Tuesday, August 12, 2008

v4 A-League preview

SEEMS like a life-time since the v3 grand-final, and now that another depressing international tournament looks like ending early for a Graham Arnold led side, the focus shifts to the start of A-League v4. Most things have been tracking beautifully for the first three seasons of the league, but with the economy biting hard and other codes struggling to attract and keep crowds, we mustn’t get complacent, so let’s hope the managers focus on a bit of entertainment over “grind ‘em out” results. The league has often been criticised, fairly I feel, for being over-physical and a little underwhelming from a technical and tactical view-point, so here’s to a brand that continues to evolve, entice and excite, especially with expansion earmarked in a year. The additions of the youth and women’s leagues offer additional intrigue, but in the meantime A-League managers appear to have learnt the lessons of past seasons, with most strengthening their overall squads, even if markets in Asia and Africa remain untapped. With the salary cap ensuring an even spread of talent, this should make for yet another close season, so fingers crossed that it’s “exciting close”. Anyway, here’s my take on how the teams will fair;

8th, Perth Glory; look like they’ll struggle in midfield, where they’ve lost some of the better players in Colosimo, Celeski, Bertos and Prentice. Amaral should at least offer some organisation, but Dadi and Trindad will need to light up the league for them to even make the top four.

7th, Queensland Roar; have some exciting youngsters who caught the eye in their debut season, but history proves the second season is inevitably tougher. The opposition will be ready. With Ognenovski gone and Moore often injured or suspended, the Roar look a little light-on in central defence. A couple of weeks ago they looked equally light-on up front, but at least Reinaldo’s returns gives Farina one less headache, and with support from ‘the Mass and Matt show’, it could be enough to push them into the four.

6th, Wellington Phoenix; have strengthened their squad and should be right in the mix. Look impressive in central defence, with Durante and McKain set to play out from the back, and up front, where Smeltz gets support from Bertos, Kwasnik, Daniel and Gao, but as I noted in my the wrap of the pre-season final, they look weak in central midfield, and if Lochhead doesn’t come back, a little weak in the fullback space.

5th, Sydney FC; have attracted some big names in Aloisi, Bridge, Musialik and Colosimo, which has no-doubt strengthened their first 11. But look beyond that and factor in the usual injuries and suspensions, and there isn’t a great deal of depth. The loss of Milligan means FC look a little slow at the back, while there isn’t much quality out wide. If they are to make the top four, Musialik will need to dictate their season by feeding the dangerous front-line.

4th, Adelaide United; have lost some big names young (Burns and Djite) and old (Petta and Alagich), and will have the distraction of a ACL quarter final in the early going, but once that’s out of the way their depth should see them pushing for a finals birth. Have strengthened at the back with the addition of Ognenovski, although, in truth, his signing will do little for Adelaide’s distribution out of the back, especially with Salley often the nearest outlet. Muscle is their strength. Less known are the two Brazilian additions, Alameo and Cristiano. The latter certainly has pedigree and, with Diego and Cassio for company, both should settle in. With Agostino seemingly forever battling injury, Cristiano has a heap of responsibility, and how quickly he gels with Dodd, Diego and Pantelis could decide how successful United are. If he doesn’t, Adelaide will struggle for goals and get pipped by Queensland, Wellington or Sydney.

3rd, Newcastle Jets; van Egmond proved last season, despite losing the leagues best player in Carle and despite some dud signings by the club, he is a class above most managers in this league. Again he has lost some key players in Durante, Musialik and Bridge, but has not sat back and felt sorry for himself. He has gotten on with the job, and attracted some of the best youngsters in the country in Naidovski, Patafta and Kantarovski, to go with the likes of Tarek Elrich, Song and Holland. Throw in a couple of pedigreed imports, the Griffiths brothers, Covic and Thompson, and this young squad looks deeper than at the same point last season. The one obvious loss is that of Musialik, who made the team tick, but you just know van Egmond will search high and low for the solution, and given his track record, he’ll find it. Losing North would be a massive blow.

2nd, Melbourne Victory; apart from a disappointing ACL campaign, Merrick has had a excellent off-season in the transfer market, bringing in Celeski and Pondeljak early, with Thwaite, Fabiano and Lopez following more recently. It means Melbourne have one of the strongest squads going around, with cover in all the thirds. If Melbourne lacked anything last year, it was shape in the engine room, and Lopez has been brought in to make the team tick. He is certainly in his prime and must soon start running the show, freeing the likes of Ward, Celeski, Hernandez and Thompson to roam forward. If Melbourne does have a weakness it is out wide, which makes the decision to trade Caceres strange, despite Pondeljak’s arrival. The manager hasn’t always convinced, but he now has the cards he wants and must play the right hand.

1st, Central Coast Mariners; yes they’ve lost Aloisi, but McKinna has been at his productive best in the off-season, assembling one of the deepest squads in the league. Caceres and Elrich offer plenty of quality out wide, a problem area last season. Elrich looks slim and ready to regain some of the form he once demonstrated at Parra Power, while Caceres will value the greater game time, and add spark around the box cutting in from the left. Meanwhile the strike-force is as deep as any, with McKinna having to choose two from Petrovski, Mrdja, Macallister and Simon. Even in the attacking central midfield space, expect big things from Porter.

If you've entered the Foxsports fantasy comp, pop it in the TRBA private league via the following code; 2646-346. Meanwhile, if you've had a go at the official EPL Fantasy comp, be sure to add your team to the TRBA private league via 16309-5236.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Tony, been looking forward to reading your thoughts....a big call leaving both Sydney and the Roar out, but then again you were probably the only pundit to leave the Victory out of your 4 last season.

My bet is that either Sydney or Queensland will make it ahead of Adelaide who have the champions league.

Agree, hope the standard is good.


Wed Aug 13, 08:23:00 am AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Porter suprised me when he played Sydney at BlueTongue. He has matured

Wed Aug 13, 12:16:00 pm AEST  
Blogger pippinu said...

Great review Tony - at a time when there should be stacks of reviews happening (but they aren't), it was good to catch up with yours.

You probably know better than most that when it comes to reviewing the 8 teams on the eve of a new season, the teams can appear so even that picking a top 4 is a big ask (and deciding the wooden spooner can be just as difficult).

Coincidentally, I put up my 8 in The Flog yesterday (only just read yours now). Of course I'm very biased, so there's no surprise that I have MV on top (I agree with you that Lopez can make or break MV this season). Given our defensive vulnerabilities, Thwaite is a great signing and should do really well at our club level. The other consideration is that bench may look something like: Celeski, Pondjelak, Fabiano and Ryall - and that's a pretty good bench!

The interesting thing is that I have the Roar's and the CCM's positions almost reversed. I'm having a bit of trouble seeing CCM as the top contender - bold! Re the Roar, I was ready to put them amongst the also rans, but then Reinaldo returned and they signed Miller, and all of a sudden, they looked like a serious prospect again (I've tipped them for 3rd, same finish as last year). But your right that if Moore can't stay on the park, that tip could look a little silly. Farina had a very effective game plan last season, so the how the Roar goes may well depend on whether Frank has any new tricks (because the clubs would have worked it out by season's end).

Agree with Glory - basically because of the uncertainty surrounding the new signings and the big losses (but I admit I could end up with egg on my face on that one).

I also agree that SFC will miss out (once again, I'm a git biased). Your reasoning was well considered. I wrote that apart from the guns aged 23 or so, and then those aged 32 to 34, there appears to be a massive gap in the middle - and I don't think that's a healthy combination for any team.

I also chose the Jets to sneak in at the expense of AU, once again, because of GVE (we now know that we can never, ever underestimate him). With AU, I agree with BC that the ACL could prove a bit of a distraction, and may just miss out on the top 4 (very new experience for an Australian club).

My runners up? Dah daah - I'm taking a big punt on the Phoenix to rise from the ashes and move up six spots (as MV did in season 2).

I'm thinking that my tightening their defence they are going to win a lot of those games that they ended up losing last year, often in the last 5 to 10 minutes. Attacking division looks pretty good, and another good season from Daniel could just about seal the deal.


Wed Aug 13, 01:41:00 pm AEST  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

Interesting read Tony!

I did a preview for Goal Weekly this week (not available online unfortunately), with some slightly different picks: I plumped for Qld as minor premiers. They do look a bit creaky at the back, but in the middle and attacking thirds I reckon they look the best team in the league this time around.

As for Melbourne...a lot of people seem to rate them, but I think the lack of width might ultimately hurt them.

Wed Aug 13, 04:21:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Ed said...

7th!!?? Tony, I must protest! I will pen a lengthy and ill tempered repost later tonight! ;)

Wed Aug 13, 05:06:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Thanks all for your comments and insight...

I agree it was extremely tough to come up with a top 4 this season, just as it was last season...I really couldnt split most of the teams, but what you will have noticed is that I've generally gone for the teams with the deepest squads...

Sydney and Qld look like they've got a few holes, and will probably miss players throughout the year, which will test the depth - look at syd this week. Even adelaide have a number of unknowns including Cristiano, so I wouldnt begrudge anyone leaving them out.

Melb have plenty of depth but a manager who hasnt always convinced, while Newcastle has a convincing manager but a number of unknown players...

Pippinu, spot on, it wasnt easy.

Fair call for Welllington, theyve got plenty of punch up front, but i worry about the overall quality of their central mid...

Mikey and Ed, Qld are interesting, Farina likes to back the older guys and he's got a few; Moore, Tiatto, Miller, Seo, Packer. If the kids kill it again, they'll be there for sure.

Re CCM, they have a known template, a deep squad (although they've got a few early injuries), plenty of punch up front, and will be there or thereabouts i reckon...while Bozza grabbed all the attention against Sydney, I was very impressed with Porter, Elrich, Caceres, Macallister, Bojic and David D'Apuzzo.

Thu Aug 14, 10:09:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Ed said...

Repost (that is blogger slang for Riposte...) posted at The Roar Deal. Tony - you have to admit, you are wrong (says the man who is so one eyed he has picked Reinaldo in his fantasy team).

Thu Aug 14, 11:42:00 pm AEST  
Blogger john said...

I think the Roar defence looked OK today Tony - with rain and ice - all that cold weather could really burn Wellington when they have to play in the Australian heat later in the year...

Sun Aug 17, 07:10:00 pm AEST  
Blogger drsimmo said...

I have to disagree with you on the lack of depth at Sydney this year. As Saturday night showed against Melbourne, there are some good young guys coming through. The likes of Cole, Casey and Prentice in particular, are quite versatile and can fill a number of spots at the back and in midfield. They are also young. Cole and Prentice both have significantly strengthened Sydney's set piece taking. In terms of depth up front, if Brosque, Bridge, Aloisi and Santalab is a lack, I'll take it. (Yeah I know Santa is very hit and miss.)

I suppose one could say this is the benefit of hindsight, but having seen many of these guys in the pre-season and Cole in the NSWPL, I'd say Sydney has depth that has been lacking in previous seasons.

My predictions after round 1:

1. Adelaide
2. Sydney
3. Queensland
4. Wellington
5. Melbourne
6. Central Coast
7. Newcastle
8. Perth

Mon Aug 18, 09:58:00 am AEST  

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