And just like that, the excruciatingly long off-season is over and A-League Men football has finally returned to our screens and stadiums. It’s great to be back covering this magnificent competition for another season.
Without further ado, let’s get stuck into the Round 1 talking points.
In front of a somewhat disappointing 14,586 supporters at Allianz Stadium, Melbourne Victory claimed the first Big Blue of 2023-24.
Sydney looked shaky defensively and lacked composure from the opening whistle, before Luke Brattan’s unfortunate slip allowed the visitors to take the lead and the prestigiously named Zinedine Machach sealed the win late on with a barnstorming solo effort.
Steve Corica’s off-season business, combined with presumably improved showings from the likes of Robert Mak and Joe Lolley, should have the Sky Blues in top-four contention. Corica’s job was hanging by a thread until Sydney made a late run to the finals and managed an impressive victory in the Sydney Derby, before being easily dispatched by Melbourne City.
The concern for Corica has to be his defence, which was easily opened up on multiple occasions on Saturday. Sydney could’ve copped two or three before half-time. In the absence of Jack Rodwell, who can’t be relied upon as a 20-plus-gamer, the centre-back stocks consist of Gabriel Lacerda, Aaron Gurd, Jake Girdwood-Reich and Jordan Courtney-Perkins.
Across the border in Australia’s home of coffee and laneways, expectations are also high after a disastrous Melbourne Victory campaign surely had Tony Popovic scared to check his WhatsApp messages. The additions of Daniel Arzani and Machach should help, but can this squad rebound from an 11th-placed finish, or will there be more misery at AAMI Park?
Since that incredible Grand Final triumph five months ago, not a lot has gone right for Central Coast Mariners apart from demolishing the completely outclassed Stallion Laguna in the AFC Cup.
A quick recap: Grand Final hero Jason Cummings made the move to Indian side Mohun Bagan, coach Nick Montgomery departed for greener pastures in Scotland, and they also lost the services of Nectarios Triantis, Moresche and Samuel Silvera, among others. Much-hyped wünderkid Garang Kuol, of course, also left the club earlier in the year.
There’s no doubt new boss Mark Jackson has a challenging championship defence on his hands, and it couldn’t have got off to a much poorer start: a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Adelaide United, punctuated by Jacob Farrell’s late red card, who will now miss at least Macarthur’s visit to Industree Group Stadium.
That’s as gloomy as I’d like to get for Round 1, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not concerned about Central Coast. They have not been able to adequately replaced their departed stars, and there was a real lightning in a bottle vibe last season.
It took much longer than it should have, but A-League fans across the nation have got their wish – the NSW Government’s three-year agreement with APL to host all Men and Women Grand Finals in the Harbour City is now, mercifully, history.
Instead, Chris Minns’ regime has facilitated the new Unite Round, which will see all 24 teams converge on Sydney in January during the summer school holidays, hopefully bringing with them plenty of fans.
Make no mistake, this is a direct result of fan power. It’s a big win for supporters who perhaps may not have the means to fly interstate for a Grand Final, who maybe will now be able to experience the unbridled joy of seeing their side’s captain lift the toilet seat on their home patch.
It was an awful look for Danny Townsend, whose arrogance cost this competition the support of diehards who’ve been around since the league’s conception almost two decades ago. We’ll wait and see whether they’ll return to the fold now that sanity has prevailed.
Townsend has now departed Australian football for a “role in the Middle East,” leaving the domestic game “stronger than ever,” according to Stephen Conroy, a sentiment that nearly fried my bulls–t detector. It’s a topic for another day but what a ridiculous comment from a career politician whose own recent hiring raised many eyebrows around the league.
It’s been a long time coming but the A-Leagues’ broadcaster has finally joined the likes of Kayo and Optus Sport in offering a live pause and rewind feature. Better late than never, as they say.
Overall, Paramount’s product has been good. There are the odd technical blemishes like with any streaming service, but on the whole it’s a reliable service that doesn’t hurt the hip pocket too much.
$10 per month (less if you commit to a 12-month deal) for 12 matches of live Australian football per week, plus FA Cup coverage from England, is very reasonable – especially when contrasted with the minimum $25 rugby fans are shelling out for Stan Sport. Granted, Stan subscribers also get access to some football, tennis and combat coverage but if you’re only after Wallabies and Waratahs/Reds/Brumbies action it’s a bit steep.
Network Ten will broadcast two matches per week in 2023-24, making it one-third of all games on free-to-air TV – a happy medium between attracting the eyeballs of casual observers and not devaluing the paid option too much.
-Great to have ex-Matildas boss Alen Stajcic back in the league.
-Wellington held Western Sydney to a scoreless draw on the back of a very solid showing by young gloveman Alex Paulsen. Good to see Thomas Heward-Belle put in a good performance for new side Western United after finally leaving Sydney FC, where he was never going to be handed the No.1 duties.
-So much talent has gone out the exit door at beaten Grand Finalists Melbourne City. Can they stay in title contention?
-I see the APL have not learnt their lesson with mid-afternoon kick-offs. It was 30° in Parramatta on Sunday.