Any team that gives the ball away cheaply to Keisuke Honda is not going to win too many A-League games against Melbourne Victory this season.
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We are edging ever closer to the kick off of the 2018-19 A-League season. With the hopes and dreams of ten clubs on the line, we break down each side’s one-word mission.
From A-League champions, to the cellar, to a much improved mid-table finals contender, the Reds have come a long way in just three seasons.
Gui Amor’s departure in May 2017 ended a glorious and similarly disappointing period where a championship was claimed – but what followed was horrific.
Then, new manager Marco Kurz set about rebuilding a team low on confidence. His desire to create a resilient backbone in the group and set a clear expectation of physically matching the dominant teams in the league, was obvious.
In part, it was a success last season and despite struggling to find the net frequently enough to threaten for the title, building from the back appears a wise course for the German.
With Ken Ilso and Michael Jakobsen now added at opposite ends of the pitch, a continuation of the Reds’ development appears likely.
After three full seasons in charge, John Aloisi will be under as much pressure as any of his peers this season, despite having multiple years to run on his contract. Different schools of thought emerge around the rather charismatic and enigmatic Aloisi.
Firstly, his managerial competency is constantly called into question. After inheriting a decent team and playing finals football in his first two seasons at the helm, many were still to be convinced. Fans noted some dubious recruitment decisions and a somewhat ageing squad, blessed with experience yet lacking punch and scoring potential.
2017/18 appeared to be reflecting those concerns, with injuries adding to the perceived problems.
Then, from nowhere and just as he had predicted, Aloisi found his team humming late in the season. Sixth place certainly isn’t a triumph but far better than a spot outside the finals.
Another school of thought questions whether that run was a mirage that merely masked some serious deficiencies.
Or perhaps Aloisi has finally put his stamp on the team and acquired the personnel he needs to execute his plan? Time will tell and new signing Adam Taggart might just be the vital weapon up front for which he has been searching.
With so many comings and goings in Gosford, new manager Mike Mulvey will have a heck of a time introducing his squad to each other, let alone identifying his best eleven in time for Round 1.
With the rumour mill suggesting Ross McCormack could make a stunning return to the A-League and a collection of odds and ends recruited from across the domestic scene, the Mariners loom as something of a mystery.
Throw in Tommy Oar who appears likely to sign in the coming days and there is no doubt there will be some talent launching shots in the direction of the giant sauce bottles this season.
Jack Clisby, Michael McGlinchey and Jonathan Aspropotamitis are the pick of the new local men and all potentially profitable signings.
Mulvey’s challenge will be to quickly shape a system and structure that produces promising performances in the early weeks and one that dodges the likely slow start for a new look team.
In an A-League sense, Melbourne City has been unable to grasp its chances in the past. This season looms invitingly, as potentially its best chance at claiming the biggest prize in Australian football.
Warren Joyce’s firm minded approach and apparent long-term vision made for a few tense moments last season, with experienced men departing the club and miffed at their treatment.
In addition, the A-League’s best x-factor departs, as Daniel Arzani starts his international career in Scotland.
Whilst that may appear to some as cause for concern, it isn’t. Bruno Fornaroli is fit again and likely the A-League’s top scorer and the now internationally recognised Riley McGree will fill much of the void created by Arzani’s exit.
Anthony Caceres and Rostyn Griffiths add depth, something City have in spades. Whilst Scotsman Michael O’Halloran and Frenchman Florin Berenguer threaten to form a dangerous triad with Fornaroli.
Each season presents another opportunity for City. If they fail once again it won’t be for a lack of talent in the playing roster and the questions around their semi-final demises will continue.
The perennial contenders will be there or there about once again. With big signings, a championship winning squad and depth across most positions, Melbourne Victory will be a better unit that the one that claimed the title last season.
Leroy George is a significant loss, as is Besart Berisha who, despite starting to struggle as father time crept up slowly, was always a man for the moment. The squad looks as powerful as ever. Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen more than fill the gaps up front and Georg Niedermeier will be an undoubted asset in defence.
Interestingly, it will not only be the new signings and the depth in the squad that sees Victory challenging for another championship. Just as important will be the culture and attitude that Kevin Muscat has created around the entire club.
As abrasive as Muscat can be, he does appear a master of the siege mentality that played a key role in their championship run last season. Muscat makes everything personal and when playing on a high level of emotion, dislike can prove the best motivator.
Melbourne’s dethroning of Sydney was full of resilience, passion and flat out rage; it was stirring to watch. After a season of fits and starts, Muscat called upon the belief and desire he had nurtured in his team of winners.
It is what Victory do so well and if anyone wants to take their title away in 2018-19, they had better be prepared to psychologically match them.
On Thursday I will run through the five remaining clubs’ one-word missions for the upcoming season.