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Opinion

Who’s hot and who’s not in the A-League?

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Expert
25th November, 2019
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Seven weeks into another season, some clear A-League patterns and trends have already begun to emerge.

No team can be cemented as premiership or championship favourites, nor death knelled to the cellar just yet, however, something of a picture is starting to emerge.

Within that picture lies the individual players. Some have started the season like the proverbial house on fire and others remain in first gear; coughing and spluttering their way towards the mechanic in desperate need of a tune-up.

There is enough early evidence to suggest quite convincingly that some clubs and individuals are in for a bumper season, with finals and silverware already occupying their thoughts.

One example is Erick Mombaerts. Melbourne City’s 64-year-old coach has been something of a revelation thus far and bar a fade out against the Roar, where his side battled into the teeth of a gnashing wind in the second half, has constructed a near perfect start to the season.

It should not surprise. Mombaerts’ squad is deep, malleable and experienced. However, that was also the case under previous manager Warren Joyce. Perhaps a more positive mindset has made the difference.

The quiet demeanour of the man in charge and an obvious desire to play a more attacking brand has transformed the club and made them the head of the A-League class and the best team in Victoria.

Melbourne City coach Erick Mombaerts

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

City are hot and potentially only shuffled into second place on the ‘hotness’ pecking order by their striker Jamie Maclaren. The 26-year-old already has nine A-League goals, despite suffering a minor hamstring injury that threatened to derail his phenomenal start.

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Whilst considerable credit should also be given to Josh Brillante, Harrison Delbridge and Javier Cabrera for much of their impressive play, the quietly-spoken Frenchman’s re-energising of the club and Maclaren’s ability to capitalise on moments have been the catalyst for City and pleasing for both A-League and Socceroo fans.

Sydney FC manager Steve Corica has laid down a marker after the club’s championship-winning season of 2018-19. After another off-season of squad fluidity in the harbour city, the 46-year-old was no doubt determined to confirm that his debut season in charge had no sniff of luck nor fortune about it.

Hot on the heels of City, the Sky Blues are scoring freely and conceding less often than any other defensive unit. Adam Le Fondre, Milos Ninkovic and Brandon O’Neill have picked up where they left off. Luke Brattan, Alex Baumjohann and Kosta Barbarouses appear to be at home and Rhyan Grant has raised his already consistent and high level in a continued quest to cement a starting Socceroo position on the right side of Graham Arnold’s defence.

While many expressed a justified concern for Adelaide United as they ventured into life without their inspirational captain Isaias, manager Gertjan Verbeek has his new-look squad humming along after four straight wins.

Having already presented management with an FFA Cup to kick off his tenure, the Dutchman now looks to have a side capable of contending, with one young Olyroo grabbing much of the media attention for all the right and sometimes wrong reasons.

I wrote about the rise of Riley McGree some weeks back, identifying that, now content in his home state, the 21-year-old seemed about to explode by adding consistency to his obvious brilliance. He has not disappointed, with his six early-season A-League goals trailing only Maclaren.

Equally as hot has been James Troisi. Refreshed and refocused after a number of disappointments in 2018, the midfielder has immediately become the valuable provider Verbeek required in the city of churches.

With Nikola Mileusnic, Ben Halloran and wonderkid Al Hassan Toure reaping the benefits of his service, as well as a sturdy defence and Coopers Stadium rocking, the Reds are clearly finals bound.

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Not so encouraging are the signs at Melbourne Victory. The entire universe can see that Ola Toivonen has little support up front and that Marco Kurz is yet to find a midfield combination that threatens consistently enough to win matches. Perhaps an improving Robbie Kruse and Andrew Nabbout will be the impetus behind a change in fortune, yet right now Victory’s recruitment looks questionable and fresh options somewhat limited.

Robbie Fowler will need time to create something special up north and thank goodness for that second half escape against City. Otherwise, things would be looking particularly grim for Brisbane.

Brisbane Roar manager Robbie Fowler.

(Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

On Saturday, Wellington held on at home to hand the Roar their third loss for the season and thus far, things are not working for Fowler.

Calling effort and application into question after the loss is concerning; especially after it appeared brilliant earlier in the season.
Tony Popovic’s men in the west had better be able to cite a premiership hangover as the reason for such a sloppy start to the season, otherwise, they may be suffering from something more serious.

To this point, things have looked a little flat and disappointing with Bruno Fornaroli now at the arrowhead.

As subdued as they have been, it surely cannot be long before Diego Castro, Chris Ikonomidis and Juande begin to forge meaningful combinations with him.

There is the hot, the not-so-hot and others bubbling away a little lukewarm. Alen Stajcic threatens to bubble over should his Mariners continue their impressive improvement and Newcastle’s Glen Moss has made a stellar start to the season.

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Ufuk Talay’s Phoenix look likely to build steadily and the combination of Panagiotis Kone and Alessandro Diamanti at Western United looms as one of the best in the league.

No doubt things will evolve and reshape the deeper we delve into the season but for now, this is the state of play, with each and every A-League club still well and truly in the running.