After a winning week for the Socceroos and a well-attended opening round of the women’s competition last weekend, it is time for the men to hit the pitch and get their 2023-24 A-League season underway.
The draw looks a savoury one, with Saturday night’s Big Blue the highlight and interesting matches in Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth sprinkled in and around the three NSW-based fixtures.
The Mariners enter the season as champions and Melbourne City will be eyeing off revenge after yet another disappointing display on the biggest football stage in Australia. New signings will be on show for the first time in the league, the tipping will be a nightmare as usual and teams will be looking to gauge their off-season work as well as where they sit in comparison to their opposition.
Author and football writer Texi Smith will join me throughout the season, hacking away with tips and comments that reflect the passion of a committed A-League fan and member. Former NSL goalkeeper Andrew Prentice will also share his thoughts each week, and as always, the Roar of the Crowd will match wits with the three experts.
Good luck with your tips for the opening round and be sure to enter them in the sheet below to have a say in the voice of the people. Here is the way the panel sees all the opening week of action unfolding.
Central Coast, Brisbane, City, Sydney, Western Sydney, Perth
What a season we have on our hands. An announcement prior to the opening weekend regarding the replacement of the Grand Final nonsense with something even more nonsensical. Could be interesting with all rival fans in Sydney.
The Mariners will absolutely smash Adelaide United in the opener; both teams have lost a talisman since the semi-final last season, and Central Coast seem to have coped well with the loss of Jason Cummings. This is the year of Christian Theoharous and if he gets the minutes, the visitors will shine in the season opener.
Macarthur FC’s reliance on Ulises Davila to pull the strings in midfield and Lachie Rose to be the face of the team means that they have perhaps not moved on as much as they needed to. Brisbane Roar have had a marvellous pre-season and should continue that form into their first fixture.
The era of Melbourne City dominating the league is over. Whilst the attack is still eye-wateringly good, the rest of the squad simply does not have the strength required. Having said that, this opening fixture will go in their favour as Western United start brightly but fade to hand the three points to City.
The Big Blue will serve up a classic like last year’s edition on the opening day, goals will be traded before Sydney FC pull clear to win narrowly. Wanderers look good on paper. When Wellington Phoenix come to town on Sunday, there will be a sprightly showing from the visitors that threatens to hand the Wanderers a loss. A stirring second half will turn the tide until Josh Brillante smashes in a winner with ten minutes remaining.
New owners, new faces, same old football team. Perth Glory start today from zero, again. The Jets will cause a few heart flutters in the home end, laying siege to the Glory goal for much of the first half, but will draw a blank, and worse still, concede a ridiculous goal in the second half to lose.
Adelaide, Macarthur, City, Sydney, Western Sydney, Perth
There have been plenty of key departures from the Mariners during the off-season and it may take the squad a few months to find form. Adelaide looking more settled and likely to win at home. Brisbane impressed in the opening 45 minutes against Sydney in the Australia Cup Final, and then fell away. Macarthur likely to be big improvers this season. The Bulls in a tight one at home.
City are favourites to top the league yet again this season and will probably do so. But can they go one step further? The campaign will open with a win against their cross-city rivals. Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory will set the opening weekend alight at Allianz. The contest will deliver in spades and Joe Lolley will make all the difference for the home side.
The recruitment at Western Sydney makes them something of a mystery bet, yet Marko Rudan does have a core group of returning players he trusts. In a tricky one to pick, I’ll take the red and black over a Phoenix side that appears to be a little light on for depth.
Perth’s new owner is an exciting development for the club, as is the presence of Alen Stajcic at the helm. Newcastle are thought by many to be headed for a season of struggle. That might start on the opening weekend when the Glory nab a home win at their new and improved stadium.
Draw, Brisbane, City, Sydney, Western Sydney, Perth
Adelaide and Central Coast developed a memorable rivalry last season, including a cracking two-legged semi final which was the last stop before the Mariners’ historical win.
Personnel-wise, much has changed with the champions, including in the coaching dugout, with new man Mark Jackson hitting the ground running. But they still have Marco Tulio doing his thing up front and the return of Alou Kuol, to the delight of fans everywhere.
The Reds have a Johnny Warren Medallist-sized hole to fill with the departure of Craig Goodwin. Maybe we’ll see more of Nestory Irankunda in ’23-24. Hard to split these two but there’ll be goals, there always is.
Brisbane have looked the goods under Ross Aloisi and the club seems to have put a lot of their off-field issues right. Their squad is settled with the new coach giving opportunities to youngsters like Tom Waddingham. Macarthur have found early success in the AFC Cup, but Saturday’s opponents will be a step up in class. The Roar should win this but it will be tight.
While Melbourne City have suffered from departures and retirements since the night of their 6-1 Grand Final mauling, they still have a squad made to win things. Jamie Maclaren is leading a lethal attack and Mathew Leckie and Andrew Nabbout are still either side of him (though the former may miss the game through injury and Nabbout will be out for some time).
Western have lost two and gained one in the attacking department with the experienced former Socceroo Nikita Rukavytsya offsetting the departures of Aleksander Prijovic and Dylan Pierias. The fire power in this one is tilted in City’s favour, although Western are defensively resolute.
Sydney FC lifted the Australia Cup last weekend in a great game against Brisbane. Two goals from new signing Fabio (of course the Sky Blues would sign a guy named Fabio, right?) were an indicator that the swagger might be returning to Sky Park. Victory have – if possible – flown under the pre-season radar a little but it’s folly tipping against them in round one, as their 3-2 win in the opening round last season showed. Call me stupid, I guess…
If Western Sydney can look as good on field as their magnificent centre of excellence looks when I drive past it on the M7, the sky is their limit. Exciting winger Dylan Pierias arrives from Western United. Brandon Borello should be back from Socceroos duties in time to pick up where he left off last season, and the Wanderers still look solid defensively.
Write the Phoenix off at your peril, though. New coach Giancarlo Italiano has shown faith in local products to support the attacking threat of Oskar Zawada. Can Bozhidar Kraev start this season like he did the last, and sustain it? Wanderers should be too strong at home.
The magic of Alen Stajcic has come to Perth. The former Philippines Women’s coach is a major coup for the Glory, and his squad seems to have settled to the new guy. They also have a full home season at HBF Park, although the tiny Macedonia Park did provide some kind of a bonus early last year.
Oliver Bozanic follows his former Mariners coach west, and will be the traffic director of a midfield that needed just that last season. Newcastle always seem to trouble Perth in Perth, but the home side should win this.
|ADL v CCM
|MAC v BRI
|MCY v WUN
|SYD v MVC
|WSW v WEL
|PER v NEW
As always, take on The Roar‘s football experts as part of The Crowd using the form below.