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With season 13 to kick-off on Friday evening, the Round Ball Analyst previews the season by taking a look at the form guide to every team and asks the big question for each. 

Adelaide United: After the success out wide through Sergio Cirio and Bruce Kamau, and at 9 via Bruce Djite, in the championship winning season two years ago, last season was a struggle in this area for Gui Amor. Marco Kurz has tried to address this by bringing Johan Absalonsen and Karim Matmour (pictured below), who look very exciting and will provide quality from out wide and behind. The question is do they have enough goals from the 9’s, Baba Diawara and George Blackwood, and enough quality out of midfield to create? Nikola Milusenic and Jordan O’Doherty emerged last year but have to go to another level. The pre-season form of Milusenic has certainly been encouraging. Kurz’s men have impressed in pre-season, look extremely fit and will be more than competitive - but they can’t afford too many injuries.

Brisbane Roar: Given the changes to the squad, it might take the Roar a little while to get going but they certainly appear to have plenty of goal-scoring punch through Massimo Maccarone, Peter Skapetis, Brett Holman, Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Corey Gamiero. The big question is just how Aloisi copes with injuries for which there are already a few. The key to their success will be how they manage the condition of an ageing squad. If they can keep bodies on the pitch, they have enough quality to do damage and finish in the top half.

Central Coast Mariners: Alan Baro, Wout Brama and Tom Hiariej add much-need experience, stability and ability on the ball at base of Paul Okon’s formation, but the big question is whether he has enough quality in the front third to compete on the goal-scoring front with the big guns. Asdrubal, Danny de Silva and Andrew Hoole all look like decent signings, and in de Silva and Hoole it is exciting to see young Aussies given the number 10 duties, but is there enough goals among the three of them, as well as Connor Pain, Kwabena Appiah and Trent Buhagiar? Okon certainly has more depth and experience this season but has to take the team forward from one that possessed impressively last season to one that can also be ruthless in the front third and secure when they lose the ball.

Melbourne City: After John van 't Schip struggled to really nail it at City, the big question is whether Warren Joyce is good enough to take them to the next level? Certainly on the evidence of City’s FFA Cup loss to Sydney FC he has a lot of work to do. City struggled, lacking structure, intensity and flow. Of course, the loss of Bruno Fornaroli till at least the new year is the worst possible result of the pre-season. While Ross McCormack has come in, the real key is whether Joyce can find the structure and give his squad the confidence to go to the next level.

Melbourne Victory: The fact that Victory needed a rough SFS surface and took a spoiler approach to Sydney FC in last season’s grand final tells you how far they were behind their rival last season. The fact they got so close with that approach speaks to the culture and mentality at the place. Kevin Muscat has gone for the devil you know by bringing back Mark Milligan and Kosta Barbarouses, and bringing in Rhys Williams, but the big question is whether there is enough quality in the top third to replace Marco Rojas? Melbourne Victory look a little light at the point end and will need Mitch Austin and Jai Ingham to take the next step. They will also rely on the experienced central axis not breaking down.

Newcastle Jets: This is the best looking Jets squad in many a year, and I like the fact Ernie Merrick has brought all but Ronny Vargas (pictured left) in earlier. Vargas looks like he might be the piece of magic the Jets have missed since Nick Carle and Milton Rodriguez, and should provide goals and assists. But the big question remains whether Roy O’Donovan has the smarts to be able to link with Vargas and the likes of Dimi Petratos and Andrew Nabbout, and whether he really has enough quality to get to 15 goals and take a team high up the ladder? I have my doubts. He certainly works as hard as any striker going around, but it’s whether he has the ability to combine around the edge of the box that’s key.

Perth Glory: If ex-Wanderers Scott Neville, Andreu and Mitch Nichols are anywhere near their best they will add plenty to the Glory squad. With Xavi Torres joining compatriots Andreu and Diego Castro, Perth are the latest club to join the A-League’s 'all-Spanish' flavour. While they continue to offer plenty of punch in attack through Castro, Andy Keogh and a much improved Chris Harold, the big question is whether Andreu and Torres can settle in quick in front of the back four and get the team ticking? It won’t be how they combine with Castro that defines the Glory season but rather how they link with the likes of Neville, Alex Grant, Steven Lowry and Marc Warren.

Sydney FC: Bernie Ibini and Filip Holosko might be gone on the right, but Adrian Mierzejewski looks an outstanding pick-up. Meanwhile, Luke Wilkshire doesn’t have the legs of Rhyan Grant but brings tactical discipline. Apart from in goal, Sydney FC look at least as strong as last season, but the big question is whether they will get as lucky with injuries as they were last season, and whether they can cope when the ACL comes knocking? It’s remarkable that Sydney are able to maintain such a deep squad under the cap for the second year running, and you sense that if Graham Arnold needs to go right down to the likes of Charles Lokolingoy, Anthony Kalik, Aaron Calver and Chris Zuvela, Sydney will still be more than competitive.

Wellington Phoenix: I’ve had the chance to take in the Nix live in NSW twice this pre-season, and on both occasions Darije Kalezic’s men have looked well organised and offered some exciting prospects. Kalezic has a reputation for working well with kids and I think we can expect to see the likes of Sarpreet Singh (a wide attacking player from the Nix academy) and Alex Rufer (central defensive mid) get plenty of minutes. Kalezic has also brought in Croatian midfield enforcer Goran Paracki (pictured below) and there’s no doubt the strong man in the midfield will be a hit in the league this season - literally. More experience comes from the likes of Ali Abbas and Dario Vidosic, and Kalezic has certainly done well to build a base during the off-season, but the big question is whether his strikers, Hamish Watson and Andrija Kaludjerovic (Logan Rogerson is another coming through from the academy) can bag enough goals with the supporting cast led by Roy Krishna, Vidosic, Gui Finkler and Singh?

Western Sydney Wanderers: There’s no doubt that Tony Popovic, before he left earlier in the week, assembled a strong squad ready to provide more of a challenge to their cross-town rivals Sydney FC, but I still have doubts about whether there was enough strength in central midfield. Chris Herd is the player earmarked to sit alongside the team’s fulcrum Kearyn Baccus, fast becoming one of the best midfielders in the league. But Herd has been injury-prone and my feeling at this stage is that Steve Lustica, in great pre-season form, is the better bet alongside Baccus. Elsewhere, Alvaro Cejudo looks a great pick-up, sharp and incisive around and inside the box, while Oriol Riera keeps working and presenting and looks like he’ll get goals, many in the air.  The big question at Wanderland remains who will replace Popovic long term, what strategic direction will he take the club towards, and to what extent will that disrupt the season? Certainly striving for as much continuity as possible throughout this season appears the most sensible approach. 

Categories: Analysis | A-League

a-league, adelaide united, brisbane roar, central coast mariners, melbourne city, melbourne victory, newcastle jets, perth glory, sydney fc, wellington phoenix, western sydney wanderers

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