Sydney FC will start as underdogs when Nani and Melbourne Victory come to town for the Sky Blues’ opening match at the new Allianz Stadium in Round 1.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for fans who’ve been absolutely spoilt with five championships over the club’s 17-year history.
It’s also fair to say there has been significant discontent around the fanbase over the club’s lack of activity in the transfer market.
Spanish left-back Diego Caballo has been the only arrival so far, although we are more than two months out from the start of the season.
The drama of club legend Milos Ninkovic’s departure has somewhat faded into the background for now, but it is still perplexing how new CEO Adam Santo bungled the negotiations so badly.
We’ll see how Ninkovic is welcomed back at Moore Park in Round 6.
With all of this in mind, it’s difficult to get a barometer on what to expect from the A-League’s most successful club in 2022-23.
We got our first look at Steve Corica’s new 4-3-3 formation in Sydney’s penalty shootout victory over Central Coast Mariners on Sunday afternoon.
It was hardly a convincing performance from Corcia’s side, who, if it were not from some more Andrew Redmayne mind games, could’ve found themselves out of the Australia Cup.
The new formation changes up how the midfield and front third operate, with the No.6 role becoming especially important.
Should Patrick Yazbek continue on his current trajectory, he’s a very good chance of making the defensive midfield position his own this season.
Corica has depended on Paulo Retre in midfield for many seasons now, but with the return of Luke Brattan, I can’t see Retre holding down a starting role.
There were promising signs from young forward Adrian Segecic, who assisted Sydney’s third goal in the Cup clash. Segecic and Jaiden Kucharski, another forward prospect, will be banging on the door for A-League minutes.
Adam Le Fondre, however, is most definitely on the wrong side of 30 and has looked displeased with his teammates and in general for some time.
A bounce back season from Rhyan Grant wouldn’t be unexpected, but there’s cause for concern with the rest of the backline.
It’s too early to make a call on Caballo, but barring a new first-XI addition, the centre-back pairing of James Donachie and Alex Wilkinson is not a title-challenging partnership. Nowhere near.
There is still time and salary cap room for Corica to replenish the squad but every day closer to kick-off is one fewer day for any additions to gel with their new teammates.
Sydney’s designated player spots, which allow clubs to bring in two players outside of the cap on contracts valued at $300,000-$600,000 per year, remain vacant.
Last season, Newcastle brought in 24-year-old Beka Mikeltadze as a designated player. The Georgian No.9 is an example of the kind of player Sydney can and should target as either a marquee or designated player.
So, once the dust settles on the upcoming A-League campaign, will Sydney have added a sixth toilet seat to the trophy cabinet?
That’s very unlikely.
Much more possible is a return to the top six without making any noise in the finals. Perhaps a loss in the second week.
And that’s about par for the Sky Blues.
This is still a top-six squad on paper with a successful manager at the helm.
With some smart business in the transfer market and a steady sprinkling of hungry young players like Segecic and Kucharski pushing for minutes, the future might not look so dreary for Sydney FC.