A-League 2014/15 Season Preview

A-League

The excellent Rogier Waalder presents this extensive guide to the new A-League season with his predictions attached… enjoy!

ADELAIDE UTD

Adelaide Utd was the entertainers of the league last season under new Spanish manager, Josep Gombau and although their swashbuckling style won many friends (and Gombau the gig as All-Stars coach) it only translated to a 6th place finish.  The aim for Gombau this campaign is learn to combine their attacking flair with an increased emphasis on getting results.  Adelaide have lost a fair bit of experience from last season with Jeronimo Neumann, Jon McKain and Michael  Zullo all moving on.  He has bought in some able replacements though with Dylan McGowan, Jimmy Jeggo and Craig Goodwin all easily having the talent to make a difference in the A-League.  Spanish journeyman Pablo Sanchez looks likely to replace Neumann’s place in attack.

Much of Adelaide’s success will hinge on the performances of their 3 stand out performers from last term in Fabio Ferreira, Isaias and Cirio, who were at attacking fulcrums in a team that were the highest scoring in the league.  They also have the ever reliable and excellent Eugene Galekovic between the sticks and his experience and shot stopping abilities are also crucial to their success.

Adelaide still look a bit weak in defence and their fans will hope that Gombau is not channelling Arsene Wenger here by continually ignoring shoring up the defence in order to better the team.  Adelaide fans will be buoyed by their progression to the Quarter-Finals of the FFA Cup, beating 2 A-League opponents along the way, and hopefully they can make Hindmarsh Stadium a fortress once more.

TRANSFERS IN AND OUTS

IN: Pablo Sanchez (Lugo); Jimmy Jeggo (Melbourne Victory); Dylan McGowan (Hearts); Craig Goodwin (Newcastle Jets)

OUT: Jake Barker-Daish (Released); Daniel Bowles (Brisbane Roar); Jon McKain (Released); Jacob Melling (Melbourne City); Jeronimo Neumann (Newcastle Jets); Michael Zullo (FC Utrecht  – Loan Expiry)

MANAGER – JOSEP GOMBAU

The former Barcelona youth coach was a breath of fresh air in the A-League last year with his attacking play, eccentric style and infectious smile.  Won the fans vote to become the A-League All-Stars coach in the game vs Juventus but needs to bring a bit more of a defensive nous to the side in order to challenge for honours

KEY PLAYER – FABIO FERREIRA

Lead the scoring and assists charts for Adelaide last campaign from an advanced midfield role and his style, movement and flair matches his manager’s ambitions perfectly.  A product of the Chelsea youth system, he will be a marked man this time around but has the talent to once again make a big impact.

PREDICTION – 7th

BRISBANE ROAR

Last season’s Champions and Premiers will once again be expected to be competing for honours this season; however this may prove to be a difficult challenge for them.   Long before the champagne corks were popped last season inspirational talisman Besart Berisha rocked the club by announcing that he would be moving to Melbourne Victory for this campaign.  The Albanian is Brisbane’s all-time leading scorer and club legend and his tenacity and clinical finishing abilities have won many a game for the club and his departure is a massive blow.  Compounding the blow of losing Berisha was also the sale of attacking full-back Ivan Franjic to Torpedo Moscow, after his performances for Australia in the World Cup.  Franjic has also been an important attacking outlet for Mike Mulvey’s side for the last few years and his marauding runs down the right hand side will be sorely missed.

The club have made some decent signings to try and offset the losses of Berisha and Franjic and much is expected of Daniel Bowles as a direct replacement for Franjic.  Brisbane has also turned to the same avenues that got them Berisha in the first place by signing unheard of Macedonian striker Mensur Kurtishi.  There will be expectations on Kurtishi to fill the big-shoes left by Berisha and if he can succeed than Brisbane should have a very good season.

Brisbane’s biggest strength is, as always, in midfield where the enigmatic Thomas Broich is still the side’s key player.  He is ably supported by the hard-working Matt McKay and rising star Luke Brattan with Liam Miller and Steven Lustica providing good depth in the midfield.  Brisbane also managed to lure home FC Utrecht star Adam Sarota on a season’s loan, as he fights back to full fitness following a serious knee injury.  Sarota should be able to fill a few roles for Brisbane and his versatility will be welcome, particularly towards the end of the season with Asian Champions League games start clogging up the fixture calendar.

There are some problems in goals with regular goalie Michael Theo suffering a broken wrist that will rule him out of the first 2 months of the season.   Incoming ‘keeper Jamie Young will be expected to hit the ground running.

The club has also had a massive face-lift in the off-season by completely revamping their logo and strip in a move to appeal to a more traditional football supporter.

TRANSFERS IN AND OUTS

IN: Mensur Kurtishi (Shkendija); Daniel Bowles (Adelaide Utd); Jamie Young (Hayes and Yeading); Adam Sarota (FC Utrecht – loan); Matt Acton (Yangon Utd)

OUT: Besart Berisha (Melbourne Victory); Ivan Franjic (Torpedo Moscow); Diogo Ferreira (Perth Glory); Julius Davies (Otelul Galiti)

MANAGER – MIKE MULVEY

Following last season’s breakout coaching performance from Mulvey to do the double with Brisbane, the pressure is on to defend the title, whilst losing 2 key players.  Mulvey had a great ability to mix attacking play with defensive pragmatism when required.

KEY PLAYER – THOMAS BROICH

The greatest import the A-League has ever seen is back for another season with Brisbane and with the departure of Besart Berisha the pressure will be on Broich to step up again to fire his team to success.

PREDICTION – 3rd

CENTRAL COAST MARINERS

The perennial over-achievers of the A-League face another season that is set up for them to once again defy all the odds.   This is a team that pundits write off at their own peril and this season will be no different.  With ongoing financial difficulties plaguing the Gosford-based outfit has seen a clutch of first-team players leave during the off-season including Marcos Flores, Michael McGlinchey, Marcel Seip and Justin Pasfield.  The retirement of Australia stalwart Mile Sterjovski will also have an impact on squad depth.

With little money to spend the Mariners have hit the loan market for their international stars with Hungarian youth international Richard Vernes coming from Honved and Senegalese striker Malick Mane from Goteborg.

There is still quality in the squad and the defence particularly looks settled and strong with the likes of Zac Anderson, Josh Rose, Eddy Bosnar and promising New Zealander Storm Roux looking to keep things tight.  There are 2 very bright attacking prospects that are also looking to have breakout seasons in Anthony Caceres and Mitchell Duke and if these 2 can fire then expect the Mariners to once again upset the odds.

The season has started well for Central Coast with 2 wins in the FFA Cup to move into the Quarter-Finals and they’ll also have Asian Champions League qualifiers to contend with later in the season.

TRANSFERS IN AND OUTS

IN: Richard Vernes (Honved – On Loan); Malick Mane (IFK Goteborg – On Loan); Matthew Nash (Bonnyrigg White Eagles); Jacob Poscoliero (Blacktown City)

OUT: Mile Sterjovski (Retired), Adam Kwasnik (Retired), Marcos Flores (Newcastle Jets); Justin Pasfield (Tampines Rovers); Marcel Seip (FC Emmen); Michael McGlinchey (Wellington Phoenix)

MANAGER – PHIL MOSS

After a shaky start last season, Moss finished strongly and the Mariners defied expectations to finish 3rd.  Moss will be better after getting his debut managerial season out of the way and will again to create a defensively sound, tight team unit.

KEY PLAYER – MITCHELL DUKE

After his breakout performances of last season Duke will be expected to lead the line and build on the 6 goals.  Has been compared to Mark Viduka and if Duke can harness his strength and raw potential then this will go some way to living up to these comparisons.

PREDICTION – 8th

MELBOURNE CITY FC

No club has undertaken more change in the long off-season than newly named Melbourne City FC (formerly Melbourne Heart).  The club that was once the little brother to Melbourne Victory has reshaped the Australian football landscape with new ownership by Khaldoon Al Mubarak and the integration of the club into his stable of clubs, including Manchester City and New York City.  With this new found wealth comes in upgraded training facilities, upgraded access to coaching resources and pre-season training camps in Manchester and in a league that is equalised by a salary cap its these advantages that have seen some big name players join Melbourne City, including arguable the biggest name to grace the A-League, David Villa.  Villa joins on a short-term loan from New York City and fills the void left by Alessandro Del Piero’s departure from the league.  Villa will be expected to bang in the goals during his short-term stay.

Joining Villa is also Damien Duff and Robert Koren from the Premier League on full-time deals, whilst former Brisbane Roar star Erik Paartalu also joins the club in what could be the signing of the season.  The star power of these new signings off-sets the departures of Harry Kewell, Orlando Engelaar and Aziz Behich.  On paper Melbourne City will have one of the strongest squads in the league and have a good balance of experience and youth in the squad but the expectation is that this is a season to build on, after finishing last in the previous season.

The new affiliation with the Manchester City stable has bought about instant rewards with season ticket number increasing by 50% from last season and the derby games against the Victory promise to be explosive this campaign.

TRANSFERS IN AND OUTS

IN: David Villa (New York City – Short Term Loan); Damien Duff (Fulham); Robert Koren (Hull City); Aaron Mooy (Western Sydney); Connor Chapman (Newcastle Jets); James Brown (Newcastle Jets); Erik Paartalu (Muangthong Utd); Jacob Melling (Adelaide Utd)

OUT: Harry Kewell (Retired); Orlando Engelaar (Released); Aziz Behich (Bursaspor – end of Loan); Patrick Gerhardt (Released);

MANAGER – JOHN VAN’T SCHIP

In his 2nd spell at the club, van’t Schip certainly has the pedigree to impress the new club owners.  There will be immediate pressure on van’t Schip to improve on the disappointing campaign from last season and hit the ground running.  He has made a very shrewd acquisition with the appointment of title winning Assistant Manager Luciano Trani from Brisbane Roar.

KEY PLAYER – DAVID VILLA

The presence of Villa is a real coup for the club and the league and whilst his loan deal is only for 10 games, the expectations on Villa to score a bagful of goals to get his team up and running.  The fact that Villa is heavily backed to be the league’s leading scorer at the end of the season despite only being able to play 10 games says all about his pedigree.

PREDICTION – 5th

MELBOURNE VICTORY

The self proclaimed ‘Biggest Club in the Land’ had a somewhat disappointing campaign last season with a 4th placed finish not living up to the promise that the squad carried.  This pressure is about to be amplified for manager Kevin Muscat with some big name signings earning his troops the Favourites tag coming into the new season.  Whilst Muscat has lost some big names in the off-season such as last season’s best player James Troisi plus Tom Rogic and Adama Traore the spending spree he has undertaken has more than made up for these departures.

No doubt the biggest name to come in is Besart Berisha, from Brisbane Roar, and the Albanian will no doubt relish linking up with the potent attacking force that Victory has at its disposal.  Apart from his goals, there’s no doubt that Muscat see’s in Berisha similarities with his own playing style on the pitch and it will be interesting how these 2 often abrasive personalities get along.  Joining Berisha as foreign players for the Victory this are the well-credential Matthieu Delpierre (ex Lille, Stuttgart, Hoffenheim & Utrecht player); Macedonian International defender Daniel Georgievski as well as Tunisian International midfielder Fahid Ben Khalfallah.  The club has also managed to attract back home from over a decade in Italy the defensive midfielder Carl Valeri, who is keen to impress in order to gain a berth in the Australian squad for the 2015 Asian Cup.

Victory has also managed to hold onto current Socceroo Mark Milligan and with club icon Archie Thompson looking to end his career on a high there is star power all over the pitch.  The club has also sold almost 20,000 season tickets in a sign that they are not lying down in the face of their newly rich neighbours, Melbourne City FC.  The Victory will also be advantaged later in the season with no Asian Champions League commitments and they certainly look like the team to beat.

TRANSFERS IN AND OUTS

IN: Besart Berisha (Brisbane Roar), Carl Valeri (Ternana), Matthieu Delpierre (FC Utrecht), Daniel Georgievski (Steaua Bucharest), Fahid Ben Khalfallah (Troyes)

OUT: Jimmy Jeggo (Adelaide Utd), Pablo Contreras (Retired), Tom Rogic (Celtic – End of Loan), James Troisi (Atalanta – End of Loan), Adama Traore (Vitoria Guimares), Francesco Stella (Released)

MANAGER – KEVIN MUSCAT

Muscat was thrown into the deep end of club management when Ange Postecoglou took over the Australian national team last year and it was a baptism of fire for him.  He grew into the role as the season went on and if he can harness the maximum potential out of his squad then silverware beckons this season.

KEY PLAYER – BESART BERISHA

Their fierce rivals may have David Villa but its Besart Berisha who looms as the favourite for the Golden Boot.  The Albanian leaves Brisbane with a record of 48 goals in his 76 games for the club as well as 3 Championships and it’s this scoring and winning pedigree that Victory will hope brings success to his new club.

PREDICTION – 1st

NEWCASTLE JETS

The Newcastle Jets are a bit of an unknown force in the A-League this season for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost is the intrigue surrounding the current status of the club ownership with wantaway millionaire owner Nathan Tinkler actively taking steps to sell the club.  The club have been pedalling a ‘business as usual’ line but it’s clear that the ownership issues are affecting club morale and finances.  Perhaps its due to the financial pressures that has forced the Jets to sell off their 2 best players from last term, or maybe its a case of cashing in on the World Cup with Australia squad players Josh Brilliante and Adam Taggart moving to European clubs.  Taggart was the league’s top scorer last season and hence will be hard to replace.  Emile Heskey ended his time at the club at the conclusion of last season and has headed back to the UK.

Newcastle has bought in some players with A-League experience and none more controversial than the signing of Marcos Flores from bitter rivals Central Coast Mariners.  Flores has been quick to stoke the rivalry flames by claiming that the Mariners mistreated him during his injury lay-off last season.  If fit though, Flores is a great capture.  They’ve also picked up Billy Celeski and Adrian Madaschi from Asian clubs after their previous successful A-League stints and they’ll add much needed experience to the side.  Also in is Edson Montana from Ecuador in a bid to prove that the Jets previous nightmares with South American strikers is behind them (Mario Jardel and Edmundo Zura had forgettable spells with the club).  Jeronimo Neumann from Adelaide is also a handy striker whilst Nothern Ireland international Jonny Steele comes highly rated by Tim Cahill through their time together at the New York Red Bulls.

Apart from Taggart and Brilliante, the other key departure was club captain Ruben Zadkovich who surprisingly decided to head to Perth Glory.  Zadkovich was much loved by the Jets faithful and his tenacity in midfield may be missed this year.  They’ve also bought in a new manager with Phil Stubbins getting his chance to manage an A-League club after a previous stint as an Assistant at Adelaide. The club seem to be in a holding pattern pending the outcome of the ownership issues and the sooner this can be sorted out the better for the team and its faithful supporters.

TRANSFERS IN AND OUTS

IN: Marcos Flores (Central Coast Mariners), Adrian Madaschi (Jeju Utd), Jonny Steele (New York Red Bulls), Sam Gallagher (Hanoi T&T), Edson Montana (Barcelona SC (ECU)), Jeronimo Neumann (Adelaide Utd), Billy Celeski (Liaoning Whowin)

OUT: Adam Taggart (Fulham), Josh Brilliante (Fiorentina), James Brown & Connon Chapman (Melbourne City), Ruben Zadkovich (Perth Glory),  Joey Gibbs (APIA), Craig Goodwin (Adelaide Utd)

MANAGER – PHIL  STUBBINS

Englishman Stubbins comes to the Jets after a few years coaching in Thailand after enhancing his reputation following a spell as Assistant manager at Adelaide Utd.  During his time with Adelaide he was actively involved in the club’s run to the Asian Champions League final in 2008.  Stubbins has a reputation as a brilliant tactician.

KEY PLAYER – MARK BIRIGHITTI

An up and coming young goalkeeper, Birighitti was a surprise inclusion in an extended Australian World Cup squad for the 2014 World Cup.  He missed the final cut but his presence in the squad showed the potential that he has, as has rumoured trial stints with clubs such as Leverkusen.  A brilliant shot stopper he needs to gain some consistency to not only aid his club but his own career ambitions.

PREDICTION – 9th

PERTH GLORY

One of the most famous names in Australian football, Perth Glory endured a horror campaign last season that included dressing room bust-ups, mutinies and nepotism claims.  The only way therefore is up and things are looking positive in the West for this campaign with a solid off-season acquisition process.  Millionaire mining magnate owner Tony Sage is not scared to spend money to chase success and he has certainly bought in some very handy signings during the break.

Perth have picked up Youssouf Hersi after his stellar 2 seasons with Western Sydney in a real coup for the club.  Mitch Nicholls and Dino Djublic come in after spells in Asia to again prove themselves at A-League level and influential goalkeeper Danny Vukovic comes back after a failed stint in Japan.  The signing that has the Glory supporters excited though is that of Irish striker Andy Keogh from Millwall, who at only 28 years of age is still at the top of his game and could prove to be a very shrewd signing indeed.  Young gun Daniel de Silva was sold to AS Roma after last season but has been loaned back to continue his footballing educated in the A-League.

The squad looks very solid and has depth in most areas and the club hierarchy have issued a challenge to the squad to compete for honours this season.  The one big question mark over their chances for success is in their manager, Kenny Lowe.  Lowe took-over after the disastrous tenure of Alistair Edwards last season and whilst he is a local footballing legend the jury is still out as to whether he can cut it at this level.

If Lowe can fire his troops and improve their away form (Perth has to travel on average 4 hours by plane to away games) then Perth certainly have the squad now to mix it with the contenders.

TRANSFERS IN AND OUTS

IN: Youssouf Hersi (Western Sydney Wanderers), Dino Djublic (Al Wahda), Mitch Nicholls (Cerezo Osaka), Diogo Ferreira (Brisbane Roar), Ruben Zadkovich (Newcastle Jets), Andy Keogh (Millwall), Richard Garcia (Minnesota)

OUT: William Gallas (retired), Jacob Burns (Retired), Travis Dodd (Retired), Steve McGarry (Retired), Ryan Edwards (Reading – Recall from Loan), Adrian Zahra (Valletta), Daniel de Silva (AS Roma – Loaned back), Shane Smeltz (Sydney FC).

MANAGER – KENNY LOWE

Lowe has a reputation as a great motivator and is widely regarded in Perth for his football acumen and now is his time to shine and repay the club’s hierarchy off-season spending spree.

KEY PLAYER – MITCH NICHOLLS

Nicholls is a bit of an enigmatic figure in Australian football after his previous successful stints with both Brisbane and Melbourne Victory.  He made a big money move to Japanese outfit Cerezo Osaka last season but the move hasn’t worked out and he joins Perth on loan to find his form again.  A massively talented player with great technical abilities but often lacks the motivation and temperament to lift his game to the next level.  He might revel in the relative anonymity of Perth.

PREDICTION – 6th

 

SYDNEY FC

Now that the buzz from having Alessandro Del Piero in your team has well and truly subsided (ADP has signed onto play in the Indian Super League), Sydney FC have realised that one superstar does not make a successful team.  Sydney FC did really really well off the pitch during Del Piero’s two seasons in sky blue but on the pitch it was a different story with more poor performances than good ones during this time.  To rub salt into the wounds of this fallen super-club is the performances of their noisy little neighbours, Western Sydney, during these two seasons as well.  Something had to give and it has and a mini-revolution has occurred at Sydney FC during this off-season.

The first casualty of the soul-searching was manager Frank Farina and he has been replaced by the man who did so well with Central Coast but was then subjected to an awful stint in the Japanese J-League, Graham Arnold.  Arnold has come into the role swinging and vowing to return Sydney FC to their former glories and he hasn’t been afraid to wave the cheque-book around in order to do so.  Some big name signings have been made including former hero Alex Brosque, the league’s 2nd highest scorer of all time Shane Smeltz, former Central Coast golden boy Bernie Ibini and current Austrian national team captain Marc Janko.

The major challenge for Arnold is how to fit 5 very handy strikers into the starting line-up but you can guarantee that there are goals in this side.  There is also a very decent back-line to keep things tight lead by the effervescent Sasa Ognenovski.  Sydney FC do seem to lack some depth in midfield but given that Arnold is likely to only play 3 midfielders it may not be that big a deal.  With the biggest city in the nation threatening to fall under the spell of the Wanderers, Sydney FC have taken very proactive steps to win some love back this off-season and they have already sold a record number of season tickets indicating that the post-ADP world may not be that depressing.

TRANSFERS IN AND OUTS

IN: Marc Janko (Trabzonspor), Shane Smeltz (Perth Glory), Bernie Ibini (Shanghai Donya), Alex Brosque (Al-Ain), Alex Gersbach (AIS)

OUT: Brett Emerton (retired), Alessandro Del Piero (Released), Terry McFlynn (Retired), Marc Warren & Blake Powell (APIA), Ranko Despotivic (Alaves), Joel Chianese (Sydney Utd ’58)

MANAGER – GRAHAM ARNOLD

‘Arnie’ needs no introduction to football fan in Australia given the most excellent work he did with the Central Coast Mariners, leading them to a Premiership in 2011-2 and a Championship in 2012-3 whilst also picking up Manager of the Year Award in 2011-2.  Arnie then went to challenge himself by taking a role with Vegalta Sendai in the J-League and this turned out to be a nightmare spell which last a few months.  He has the change to build on his impressive CV with Sydney FC and his superior tactical and player management skills will be much appreciated by the squad.

KEY PLAYER – TERRY ANTONIS

The prodigiously talented Antonis feels like he has been around forever, belying his mere 20 years of age.  This is an indicator of what he has packed into his career thus far and big things have always beckoned for the silky midfielder but never eventuated.  He was very unfortunate that a move to Parma last season was scuppered by injury and with big clubs still keeping an eye out on him, this might be his chance to be Sydney’s post ADP star.

PREDICTION – 4th

 

WELLINGTON PHOENIX

There has been the feeling for a couple of seasons now that the Phoenix have come off the boil and their early-life successes are a mere memory.  There are several factors that always count against them when in comes to achieving success including their relative anonymity (being in New Zealand and all), large travel involved (passports get stamped every 2nd week) and underlying anxiety that FIFA will one day wake up to this cross-confederational arrangement and axe the Phoenix.  The truth is that Wellington do not have the finances to compete with the bigger Aussie clubs and have to rely on smaller foreign names and young and emerging Kiwi talent.

Wellington have lost 3 big stars from last-years squad with player of the year Carlos Hernandez, leading scorer Stein Huysegems and club stalwart Leo Bertos all moving to pastures anew.  They did strike one back in their favour after somehow convincing the powers that be that Michael McGlinchey didn’t need to honour his Central Coast contract whilst also picking up former young prodigy Nathan Burns, who will be keen to re-assert his career after a few poor years in Europe and Asia.  Also in comes former Dutch youth international Roly Bonevacia and the Spaniard Alejandro Gorrin.

Wellington also have the services of Alex Riera back after his long injury layoff last campaign and his presence will make a big difference to the side.  It will also be interesting to see how Kenny Cunningham gets on without his Costa Rican amigo Hernandez feeding him chances.  Wellington do have the ability to surprise and they have proven this over the years but the general consensus is that this squad lacks the quality of some of the other sides and it may be a season of struggle across the ditch.

TRANSFERS IN AND OUTS

IN: Roly Bonevacia (Roda JC), Alejandro Gorrin (Sunderland), Nathan Burns (Incheon), Michael McGlinchey (Central Coast Mariners), Tom Doyle (Team Wellington)

OUT: Carlos Hernandez (C.S Cartigines), Leo Bertos (East Bengal), Stein Huysegems (Released), Luke Adams (Released)

MANAGER – ERNIE MERRICK

The no-nonsense Mr Pragmatic Ernie Merrick might no win games by out-attacking or passing an opposition but his teams play sensible, low risk football which means that whilst Wellington shouldn’t suffer any big losses against them this season, also means that they are unlikely to win games by a big margin as well.

KEY PLAYER – MICHAEL MCGLINCHEY

The former Celtic player carved out a name for himself with the Central Coast Mariners (making the Team of the Year in 2012-3) but a contract dispute at the end of the last season has seen him end up with his home town club.  A technically gifted midfielder he will need to adapt to this side really quickly if Wellington are to stand any chance of a successful season.

PREDICTION – 10th

WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS

Its doubtful that there is any other club side in world football that has achieved as much success in their first 2 years of existence than the Wanderers have.  The story of the Wanderers is true fairytale stuff with 2 Grand Final appearences in their first 2 seasons as well as just recently qualifying for the Asian Champions League Final in their very first appearance in that competition.  Add to this the almost overnight creation of the most passionate supporter base in the country (they have a waiting list of season tickets) and this truly is a meteoric rise.  The challenge is therefore to sustain this as inevitably the bubble will burst one day.

The Wanderers have lost a few of their star performers from the last 2 seasons including the irreplaceable Shinjo Ono and Youssouf Hersi and the pressure will be on new signings Vitor Saba, and Romeo Castelen to give the faithful new stars to worship.

The Wanderers success has come from their ability to work as a unit and be committed in all facets of their game and maybe with the star power of Ono and Hersi gone this may give rise for new stars to present themselves.  Manager Tony Popovic has worked wonders with this side and he will continue that work this season and build a strong squad with great depth that will feed off their intense home atmosphere.

The Wanderers also come into the season with the advantage of playing highly competitive off-season matches during their Champions League run and it remains to be seen as to whether the 2-legged Final against Al-Hilal (in late October and early November) will prove to be an inspiration or a burden, particularly given that a win will earn a World Club Cup spot and a potential meeting with Real Madrid.

TRANSFERS IN AND OUTS

IN: Dean Bouzanis (Carlisle Utd), Vitor Saba (Brescia), Brendan Hamill (Seognam), Romeo Castelen (RKC), Seyi Adeleke (Lazio)

OUT: Shinji Ono (Consadole Sapporo), Michael Beauchamp (PTT Rayong), Youssouf Hersi (Perth Glory), Aaron Mooy (Melbourne City), Jerome Polenz (Sarpsborg), Adam D’Apuzzo (Retired), Dean Heffernen (Retired), Tajh Minnieconn (Rockdale Suns)

MANAGER – TONY POPOVIC

Apparently has rejected 2 opportunites to take over Crystal Palace to stay with the Wanderers and his team have repaid his loyalty.  Popovic is a master motivator and tactician who gets the best out of his entire squad.  He has though lost 2 consecutive Grand Finals and no doubt this will be playing on his mind in the upcoming Asian Champions League Final.

KEY PLAYER – VITOR SABA

The Brazilian attacking midfielder was purchased from Brescia to fill the large Shinji Ono shaped hole for the Wanderers. Whilst not having a CV anywhere near as impressive as Ono’s Saba has quickly become a fan favourite with his looks and ability to rile his opponents, as evidenced during recent Champions League matches.  If he can create chances for his team as well as harness his mean streak in a positive way he will play a key part in whatever the Wanderers achieve this season.

PREDICTION – 2nd

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