A Liverpool side missing Alisson, Curtis Jones, Thiago Alcântara and Fabinho secured an absolutely dominant 5-0 away victory over EPL strugglers Watford that at times resembled a training run.
With football returning across Europe, the A-League continues its long hibernation.
The backdrop of COVID continues a vice-like grip on eastern Australia. While we wait with bated breath, let’s focus on some football for a change.
We break down the best and worst business of each team so far, point out where I think they need to improve and give them a table rating based on their off-season performance.
Our first article looked at the bottom half of the table, this time we check out the top six. If you missed it, check out part 1 now.
1. Melbourne Victory and Macarthur Bulls (equal)
3. Melbourne City
4. Newcastle Jets
5. Brisbane Road
6. Western Sydney Wanderers
Tomer Hemed joins the club after exhibiting excellent form at the end of last season for the Wellington Phoenix. The signing of Hemed means one thing for Wanderland, and that is goals. Hemed managed 11 goals in his 21 games for the Phoenix last season, and got better as the season progressed.
He showed enough in his first A-League season that he has everything he needs to light up Wanderland with service from James Troisi and Dimi Petratos. This could prove to be some smart business from the back office especially since he has had a year to become familiar with the A-League.
John Katrombus joins from the Newcastle Jets, slotting in as the Keanu Baccus replacement following the expectations Baccus will be soon off to Hungary. A poor man’s replacement for a Western Sydney academy turned star A-League player.
While experienced in the A-League, Katrombus never really lit up the league in the way his potential once promised. He is still young at 23 years of age and with plenty of league experience (90 games) it is doubtful whether he can deliver in a team now under immense pressure to perform.
Still to fix
The midfield. WSW are in desperate need for another No.6 or No.8 of quality. The Terry Antonis signing fills half the gap (if he can stay fit), with Steven Ugarkovic in support, with one remaining piece.
Really, they need one more that can direct the game, hold tempo and maintain the team’s shape. Last season at times it felt as if WSW were playing a 5-0-5 formation. Players were either running around like headless chickens upfront, or they were covering in defence.
Direct football was their only option, and it fell often into shambles. If WSW are serious about returning to the hallowed turf at the top of the standings, then they need to sort this (apparently simple) hole in their team. Their coach Carl Robinson has run out of time – he needs to start performing or else more years in the doldrums are set for Western Sydney.
Last season, Brisbane caught plenty of attention with their flowing, expressive football. What they lacked was a strong No.6 to dictate the game from the middle of the park.
In steps Matti Steinmann fresh off a stint with East Bengal in India. Still to hit his prime (26 years of age), with Bundesliga experience to boot, Steinmann should be able to continue his strong A-League performances that were last seen with the Wellington Phoenix across the ditch. Steinmann only left the Phoenix after tearing up an extension given COVID uncertainty, and should become the glue that holds this Brisbane team together.
Luke Ivanovic (from Sydney FC) leads the list, although it feels quite harsh. Not enough is known about Juan Lescano yet to make a judgement on him. Unfortunately for Ivanovic, he only played in 38 games over three years with Sydney with a relatively poor strike rate at only three goals in those three years.
Probably needs a more prominent role but relatively unproven at this stage and needs to start delivering on his potential that has shown in glimpses.
Still to fix
Flair, creativity and attacking football. The core to the Brisbane team last year was the attacking prowess of Riku Danzaki with strong support from Joey Champness and hard running by Dylan Wenzel-Halls.
Riku in particular will be hard to replace. He was the team’s top goal scorer last season with nine, was very good value and an exciting player to watch in the league. Given he moved to J-League 2 on loan again, surely the Roar could have done more to keep him? Unless they have someone up their sleeves to fill that gap…
It has been a very active market for the Newcastle Jets. Two pieces of business stand out as a job well done by the back office.
Cameron Devlin signing from Wellington Phoenix and his subsequent sale to Hearts in Scotland is a savvy deal. Money speaks volumes in football, particularly for the smaller teams and smaller leagues. What better business can be conducted than signing a player, and immediately selling him to brighter lights in Europe? Win, win, win!
Well, for everyone except Wellington Phoenix, who will have to settle for a small portion of the transfer fee.
The signing of Mathew Jurman from Xanthi in Greece is another shrewd move. A proven quantity in this league, Jurman brings international experience from his European and Asian stints, as well as eight caps for the Socceroos. Jurman, in his most recent A-League stint, failed to perform in a poor Western Sydney Wanderers team. Should be a clear improvement over aged club stalwarts Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Nigel Boogard.
Another tough decision, as their fourth place position shows. Their recruitment has been spot on this year so far. Our pick for the unknown quality factor is Daniel Penha from Atletico Mineiro in Brazil. At 22 years of age, the Brazilian arrives with an unproven resume and pedigree.
His most recent season was in the Brazilian second division where he managed three goals in 18 appearances. Foreign players tend to take a while to get used to the league, so it wouldn’t surprise if he struggled with the physicality. Penha won’t make many fans in the league if he adopts fellow countryman Neymar’s acting on the field.
Still to fix
Leadership and experience. The Jets have let go to three players with immense A-League experience in Topor-Stanley, Boogard and Roy O’Donovan. The retirement of long-time captain Boogard will be a massive hole to fill, which looks somewhat filled with the return of Jurman to the league.
New coach Arthur Pappas has a big job on his hands building a core group that can not only compete at this level, but succeed. How long will it take for all the new players to gel?
Mathew Leckie joins from Hertha Berlin in Germany. The return of Melbourne boy and Socceroo captain Leckie shows fantastic intent by the City back office as they look to defend their first A-League title. At 30 years of age, Leckie is still in the prime of his career and performing well in a tough German Bundesliga.
He should be able to carry any team in this league to silverware. On a three-year deal, the best remaining years of Leckie should be in a City jersey. If fit, their front three will all be current Socceroos (Andrew Nabbout, Jamie Maclaren, Leckie). That is undoubtedly the best in the league and will have defenders packing brownies.
Jordan Hall joins from Green Gully in the Victorian NPL, having been a youth team City player in the past. To be honest this isn’t fair – he has been Melbourne City’s only other signing thus far and seems to be a good age (23). Cheap signing and provides extra depth at CB. Probably going to be good as well, knowing how players seem to grow in winning environments.
Still to fix
Nothing. It’s hard to improve on a history making season. Melbourne City finally look to be the big club they have promised for so long. With their off-season so far, world-class training sessions and backing of the wider City Group, City should have no issues chasing silverware again.
The loss of Craig Noone will be felt, having gone east to Macarthur. He struggled in his first year but was excellent last season for the team (six goals, eight assists). Would be a big loss for any team had they not gone and signed a younger and probably better player in Matt Leckie who is also not a foreigner. Well done, City, you’ve done it again.
Macarthur has continued their very impressive start to A-League football with some dominant new signings. Ulises Davila, fresh off winning multiple awards for his performances last year, joins Macarthur on a three-year marquee deal. This is a signing of intent as Macarthur looks to add early silverware to their team in a bid to build support in the area.
We think this is the signing of the season and marks one of many big statements by the back office staff given the number of quality signings ahead of the season.
Davila was a Johnny Warren Medalist last season, is at a good age (30), loves living in south Sydney and joins with league experience. He brings with him 19 goals from 48 appearances for the Phoenix and good leadership qualities (was the captain of Wellington) so will fill the hole of the retiring Mark Milligan. Enough said, Davila will continue to make this league his own.
Tomi Juric joins form Adelaide United. If your worst business is signing a 41-cap Socceroo, who is 30 years of age, with good European pedigree then you know you are winning in the off-season.
Juric has big boots to fill. The departing Matt Derbyshire was a favourite in the league and the club. If Juric can remain off the physio table then he has all the ingredients to light up the league, but it remains a big if…
Still to come
The recent departure of Denis Genreau to Toulouse in France leaves a gap in midfield, combined with the retirement of Mark Milligan, some steel is needed in the middle of the park. Two players at opposing points in their careers, both players were footballers of immense quality who played a big part in Macarthur’s promising first season.
If someone is found the same level as the rest of their signings then all should be okay. With the quality of the recruitment so far, it leaves little doubt that Macarthur will be ready to come Round 1 (whenever that may be).
A number of good signings highlight the first good business from Victory in the last two years. I guess it is easy to succeed from the lowest of lows. The signing of Tony Popovic, a proven winner in the A-League has been an essential piece of business. For the self-proclaimed biggest club in the A-League, a manager of Povovic’s quality is expected at this club.
In terms of signings, Josh Brilliante takes the cake. Fresh off a Greek experience with Xanthi, Brillante returns to the league a high performer, having excelled at both Sydney FC and Melbourne City.
Any squad serious at a title push needs a strong midfield and Brilliante provides just that. He is in his prime at 28, will have his best years in Victory colours (signing a three-year contract) and is already a proven Socceroo with five caps.
Rui Marchan has signed from FC Andorra in Spain. A simple question hangs over this signing: who? The underwhelming feeling is that this is a signing that would have been made by the Central Coast (who sit last on the ladder for their off-season business).
Surely Victory, with their deep pockets, need to be aiming higher than getting a player fresh from the Spanish third division. We understand getting foreign players in due to COVID is difficult at the moment for A-League clubs, but his resume doesn’t give much confidence in his success.
Still to fix
Win and win quickly. The disaster of last season needs to be forgotten by all, including their faithful supporters. Winning early and big will alleviate a lot of the depression associated with the club from last year.
Callum Mcmanaman’s move back to England looks to be the only loss in the squad from last season, albeit he only played 18 games after spending plenty of time with the physios.