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A-League Men: Who must, can and will improve in season 2021-22 (Part 1)

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1st November, 2021
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We are just over two weeks away from a new A-League Men season that will begin on November 19.

Fittingly, the champions will kick start the action when they face Brisbane Roar at AAMI Park and Melbourne City will have their eyes firmly fixed on a rare consecutive championship, after their best season on record.

Both City and losing grand finalists Sydney FC will no doubt be jostling for positions in the top six once again, yet exactly where are the other sides positioned in terms of the areas of improvement required to become serious threats in 2021-22?

Today I’ll cast an eye over half of the A-League competition, reflecting on whether that required improvement is indeed a possibility or an unlikely pipe dream.

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Adelaide United (last season – fifth)
The Reds enjoyed a good season last campaign, earned a trip to the finals and advanced to the second week before falling to the Sky Blues in Sydney.

Michael Marrone, Ryan Strain, Jordan Elsey and Tomi Juric need replacing and the returns of Isaias and George Blackwood begin the process of doing so.

(Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

However, despite scoring an impressive 39 goals, the Reds let 41 across their own goal line last season. While they were always dangerous, they never really loomed as a serious threat to Melbourne City.

Whether new signing Nick Ansell is the answer to those defensive issues is questionable.

No doubt the Reds will compete well again, yet whether the squad is capable of improving significantly this season is questionable, despite the excellent young talent in it.

Brisbane Roar (last season – fourth)
After a brilliant start and finish to season 2020-21, the Roar secured fourth place before losing on their home deck to Adelaide to open the finals series.

It was disappointing for a team that Warren Moon had humming at different stages.

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Defensively, it was a solid campaign. However, the somewhat enigmatic Dylan Wenzel-Halls failed to solidify himself after a promising start.

Dylan Wenzel-Halls of the Roar celebrates after kicking a goal

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Along with Jamie Young, Joe Champness and Riku Danzaki, Wenzel-Halls will not be wearing the orange this season.

However, Argentinian Juan Lescano, Luke Ivanovic and Nikola Mileusnic appear likely to provide Moon with a fresh looking attacking unit that he will be hoping finds the net more consistently.

Will that be enough to edge the Roar closer to the pointy end of the ladder?

Central Coast Mariners (last season – third)
Had the Mariners kept pretty much the same squad and still had former coach Alen Stajcic at the helm, it would have been fair to suggest that further improvement and continuity was possible and that Central Coast could well be challenging for a premiership this season.

Sadly, Nick Montgomery gets his chance as the top man without Daniel De Silva, Alou Kuol, Jack Clisby and Gianni Stensness.

Danny De Silva

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

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They are big losses and whether new Brazilian goal scorer Moresche, Japan’s Cy Goddard and Frenchman Beni Nkololo are able to gel quickly and provide the small percentage improvement required is unknown.

If what Stajcic built in recent times is as real as it appeared, it could well be another successful season for the men in yellow. If not, Montgomery could well be destined for some stressful times ahead.

Macarthur (last season – sixth)
Floundering away late in the season, the Bulls lost momentum midway through the campaign and never really managed to wrestle it back.

Frankly, they will need to improve, after a season where just 33 goals were scored and their play became stodgy at times.

Considering the arrivals of Ulises Dávila, Daniel De Silva, Tomi Juric, Craig Noone, Tomislav Uskok and Jordon Mutch, the Bulls almost certainly will improve.

Ulises Davila.

Ulises Davila (Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

Sure, the retirements of a couple of quality Spaniards may hurt them initially and Mark Milligan’s presence in defence will undoubtedly be missed.

However, for a team that needed to improve to contend this season, they appear to have restocked the arsenal and be almost certainly heading for something better that sixth place in 2021-22.

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Melbourne City (last season – first)
The champions don’t really need to improve to contend again, yet they may well do so. Patrick Kisnorbo’s squad is settled, polished and tested.

The loss of a now-33-year-old Craig Noone is more than offset by the arrivals of Socceroo Mathew Leckie and Italian attacking midfielder Manuel Pucciarelli.

Scott Jamieson of Melbourne City celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot during the A-League Grand Final.

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Thus, Melbourne City may well be able to add another dimension or two in attack, something they barely need after knocking in 57 goals in 26 home-and-away matches last season.

When it really mattered, they also found three more on grand final day and you would be a gutsy gambler to bet against a return visit to the decider this season.

Melbourne Victory (last season – 12th)
If there is one sure thing in season 2021-22, it is that Melbourne Victory will improve on the rubbish produced during the last campaign.

Tony Popovic will ensure that, as will a host of top-notch arrivals in the form of Jason Davidson, Josh Brillante, Stefan Nigro, Jason Geria, Matthew Spiranovic, Chris Ikonomidis, Nick D’Agostino, Rai Marchan, Ivan Kelava, Nick D’Agostino and Roderick Miranda. Phew!

Tony Popovic

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

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In fact, those 11 names would actually form an imposing team, even without the returning Robbie Kruse, Leigh Broxham, Jake Brimmer and Marco Rojas.

If the Victory fail to win more than the five matches they managed last season in the pending campaign, I will eat my hat.

We are about to see a Victory resurgence with Tony Popovic potentially becoming a long-term option for a club craving stability.

On Thursday I’ll take a look at the remaining clubs.

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