Quite a lot has happened since the last A-League match back in early May.
We have seen a World Cup, a few big name players changed clubs around the world, some more off field dramas with the FFA and after five months, we are ready for some football in a decent time zone.
There is a lot to be excited about with several clubs making a big push on the recruiting front to make sure their side is able to challenge for the title.
Melbourne Victory enter the season as the Champions while Sydney FC are looking for their third straight Premiership but the chasing pack would love to knock them off their perches, and have made the moves to try.
We have previewed all ten A-League sides and examined their chances of winning the title this season.
Last Season – 5th Place, Lost Elimination Final to Melbourne Victory 2-1
Who steps up?
On paper Adelaide have built a very solid squad that has retained its key players and added several players who should be an improvement on those who they have replaced.
The Red Army will be very happy to see favourite Craig Goodwin back with the left sided player signing on for three years and bolstering a very impressive crop of local talent.
Adelaide’s season will come down to how its imports perform and at least on paper, there is a lot to like about what Marco Kurz has done.
Michael Jakobsen will help shore up the backline and is familiar with the A-League after his time with Melbourne City.
Attacking duo Mirk Boland and Ken Ilso have been brought in to score a few goals with decent resumes from their time in Europe.
While there is a lot to like about what Adelaide have done, they potentially have the widest range of any club in the competition, they could conceivably finish top two or way off the pace.
Last Season – 6th Place, Lost Elimination Final to Melbourne City 2-0
Will they be back to the Roar of old?
After a very disappointing 2017/2018 campaign, John Aloisi has overhauled his attack with an eye on returning the Roar to the title contending side they were in his first season in Brisbane.
New signings Adam Taggart, Stefan Mauk and Tobias Mikkelsen will team up with key playmaker Eric Bautheac who is expected to be the lynchpin for the Roar going forward.
Goals have been an issue for the Roar over the last two seasons and if they are to return to the glory days, they will need to have at least 15 from Adam Taggart and another two or three players pushing double digits.
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the Roar right now is the depth at the back with three of the four senior centre backs all having questions about their durability.
Despite the improvements made to the attacking stocks at the Roar, it does look like they will be a step behind the league leaders this season, they will be in contention to make the finals this year however anything beyond that first week is going to be a tough task.
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
Last Season – 10th Place
Will they be a Bolt from the blue?
Shockingly, the Mariners do have an entire squad of football players outside of Usain Bolt ready to take to the pitch in Brisbane to open their season next week.
New coach Mike Mulvey, back for his first A-League job since leaving Brisbane in 2014, has overhauled the squad and brought in a number of players who he feels can do a job for him.
Leading the line will be Ross McCormick, who was a vital figure in the early part of last season for Melbourne City.
He will be expected to improve an attack that tallied a mere 28 goals in 27 games last season, a number that will need to increase by a fair margin if they are going to contend for the top six.
Mulvey will bring an attacking philosophy to the side and while they might not have the name recognition, the imports such as Aiden O’Neill at least give cause for optimism.
While a finals berth might be a step beyond the capabilities of this squad, they will be able to close the 14 point gap from last season.
Last Season – 3rd Place, Lost Semi Final to Newcastle Jets 2-1
Will the investment finally pay off?
City were so close to playing in Asia this season, until cross-city rivals Victory came in and took that last spot with the Grand Final win.
While the City Football Group are somewhat constricted by the A-League salary cap and can’t just go out and buy a title, they have assembled a very good squad that can compete at the business end of the season.
Several familiar faces are back for another go with the likes of Bart Schenkenveld, Osama Malik and others ready to shore up the City defence along with new addition Ritchie De Laet.
Up front they have lost Scottish import Michael O’Halloran for the start of the season due to an injury however Riley McGree and French signing Florin Berenguer will be a handful, as will the Uruguayan captain Bruno Fornaroli.
A title challenge for the light blue half of Melbourne is certainly on the cards here and they should be seen as a real threat to the league this season.
Last Season – 4th Place, Champions
The Victory are the only club in the A-League that can say they have won the title pretty much every way possible.
Last year finished with a “Heist in the Hunter” as they won the Championship after entering the finals in fourth place.
They have gone for the big statement with the recruitment of Japanese star Keisuke Honda and Swedish striker Ola Toivonen to bolster their attack.
Kevin Muscat’s side were inconsistent last year but have been able to bolster the top and middle of their squad and should be considered a legitimate title threat, as their co-favouritism indicates.
The big question surrounding them right now is whether or not the imports are able to live up to the hype and be firing come April and May.
There is too much quality for them to miss the finals but they are going to face some stiff competition when it comes to the final standings on the ladder.
Last Season – 2nd Place, Lost Grand Final to Melbourne Victory 1-0
Was it all a fluke last year?
If you forecast Newcastle making the Grand Final last season, well done… we might not believe you but well done.
The question in the Hunter region now is how the sequel can to live up to the hype of the original production.
Ernie Merrick has opted to focus on complimentary signings to bolster his side’s depth rather than try for a big splash.
The biggest signing was Brazilian forward Jair, who will likely lead the line with Roy O’Donovan suspended for the first few months of the season.
In the interests of fitting in one proper cliché here, Venezuelan playmaker Ronald Vargas will be “just like a new signing” after missing the bulk of last season with a broken leg and those two should provide a unique dimension to the Jets attack.
Even with these moves being made, it is hard to see the Jets improving enough to keep pace with some of the other clubs, it looks like they have taken steps forward while others have made big leaps.
Last Season – 8th Place
Will Popovic have an immediate impact?
At the top of Tony Popovic’s resume should be the way he built Western Sydney into A-League Premiers in the space of around 9 months and took them to three Grand Finals in four seasons.
The fans out west will be hoping Popovic can engineer a similar quick turnaround for the Glory who are desperate to see their side return to where they sat in the final days of the NSL.
In the final two seasons under Kenny Lowe, conceding goals was a huge issue with that number reaching 50 in both years.
The recruitment by Glory suggests defensive stability will be a renewed area of emphasis under Popovic with a major overhaul at the back end of the pitch.
Popovic teams are built to succeed by keeping opponents out and if the Perth players do buy into that philosophy they will be contending for a top four spot this season.
Last Season – Premiers, Lost Semi Final to Melbourne Victory 3-2 (a.e.t)
No Graham Arnold, so will it be business as usual?
With Graham Arnold trading sky blue for green and gold, there were some predicting the demise of the Sydney FC reign however early returns suggest they are not a spend forced just yet.
Another appearance in the FFA Cup Final and a solid run through preseason, paired with some impressive recruiting has the side among the favourites once again.
Key playmaker Milos Ninkovic has stuck around but his supporting cast will be completely different to last year with Daniel De Silva, Adam le Fondre and Siem de Jong joining the club to replace the departed key figures.
Perhaps the biggest acquisition though, will be Jop van der Linden who signed from AZ Alkmaar and could be a big upgrade on departed defender Jordy Buijs.
Sydney will have a few bumps this season and with the fresh competition from a number of revitalised opponents, they may find themselves in a major fight for a top four spot.
Last Season – 9th Place
Is time up for the Nix?
Often the forgotten boys of the A-League, Wellington go into this season with new coach Mark Rudan who is assembling somewhat of a makeshift squad that, at the time of writing, consisted of just 16 players.
A lot will be put on the shoulders of veteran defender Steven Taylor, who will be expected to lead from the back with Polish goalkeeper Filip Kurto set to provide a more experienced and stable option than last season’s rotating cast.
Going forward a lot of stock is being placed in Australian attackers David Williams and Mitch Nichols, and the latter has a tendency to start off strong at a new club and could be a key figure going forward.
Polish midfielder Michal Kopczynski comes to the club on loan with a lot of promise at age 26 and has been a regular for Legia Warsaw in the past two seasons and could be a steal if he can play to his potential.
It will likely come down to how well the squad is managed by Rudan however and, while a final judgement cannot be fairly handed down with an incomplete squad, as it stands anything above eighth would be a huge success for the rookie boss.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS
Last Season – 7th Place
Will a fresh start pay off?
Last season was a real grind for the Wanderers, starting with coach Tony Popovic leaving the team a week before the season and finishing with missing the finals on the last day of the season.
New manager Markus Babbel has come in and put an early stamp on the side, bringing in a handful of names that are familiar to the A-League and some experienced foreigners to help bolster his squad.
Joining holdovers Oriol Riera, Raul Llorente and Roly Bonevacia are German duo Alexander Baumjohann and Patrick Ziegler who will be expected to provide some steel to the spine of the side.
Their first target for the season should be reducing the goals conceded number from the 47 of last year down to something in the 30’s (or ideally for them even lower).
Having already shown their capabilities in reaching the FFA Cup Semi-Finals the Wanderers should be expecting to be challenging for a top two finish and their first Grand Final win.
Predicted Premiership Standings
1st – Melbourne Victory
2nd – Western Sydney
3rd – Perth
4th – Melbourne City
5th – Sydney FC
6th – Brisbane
7th – Adelaide
8th – Newcastle
9th – Central Coast
10th – Wellington
Grand Final: Melbourne City defeat Western Sydney Wanderers