tea leaves for signs of what the weather might be like. Don’t read too much into the 6-2 loss to Adelaide. The major question is whether a side that has revolutionised the domestic game on its way to back-to-back championships can do it again without Ange Postecoglou in charge. There’s no doubt Rado Vidosic has been a key figure in shaping Roar’s patient, possession-based style, but he is a different personality to his predecessor, whose aggressive insistence on moulding the team to suit the tactics, transformed Roar into arguably the best domestic football team Australia has produced. With six key players recently re-signing, including Thomas Broich, the pieces are in place for Roar to replicate its success this season.
Key Player: Thomas Broich
One to Watch: Ben Halloran
Statistically the Mariners are the best team in the A-League never to win a Grand Final. Last season they didn’t even make the decider, despite winning the Premier's Plate. The biggest question is whether the side can win the elusive ‘toilet seat’ with largely the same squad, minus a few key components - Amini, Wilkinson, Simon and Griffiths. Mile Sterjovski will add some polish at the pointy end for Graham Arnold’s men, while retaining the coach was a coup in itself and he has proved adept at spotting and developing young talent since taking over in Gosford. He’ll need to be at his best if Central Coast is to end its championship duck.
Key Player: Mathew Ryan
One to Watch: Mitchell Duke
Amid the excitement and intrigue over John Aloisi’s first season as a senior coach, is the sobering fact that Heart has had more turnover than a badly-cooked barbecued steak. Once again, the key to Heart’s success will be the performance of its veteran quartet: Clint Bolton, Simon Colosimo, Matt Thompson and Fred. If the latter can stay fit, Heart will contest its second finals series. The key point of interest will be Croatian striker Josip Tadic, who kept Brisbane’s Besart Berisha on the bench during their time together at 2.Bundesliga club Arminia Bielefeld. The 24-year-old could prove to be one of the buys of the season and an apt replacement for Eli Babalj.
Key Player: Fred
One to watch: Josip Tadic
Twelve months after rumours surfaced linking Ange Postecloglou to the A-League’s best-supported and best-resourced club, the move happened, sealing Victory’s second-biggest recruitment coup behind Harry Kewell. The third followed soon after, with A-League favourite Marcos Flores swapping the red of Adelaide for the navy of Melbourne, via an ill-fated stint in China. Observers in the know are wondering how Ange will fare without his trusty sidekick Ken Stead, who stayed in Brisbane, but if pre-season form is a guide, Victory is starting to play with the same pomp as the club its new coach led to two straight championships. Can Ange make it three in a row? Roar may have the final say there.
Key Player: Marcos Flores
One to watch: Guillerme Finkler
Newcastle's underwhelming 2011-2012 season on the pitch was offset by a dramatic set of circumstances off it, in which the club’s future appeared in limbo for a brief period. With that drama resolved, the club promptly set about off-loading the majority of its starting side. Fans’ expectations swiftly followed 11 players out the door as Gary van Egmond quietly set about re-building. The arrivals of James Brown, Connor Chapman, Craig Goodwin, Mark Birighitti among a smattering of the country’s most promising youth players means the Jets coach now has a young, vibrant squad at his disposal, capable of playing his high-tempo, pressing game. We saw it in patches in the pre-season match against Sydney FC. Throw into the mix a couple of foreign imports and a few experienced heads and the Jets will catch a few teams by surprise this season.
Key Player: James Brown
One to Watch: Craig Goodwin
The arrival of Nick Ward, Adrian Zahra and Michael Thwaite, among others, will only serve to strengthen a team that proved last season it can beat any side on its day, barring Brisbane Roar. This season the competition will be a lot tougher with new coaches applying fresh tactical thinking to revamped squads. Glory coach Ian Ferguson has made the right noises about possession-based football but his ability to mould one of the best squads in the league, in theory, into a cohesive unit on the pitch, will be the determining factor in whether the 2011-2012 runner-up finishes in the top six.
Key Player: Shane Smeltz
One to watch: Jesse Makarounas
Just when Melbourne Victory threatened to hog the headlines, its northern rival went and signed one of the best modern attacking footballers the game has seen. I’m not talking about Yairo Yau, although the Panama international will play a key role. Alessandro Del Piero has already brought the bling back to a club that, in the years since Dwight Yorke’s departure, has redefined bland. The biggest challenge for Sky Blues coach Ian Crook is working out how to get the best out of the 37 year-old Italian. While Del Piero is a vastly different character to Yorke, he is sure play a similarly influential role and be the orchestrator of Sydney FC’s attack. In that instance, the ability of Yau, Kruno Lovrek and company to finish the chances he creates will be key.
Key player: Alessandro Del Piero
One to Watch: Mitch Mallia
Phoenix’s biggest advantage is that its off-season has been punctuated by series of high-pressure 2014 World Cup qualifying matches and international friendlies for memeber s of its squad. Come qualifying time, the bulk of Ricki Herbert’s squad swaps the yellow and black strip for an All White one - as does Herbert. The combination of a battle-hardened squad, three consecutive finals campaigns, boisterous home support and the return of prodigal son Jeremy Brockie, ensures the Kiwi side is no easy-beat. While I can’t see Wellington making the finals this time round, clubs that underestimate it will be punished.
Key Player: Paul Ifill
One to watch: Jeremy Brockie
Remember Wanderers, that new Sydney team everyone was talking about until a certain Italian decided to try his luck in the A-League? Tony Popovic has put together a handy squad of his own, complete with an exciting mix of foreign and local talent. As we've seen with North Queensland Fury and Melbourne Heart it’s hard for a new combination of players to have an immediate impact, so don’t expect miracles from WSW yet. But the club has done a wonderful job of engaging fans and having Parramatta Stadium as a home base is a masterstroke. With good support, a top young local coach, a squad packed with potential and a salivating derby, Wanderers will be firing in no time.
Key Player: Youssouff Hersi
One to watch: Aaron Mooy.
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