This is where we put our head on the chopping block, and give our thoughts or where teams will come in the upcoming A league season. Last year we did pretty well, and in fact with four rounds to go had all but two teams in order.
Before we give our predictions on who will finish where in the A league this season we would like to ask why the FFA have this obsession with numbering each season? This was fine in season one and two but after that does it really need numbering? Does any other league in the world do this? It just seems so pointless.
This season I believe will be one of the closest at the top as I believe some of the top teams have recruited really well and show a good depth in their squads. I wish I could say the same for some of the other teams who I feel will struggle. It is my opinion that this A League season will be more like the English premier league, with a breakaway group at the top fighting it out for honours and another at the bottom fighting it out for the wooden spoon. This being the case it makes predicting actual league positions very hard.
There are five teams I believe will be scrapping at the bottom of the league. Adelaide United I fear will be once again the team propping up the league ladder. Even with the change in management, it is going to take time to change the way the players have been used to playing under Vidmar, and in the A league the one thing that you do not have is time.
The Central Coast Mariners I fear are in for a long season, and with Graham Arnold at the reins there will be pressure on him to succeed. The Mariners are used to being in the top half of the table, and as much as he will say he is rebuilding the team, the fans will not be too patient if the results are poor. Arnold’s ability as a coach was questioned when Frank Farina gave him the assistant role at the Socceroos, a role he has held for twelve years. He is now going to have to show that he has learned from working with Hiddink and Verbeek, if he doesn’t, he may not see out his contract.
Newcastle Jets will be not far ahead of the Mariners. Last season they were very inconsistent, and when Neil Young played in goal looked far more solid at the back than when Ben Kennedy was between the sticks. With Young still not fit Kennedy will start as the number one and this could cost them as he has a habit of coughing up cheap goals. At the other end of the park they are going to rely heavily on injury-dogged Michael Bridges. If he fires so too will the Jets, but if he is absent Petrovski is no longer the match winner he was.
Everyone is tipping North Queensland Fury to be bottom, but I beg to differ. Franz Straka their new coach may well have only appeared late in pre-season but Stuart MacLaren his assistant has been at the club for a while and he is an astute coach on the rise. He will have organised the team and they will be tough to beat. Gareth Edds at the back could prove to be a good signing. They will be hard to beat and may lack the firepower to win games but will upset a few teams. Looking forward to seeing Ghanaian born Togolose player Eric Akoto, as this may make some teams look to Africa in the future rather than the obsession A league sides have with South America.
Brisbane Roar is a work in progress and Ange Postecoglou has had a tough task there changing the whole ethos of the club. Many are again saying that they will achieve nothing this season, but I think as with the Fury they will cause a lot of nuisance value and upset some of the challengers, and be too well drilled for some of the teams below them. The key is whether they can start winning at home.
Gold Coast I do not believe will reach the heights of last season, and their season could be determined by Shane Smeltz and whether he returns. Glen Moss is a good acquisition although his form for Victory was not what he would have hoped. If he gets a good start he will be an asset, if he has a bad start his confidence could be an issue. Just wonder if they will be able to score the goals needed to win games this year. One season on and teams should be more aware of their danger areas.
We now move onto the top five and the two teams fighting it out for fourth and fifth I believe will both be from Melbourne. I will plump for the Melbourne Victory finishing fifth purely because I think they will miss Archie Thompson early on, however if they manage to bring Bruce Djite back from Turkey on loan then that problem could in fact be alleviated and they could get off to a flyer. They will definitely be in the top five, as consistency is guaranteed under Ernie Merrick.
Everyone is saying that Melbourne Heart will challenge for the league and may even win it. History is against them. Only Carlton and last year the Gold Coast have ever made finals in their first season. They should do this without any trouble. But they are going to have to gel immediately. They have a great set up by all accounts, but there are a few egos in this squad which could destabilize them. Skoko will be a star but needs those around him to fire. It was always sad the way his Socceroos career came to an end and it would be great to see people in Australia appreciate his true worth and talent.
After the World Cup success of New Zealand Ricki Herbert has proved what a good coach he is. He did the same last season and I believe he and Wellington Phoenix will go from strength to strength. Is he not possibly the best antipodean coach in the game at the moment? The signing of Jade North is a massive coup and if they maintain their winning streak at home and improve away from home they will be challenging all year. If Greenacre stays injury free this season expect him to link well with Ifill.
Dave Mitchell was give more time than any previous Perth Glory coach to assemble a squad that he felt could challenge for the title. He has that this year; there is depth and an intensity and desire unlike any seen at the club since the inception of the A League. Jacob Burns was a true leader last year, but now has Steve McGarry alongside him in midfield and he will be a key figure this season. Defence may be a problem early on with Andy Todd injured, but if they can survive this they will challenge this season, and expect their away day troubles to be a thing of the past. One problem he may have is who to play and what formation. They may have Robbie Fowler in the squad but expect others to star.
Sydney FC will I believe win the league again although as with last season it will go down to the wire. Viteslav Lavicka did a great job last season rising above all the politics at the club; sometimes it pays to speak another language and not let on how much you understand! This season they will be a very different side. Reddy as a replacement for Bolton is a seamless one. As with the Perth Glory they need to hope that early season injuries don’t hamper their start but expect them to come home with a wet sail. They will be consistent and that is what will see them finish ahead of other teams.
Will they win the Grand Final, I think not, as to who will win that it is anyone’s guess.