Whisper it quietly around a code that has lurched from crisis to crisis in recent years, but there’s suddenly an air of optimism as the new A-League season dawns.
Here is the first edition of the A-League team of the week. At the completion of each weekend, I will compile a list of the men who made the difference to their teams and offer them up as the best of the best for that particular A-League round.
Rather than attempting to mirror the precise roles many players assume in their team’s structure, I will stick to a basic 4-3-3 with the all-important goal keeper as the last line.
I hope you enjoy the articles throughout the A-League season and look forward to the healthy debate around the players I may have missed or those towards whom you feel I have been somewhat generous.
Here is the team of the week for Round 1 of the A-League 2018-19.
1. Eugene Galekovic (Melbourne City)
With Melbourne Victory in frantic search of an equaliser in the second half of a controversial and memorable derby, Galekovic held firm. In what was something of a quiet night where the veteran had little work in the first 45 minutes, aside from a bold bid from distance from Terry Antonis, he was bombarded late.
Galekovic parried and blocked everything fired in his direction; resolute and steadfast as the Victory dominated possession and threatened his goal.
2. Ritchie De Laet (Melbourne City)
There is no substitute for pedigree and De Laet announced himself to the A-League world with a stunning debut in City’s derby victory on Saturday night.
With over 40,000 in attendance at Marvel Stadium, Melbourne is already convinced of his speed, positional play and dangerous runs which will provide City with much impetus down the right flank.
All that remains is the rest of the country to see him live and be exposed to his quality.
3. Steven Taylor (Wellington Phoenix)
It is a pleasure to have a player of the pedigree and experience of Steven Taylor in the A-League.
The Phoenix have a dead-set champion on their hands and a man who fills the defensive gaps what were clearly evident last season.
Round 1 saw Taylor contribute to the first Phoenix goal and whilst that may be an extra string to his bow, his defensive work was peerless in his debut for Wellington.
4. Kalifa Cisse (Central Coast Mariners)
If ever a man made an impressive debut in the A-League, it was Kalifa Cisse for the Central Coast Mariners against the Roar on Sunday night.
I have written extensively about manager Mike Mulvey’s potential use of Cisse as the rock upon which he builds his defence and the Mali international provided the manager with nothing but further evidence to support his intentions.
Cisse was the last line time and time again as the Roar threw everything bar the kitchen sink at the visitors and his resilience and desperation may well have assured a point for the Central Coast.
5. Tom Doyle (Wellington Phoenix)
In a match where the Phoenix needed to make a statement and send a message to the rest of the A-League, Tom Doyle was on the front foot.
Always a serviceable defender, Doyle showed glimpses of his true potential in defying Newcastle’s attacks throughout much of the contest.
The late goal to Dimitri Petratos should take nothing away from a Phoenix defensive unit that repelled the Jets for all bar the final two minutes of the game.
6. Tobias Mikkelsen (Brisbane Roar)
If the Roar’s new recruit is permitted and encouraged to spend as much time as possible with Eric Bautheac, the rest of the league may as well pack up and go home.
As a duo they were outstanding and if a fluent combination can be struck with Adam Taggart up front, the goal production numbers could be scary. The Dane’s touches were sublime at times and his football smarts seemed mature and refined.
It was a treat to watch him play and one can only imagine how much improvement there is in him, considering his new environment.
7. Ronald Vargas (Newcastle Jets)
Despite the loss, it was a brilliant start to the year for Vargas and one that reminded us all of what the A-league public missed last season, after the horrific knee injury sustained against the Roar.
With Dimi Petratos by his side, Vargas masterminded much of the Jets’ attack and together, they will cause enormous grief for every team they face over the next six months. His speed and agility were back, and the Venezuelan looks like playing a key role in the A-League story of 2018-19.
8. Roy Krishna (Wellington Phoenix)
If I throw Roy into a few teams of the week I apologise. I love him. The Fijian international is one of the best players in the league, with an engine that is the envy of the average A-League player.
Once again he ran and bustled for the duration against the Jets and every defence will be aware of his potential to sneak out the back and cause havoc when least expected.
9. Adam Taggart (Brisbane Roar)
While the goals may not have come easily for the newest addition to the Roar front line, he did find the back of the net and chances were aplenty.
Taggart eventually found a goal in the second half after seemingly having five or six golden opportunities in the first.
Whether it was timing, confidence or sheer luck, Australia’s best home-based striker showed enough in week one to suggest that he may be well and truly in the running for an A-League golden boot this season.
10. Keisuke Honda (Melbourne Victory)
As if there was any doubt. If his first ninety minutes of A-League football were anything to go by, Keisuke Honda will be close to a Premier’s Plate, Championship and Johnny Warren Medal come season’s end.
The Victory looked very good at times, despite some imperfections in attack and once the front men improve the timing of runs to connect with the deft balls that Honda plays, things might click frightfully well for Victory.
The Japanese sniffed around midfield, looked good on the ball and used his left foot exquisitely. It was a stunning A-League debut.
11. Eric Bautheac (Brisbane Roar)
The most succinct and effective way to describe the performance of the Brisbane-based Frenchman is to use the term masterclass.
Almost every attacking thrust from the Roar had Bautheac at its heart, as the left side of the pitch became his playground. If not for a series of missed chances in the first half, Bautheac may well have provided for three or four goals.
The writing is on the wall for the other nine teams with Bautheac and the Roar set to make an attacking statement on the league this season.
So there is the A-League team of the week for Round 1. Which players did I miss and who didn’t deserve a spot?