The 2019/20 A-League season kicks off this weekend!
Two major changes will make this season memorable, for good or bad yet to be decided. The introduction of Western United and the clubs gaining more control of the league.
This season will see 29 rounds where each club will play 13 home and 13 away games along with 3 byes to allow for the inclusion of Western United. The regular season will play from 11 October through to 26 April with the teams finishing 1st-6th playing in the finals series through May.
We will continue to not see the league take breaks to match with the FIFA International dates, notably in the very first week of competition, and is not something all of the coaches are happy about for good reason.
Another negative for the year is the loss of an Asian Champions League qualification place and only set to worsen if our clubs can’t make an impact on the competition having only made it to or beyond the quarter finals three times since 2007.
The future of the A-League will need growth both in Australia and internationally if we want to keep attracting big names and playing exciting football.
Adelaide have already qualified for the 2019 FFA Cup final with their win over Central Coast this week and it will be their third time in a row (this time against Melbourne City).
Last season they won the Cup and went on to reach the semi finals at the end of the season but they will be without coach Marco Kurz and captain Isaias Sanchez this year with Gertjan Verbeek taking the reins. The Dutchman has brought back youngster Riley McGree along with bringing James Troisi back to his home state on a two-year deal.
Depending on how Verbeek’s style works in the A-League we should see Adelaide back in the finals.
Premier League legend Robbie Fowler has taken charge of Brisbane in his first full-time coaching role and immediately reshaped the club. Most of last year’s team is gone but maybe that’s just what’s needed for a club that finished 9th last year with only four wins. Notable in Fowler’s signings are players who have played in the UK, no doubt influenced by the Merseysider.
With such a different team pieced together and Fowler trying his hand at professional management for the first time its hard to guess where they could finish, but it’s likely the board will want to see finals after last year’s disappointment.
Central Coast Mariners
The Mariners finished dead last for the third time in four years in 2019. Fans will once again be hoping for an improvement this year with caretaker Alen Stajcic being promoted to head coach for the next three years. Preseason has been littered with wins for Central Coast but performances against A-League sides have been disappointing with losses to Western Sydney, Melbourne City and Adelaide and a win on penalties over Brisbane in the FFA Cup.
There is some pressure on Stajcic to turn around the fortunes of a struggling club but with a three-year contract it could show some faith from the board to give him time to rebuild as he likes. A mid-table finish could be the best the Mariners can manage this season but the future could be brighter.
Faced with uncertainty at the end of last season, no manager, star players leaving, Melbourne City had a bit to sort out before the new season. They have brought in Erick Mombaerts and he in turn has brought in an interesting set of players. Scott Galloway and Josh Brillante join from other A-League clubs and Richard Windbichler and Adrian Luna are the pick of the overseas signings and should bring experience to a club still sorting out its identity.
Their preseason has seen them beat Adelaide twice and lose to them once ahead of the FFA Cup final, a repeat of last year’s elimination final. With a 5th place finish and no impact on the finals series City should be looking for top four and consistent performances this year.
Melbourne Victory finished third last season before losing heavily to Sydney in the semi final but even with several losses they will be pushing for the top again this year. Marco Kurz stepped into Kevin Muscat’s shoes and brought in two Socceroos, Robbie Kruse (injured for round 1) and Andrew Nabbout. International experience is not in short supply with former Danish international Jakob Poulsen and Albanian international Migjen Basha joining the midfield and Adama Traore returning to the club with caps for Ivory Coast under his belt.
Victory will be one of three clubs playing in the Asian Champions League from January so they will be hoping to make an impact on the league early and reach the finals series again.
The Jets had a rough start last year with injuries and suspensions and will certainly be hoping this year is better. The midfield pairing of Steven Ugarkovic and Dimitri Petratos is solid but coach Ernie Merrick is said to be looking for a last minute signing with an ankle injury to Irish international Wes Hoolahan potentially ruling him out for half the season. Their preseason record against A-League clubs is one loss to Adelaide, one outright win over Victory and a penalties win over Perth and two draws against Sydney and the Wanderers.
After missing out on finals by five points last year the Jets will want their name in the hat this year and could find themselves in the top five if their fortunes improve.
They won the regular season last year with only three losses and a goal difference of +33 so Perth will be concentrating on repeating that effort this year and maybe winning the final this time around. With a first appearance in the Asian Champions League on the cards it will be interesting to see how continental football puts a dent in their league campaign. Of concern will be the loss of Andy Keogh, last year’s top scorer for the club, but they have brought in D’Agostino from Brisbane hoping he will grow, along with Bruno Fornaroli, a man with plenty of experience scoring in the A-League.
Perth still have a strong team and even with the Champions League distraction they shoudl reach the top three again this year.
Falling short of Perth in the league last year Sydney will only be looking to improve. They have brought in more experience with Kosta Barbarouses and Luke Brattan and still look like one of the strongest teams in the competition. As such they will be important in improving Australia’s fortunes in the Asian Champions League. Steve Corica returns for his second season in charge of the Sky Blues and has more of a chance to put on his own brand of football.
Sydney are still up there as favourites for one title or another but hopefully can put in a solid performance in Asia too.
Phoenix are one of the teams who have had quite a change-up in the off season with several players leaving along with manager Mark Rudan. They have signed on ex-Sydney assistant Ufuk Talay to replace him, with Talay wanting to build a young squad with a local core. They could suffer after losing league top scorer Roy Krishna but will be hoping that others can step up. With the independence deal in place Wellington can rest easier knowing they will stay in the A-League for years to come, great news for fans, staff and players and that they can actually build a future. There are even suggestions they could see a Kiwi rivalry with an Auckland team in the future.
Phoenix finished in 6th last year despite having the Golden Boot winner and could very well drop into the bottom half this year with a focus on the seasons ahead instead of the immediate season.
Western Sydney Wanderers
Several players left the club at the end of a disappointing 2018/19 season and Markus Babbel has responded by bringing in some older players to bolster the ranks. Radoslaw Majewski will have several eager eyes on him after several good seasons in Europe. Big news this season for the Wanderers is their return to Bankwest Stadium at last with a capacity of 30,000 and the steepest stands in the country. Their first game on the ground was against English side Leeds United in July and despite losing there was praise for the atmosphere in the stadium.
After an 8th place finish last year the Wanderers will be hungry to return to the glory days they had under Tony Popovic but a mid-table finish could be closer to reality this year.
The new kids on the block will make their debut on Sunday with a trip to New Zealand (somewhere quite familiar for manager Mark Rudan). Quite a squad has been put together this year drawing players from around the league and overseas. Big name marquees include Panagiotis Kone, the club’s first confirmed signing, and Alessandro Diamante, named as captain for this year, who have both experienced Italy’s Serie A for several years. Rudan has also managed to attract 19-year old Sebastian Pasquali and A-League legend Besart Berisha back to the competition. With Berisha Western United have picked up both the all-time top scorer for the league (Berisha’s 116 goals) and the record holder for A-League appearances in Andrew Durante.
Their preseason has seen them take on most of the A-League after skipping the FFA Cup and while there were some positives there are still questions about whether they will have much success come competitive fixtures. Mid-table could be the best the newcomers can manage in their first season but they will be trying to push as high as they can.