Last season was an exhilirating campaign for A-League fans, but the entire competition is set for a crazy ride in 2019/20.
The introduction of Western United, the debut of five new coaches and the arrival of the lethal Uruguayan Bruno Fornaroli at Perth Glory are just some of the significant stories leading into the 15th season of the A-League.
It’s too early to predict a table, but there’s plenty of intrigue behind the key headlines leading into next season.
Battle-hardened with a new superstar
The grand final penalty shootout loss to Sydney FC was a heartbreaking way to end last season.
After 27 rounds and a semi-final of dominance under the guardianship of manager Tony Popovic, Glory fell in the most dramatic circumstances in front of a record 56,371 fans at Optus Stadium.
Despite the disappointment, it marked a move from eighth place in 2017/18 to eight points clear as premiers in the space of just 12 months.
Next season is shaping up to be even more solid for Perth. The marquee introduction of Bruno Fornaroli is set to send shivers down the spines of rival clubs. The Uruguayan has bagged 48 goals in just 70 matches in Australia’s top division.
Glory have also retained the vast majority of its premiership-winning squad, including the magical Diego Castro.
It all begins on July 13 with a glamour friendly against English giants Manchester United at Optus Stadium.
The club will be chasing four trophies in 2019/20 – the FFA Cup, a back-to-back Hyundai A-League premierships, the coveted championship as well as the long-awaited AFC Champions League.
If it all comes together, we could be set for one of the club’s most special seasons in its 24-year history.
The league’s newest dark horse
Armed with a war chest of big signings and one of the country’s best up-and-coming managers, Western United will be no pushovers next season.
The Melbourne club will be a tough nut to crack, with a talented centre-back trio of Ersan Gulum, Aaron Calver and Connor Chapman backed up by 2018/19 goalkeeper of the year Filip Kurto.
The rest of the squad oozes creativity. Ajax academy product Sebastian Pasquali and Wellington Phoenix breakout star Max Burgess provide energy in midfield, with Socceroo Josh Risdon at right back.
They’re led by Greek midfielder Panagiotis Kone. The marquee midfielder’s playing style is similar to that of Milos Ninkovic.
On the wings, Valentino Yuel and Connor Pain will provide pace, spearheaded by the experienced head of ex-Celtic striker Scott McDonald. Expect more big signings to come.
Expect the A-League new boys to possess a fighting spirit, ingrained by charismatic head coach Mark Rudan. Underestimate Western United at your peril.
The Big V are going to feel different
No Kevin Muscat. No Keisuke Honda. No Carl Valeri. Rumours of Kosta Barbarouses moving on and John Aloisi at the helm. Things could look very different at Melbourne Victory in 2019/20.
But Victory have a track record of stability and strong succession management. The Navy Blue won’t slide down the A-League table – they’ve retained star striker Ola Toivonen and the majority of their high-quality squad after finishing third last season.
Corica to shape fresh Sky Blues squad
Last season may have been a championship campaign for Sydney, but that hasn’t stopped Steve Corica from axing 12 names from his squad.
International stars Jop van der Linden, Siem de Jong and Reza Ghoochannejhad have moved on, midfielder Josh Brillante has been released, captain Alex Brosque has retired, while loanees Anthony Caceres and Danny De Silva depart. There’s major squad surgery ahead for the Sky Blues.
With a lot of room for signings, expected a reloaded, more talented Sydney FC to take the field in 2019/20.
Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler leads new era
What a footballer Robbie Fowler was, with goals and creativity to earn the nickname ‘God’.
But can he replicate it as a manager? He’ll have to recruit well – Jamie Young and Dylan Wenzel-Halls are the stars right now, but need more around them. As for style, it’s hard to predict how Brisbane will play next season.
Let’s see how far Fowler’s clout can take his recruitment – the Roar were linked with Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge. Maybe for a revered Merseyside legend, it’s not as audacious a stretch as we think.
Western Sydney Wanderers
New dawn at Bankwest Stadium
It feels like the Western Sydney Wanderers are launching all over again, returning to their spiritual home of Parramatta ahead of their long awaited 2019/20 season.
The Red and Black have moved on both marquees – Oriol Riera and Alexander Baumjohann – and have been linked with a mind-blowing move for Bayern Munich legend Franck Ribery.
The Wanderers also released a large part of their squad immediately after the conclusion of the 2018/19 campaign.
There’s a strong chance the Wanderers will be the big improvers of next season. Can coach Markus Babbel pull it off?
Proving to be a bit of an enigma
How do we even analyse City?
Currently they have no coach – although there are rumours of Marco Kurz taking the reins – and most of their stars from last season had their loan deals expire at the end of the season.
There’s no guessing what the Melbourne outfit will be next season. There’s a core worth building on – Jamie Maclaren, Scott Jamieson and Bart Schenkeveld on their day are some of the league’s best footballers.
With Western United debuting in town, City must act quick to keep up with the Melbourne clubs.
Is stability enough?
Of all the clubs, perhaps Newcastle are the most stable after Perth Glory.
The Jets endured a sluggish start to 2018/19 before a resurgence almost saw them sneak into sixth place at the end of the season.
Is the same squad enough for the Jets? There’s no reason why they can’t replicate their 2017/18 grand final season, although they severely missed the presence of Andrew Nabbout last campaign.
If the Jets can find success in one or two creators, they could be a real dark horse.
Central Coast Mariners
Trust in Stajcic
A resounding sense of belief in the coach is the mantra for the Mariners in 2019/20.
Alen Stajcic galvanised a hapless Mariners squad when he took the reins at the end of last season. This year, he gets the opportunity to shape the squad with a full pre-season under his belt.
There’s a lot of work to do for the ex-Matildas coach. It’s integral he sets a fearless culture in his side and recruits well – the Gosford-based side were flattened last campaign. Will they become the rigid, hard-to-break-down side they once were?
It’s Groundhog Day for the Nix
Young and unproven coach. Big recruitment job ahead. Key players departing for Melbourne. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s pre-season 2018, because not much has changed.
Instead of Mark Rudan, it’s Ufuk Talay at the helm and it’s hard to say how the ex-Sydney assistant will fare.
Recruitment will be telling. Thankfully, Newcastle United legend Steve Taylor and teenage sensation Sarpreet Singh are the big retentions.
The Nix at their gritty best are a headache for anyone in the league, although Talay will have to replace the massive hole left by the 2018/19 Johnny Warren Medallist and Golden Boot winner Roy Krishna. Long time to go before we can judge the New Zealanders.
Filling the Isaias-sized hole
The Reds were mighty close to a grand final berth in 2018/19 and will be no pushovers next season.
With new coach Gertjan Verbeek in charge and the loss of legendary club captain Isaias, the Reds’ engine will fire in a different way next season. It’ll take a serious research campaign for Adelaide to select the right man to anchor the midfield.
Having coached VfL Bochum, you could see Verbeek invite Robbie Kruse back into the A-League. A disciplinarian, expect another philosophical playing style from the Reds next season.
Ready to pounce on the league’s best
They’re not expected to kick a ball until mid-2020, but with Matildas coach Ante Milicic already confirmed as manager, the South-West Sydney side aren’t going to be in hibernation.
Using their blank slate of a wage bill just like Western United did with Josh Risdon and Aaron Calver, get ready for the Bulls to poach the league’s best off-contract talent mid-season.
Milicic has an impressive Rolodex of players thanks to his previous assistant roles at the Socceroos, Wanderers and Melbourne City. He’ll be very, very busy on the phone to agents and players this season.