Am I going off prematurely? Or should I stifle my early crow? Is there a possibility of a Perth Glory versus Wellington Phoenix grand final?
Well, judging by the good form of Glory and the Nix, most definitely.
A Glory-Phoenix grand final may not be the most appealing match-up for the FFA, or the broadcasters, Fox Sports and SBS, as I’m sure they all want either a Sydney or Melbourne team involved.
But nine years ago, the FFA did want Wellington as part of the competition, so from their point of view, they reap what they sow.
Heading into the Asian Cup break, Perth are four points clear at the top of the ladder, while Wellington and Melbourne Victory are equal second. I think it’s fabulous that we are seeing two different teams doing well.
We are often accustomed to having perennial finalists such as the Central Coast Mariners or the Brisbane Roar near the top. However, both are languishing outside of the top six.
The key reason for their struggles has been their poor recruitment drives for season 10. The Mariners let go of Michael McGlinchey, Bernie Ibini, Trent Sainsbury and a few others. The Roar haven’t recovered from losing Besart Berisha and Ivan Franjic.
On the coaching front, the Roar sacked Mike Mulvey just a few months after guiding Brisbane to the title, while there are doubts about the ability of Mariners coach Phil Moss.
But in the main, neither the Roar or the Mariners have replaced those players.The same can be said for Asian Champions League champions, the Western Sydney Wanderers. Following their huge success in making two grand finals in their first two seasons, they are now unbelievably without a win after 12 games and are running stone motherless last.
Just like the Roar and the Mariners, the Wanderers haven’t replaced Shinji Ono, Aaron Mooy or Youssouf Hersi.
Compare that with Glory and the Phoenix, they have recruited well. Glory have brought in key signings like Hersi, Andy Keogh, Dino Đulbić and Nebojša Marinković, while Phoenix have improved their team with Nathan Burns, Michael McGlinchey, Roly Bonevacia and Roy Krishna.
Burns is the A-League’s leading goalscorer with 10 and his form has been rewarded with a Socceroos Asian Cup squad call-up.
Meanwhile, the other teams have had their issues. The Newcastle Jets have had disharmony on and off the field, with the Jets ownership up in the air due to the inevitable exit of Tinkler, question marks around Phil Stubbins’ coaching, and captain Kew Jaliens, who publicly lambasted his players in one post-match interview.
Sydney FC started well, but in the last couple of months the Sky Blues have lost four players for the season, Nicky Carle, Sasa Ognenovski, Corey Gamerio and Ali Abbas.
There is the possibility that all NSW teams, Sydney FC, Western Sydney, Mariners and Jets could miss out on the finals. Wouldn’t that be a shock. Melbourne City on the other hand don’t have enough depth in the back four to win the title, but will be more than happy to make the finals.
The two teams that could trouble the Glory and Phoenix is FFA Cup champions Adelaide United and A-League powerhouse Melbourne Victory. Victory did improve their squad in the off-season with Besart Berisha and Ben Khalfallah. While Adelaide remained largely the same from their impressive season last year.
Incidentally, both Victory and the Reds have hit a flat spot in recent weeks. Victory have lost players to the Socceroos on a few occasions and it may have disrupted the continuity of Kevin Muscat’s men.
While with Adelaide, they are perhaps suffering from a cup final hangover. However, in their last match, Adelaide did defeat Perth away from home. It was Adelaide’s third win against Perth in all competitions this season. Looks like Adelaide has the wood on Perth.
I expect both Victory and United to be there when the whips are cracking. The Glory, Nix, Reds and Victory are in my opinion the four main contenders for the championship.
The lesson to be learnt from season 10 is that all A-League clubs need to recruit well following the loss of players. Western Sydney, Central Coast, Newcastle and Brisbane are finding out the hard way in this campaign.
With Australia hosting the Asian Cup, maybe now is the right time for those four clubs to do some scouting among the 16 teams that will take part in the tournament. Perth and Wellington are benefiting well from their off-season coups, and in a few months’ time, the long distance derby could well be the headline act.