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A-League season preview

In their first outing together Bruno Fornaroli and Tim Cahill scored
Will these two City stars lift a trophy or two at season's end?
Photo Source: Getty Images

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Adelaide United
Last season: Premiers (first), champions (won grand final)
Ins: Sergi Guardiola (Granada), Jesse Makarounas (Melbourne Victory), Ryan Kitto (Newcastle Jets), Ben Garuccio and Marc Marino (Melbourne City), James Holland (unattached), Henrique (Brisbane Roar), Nikola Mileusnic (Adelaide City), Danny Choi (Blacktown City)
Outs: Eli Babalj (AZ Alkmaar), Bruce Kamau and Ruon Tongyik (Melbourne City), Bruce Djite (Suwon FC), Craig Goodwin (Sparta Rotterdam), Pablo Sanchez and Mate Dugandzic (unattached), Stefan Mauk (NEC)

Prediction: Fifth
We say: In the 11 A-League seasons contested to date, no team has won the premiership two years running and only one side has won back-to-back championships. There's a reason for that. In a 10-team league with enormous parity, losing just a couple of your best players means you are likely to be overtaken by a mid-range team that has strengthened. Sergi Guardiola and James Holland should be immediate contributors but on the whole Adelaide do not have the same quality as last season, when they lost just one game from December to May. In pre-season they were dumped from the FFA Cup by Queensland outfit Redlands United and they lost their three friendlies against A-League opposition (City, Victory and Sydney FC) by the same 1-0 scoreline. Marcelo Carrusca is out for the first two months and Jordan Elsey, who was likely to improve on his 14 starts from last season, ruptured an ACL for the second time since 2014. While a chunk of the midfield and attack needed to be replaced, it must be said that they have retained much of their league-best defence, and on the back of that a half-decent run of wins or draws should see them make the finals.

Brisbane Roar
Last season: Third, lost semi-final
Ins: Brett Holman and Manuel Arana (unattached), Jacob Pepper (Western Sydney Wanderers), Joey Katebian (Melbourne Victory), Thomas Kristensen (ADO Den Haag), Kye Rowles (Palm Beach), Connor O'Toole (Adelaide United)
Outs: Shane Stefanutto (retired), Javier Hervas (Zeljeznicar), Henrique (Adelaide United), Corona (Almeria), Steve Lustica (Western Sydney Wanderers), Jean Carlos Solorzano and James Donachi (released)

Prediction: Eighth
We say: Corona is a significant loss, and it doesn't seem right that Henrique is gone, but Brisbane have had a decent off-season that should see them maintain their position in the top six. That said, their three major additions are 31 (Arana), 32 (Holman) and 33 (Kristensen), who are added to a team containing Matt McKay (33), Jade North (34) and Thomas Broich (35). When a team is older the likelihood of it all falling apart grows, and it remains to be seen that they will all hold their talent levels throughout the season. Including finals, the Roar won 11 of 14 games at home last season but were victorious away from home only four times in 15 games – and they conceded at least three goals in six of their away losses. Even after finishing one point off the top before losing a heartbreaking semi-final, there is plenty for Brisbane to fix if they want to have another crack at the title.

Central Coast Mariners
Last season: 10th
Ins: Blake Powell and Kwabena Appiah (Wellington Phoenix), Connor Pain (Melbourne Victory), Mickael Tavares, Jacques Faty and Ivan Necevski (Sydney FC),
Outs: Daniel Heffernan, Francesco Stella, Tomislav Uskok and Luis Garcia (released), Anthony Kalik (Hajduk Split), Joshua Rose (Melbourne City), Mitch Austin and Alastair Bray (Melbourne Victory)

Prediction: 10th
We say: The only way, surely, is up. Central Coast's 2015-16 campaign was one of the worst seasons in A-League history, conceding a record 70 goals and winning just three games along the way. Tony Walmsley left in August, with Paul Okon handed his first crack at a top job. On balance the Mariners have barely improved their squad, if at all, though the veterans Jacques Faty and Mickael Tavares, who started 17 games apiece for a defensively solid Sydney last season, should hold the side together if they can stay fit.

Melbourne City
Last season: Fourth, lost semi-final
Ins: Tim Cahill (Hangzhou Greentown), Fernando Brandan (Temperley), Joshua Rose (Central Coast Mariners), Bruce Kamau and Ruon Tongyik (Adelaide United), Nicolas Colazo (Boca Juniors), Braedyn Crowley (Northcote City), Manny Muscat (Wellington Phoenix), Neil Kilkenny (Preston North End), Luke Brattan (Manchester City), Michael Jakobsen (Esbjerg), Daniel Arzani (AIS)
Outs: Ben Garuccio and Marc Marino (Adelaide United), Patrick Kisnorbo (retired), Michael Zullo and Alex Wilkinson (Sydney FC), Aaron Mooy (Manchester City), James Trifiro, Wade Dekker and Aaron Hughes (released), James Brown (Avondale), Jack Clisby and Jacob Melling (Western Sydney Wanderers), Harry Novillo (Manisaspor)

Prediction: Third
We say: Although City have stolen all the headlines after finally luring Cahill to the A-League, the loss of Aaron Mooy and everything he offered in midfield can't be understated. Harry Novillo is gone as well but City have done well to strengthen their squad and add depth in the midfield through Luke Brattan, Neil Kilkenny, Nicolas Colazo, Bruce Kamau and Fernando Brandan. John van't Schip's side might need to replicate the 'you score two, we'll score three' mentality from last season because there is no guarantee their defence improves to a respectable level.

Melbourne Victory
Last season: Sixth, lost elimination final
Ins: James Donachie (Brisbane Roar), Mitch Austin and Alastair Bray (Central Coast Mariners), Marco Rojas (unattached), James Troisi (Liaoning Whowin), Alan Baro (Ponferradina)
Outs: Giancarlo Gallifuoco, Archie Thompson, Danny Vukovic and Dylan Murnane (released), Connor Pain (Central Coast Mariners), Jesse Makarounas (Adelaide United), Thomas Deng (PSV Eindhoven), Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler (Wellington Phoenix), Joey Katebian (Brisbane Roar), Matthieu Delpierre (retired)

Prediction: First
We say: There are a couple of A-League clubs that would love to finish a respectable sixth with 11 wins and one of the best defences in the league. Kevin Muscat's Victory aren't your standard club, and though the ins and outs don't appear like much the on-field product will be very different after what became a stale season of just 40 goals scored. Austin, Rojas and Troisi provide plenty of pace and creativity, but the team's FFA Cup performances suggest they may need time to gel with Carl Valeri, Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Besart Berisha. Although they don't necessarily have question marks hanging over their defence, new signings and possible central pairing Baro and Donachie will need to be very good to replicate last season's impressive performance of just 33 goals conceded.

Newcastle Jets
Last season: Eighth
Ins: Jack Duncan (Randers FC), Andrew Hoole (Sydney FC), Ivan Vujica (Dinamo Zagreb), Devante Clut (Brisbane Roar), Daniel Alessi (Western Sydney Wanderers), Wayne Brown (SJK), Aleksandr Kokko (RoPS), Andrew Nabbout (unattached)
Outs: Mark Birighitti (Swansea City), Cameron Watson, Josh Barressi, Leonardo, Brandon Lundy and Enver Alivodic (released), Ryan Kitto (Adelaide United)

Prediction: Ninth
We say: Appointed as coach only a couple of weeks ago, Mark Jones has the tough task of lifting the Jets out of the mire and into the finals for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The Jets scored a woeful 28 goals last season and it's not such a bad thing that they'll have a somewhat refreshed front third after Alivodic (26 starts) and Leonardo (18) departed. Hoole's return home is a nice story, while the 189-centimetre Kokko scored a decent clip in Finland and could be another unknown European attacker to surprise the A-League. Despite the coaching change, Newcastle chief executive Lawrie McKinna says "there's no reason why we shouldn't target finals" and hopes their early games at home will ease any concerns about their ability to compete. We will wait and see.

Perth Glory
Last season: Fifth, lost elimination final
Ins: Milan Smiljanic (Maccabi Netanya), Rostyn Griffiths (Roda JC), Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough), Joseph Mills (Oldham Athletic), Liam Reddy (Western Sydney Wanderers), Joel Chianese and Nick Feely (unattached), Brandon Wilson (Burnley)
Outs: Ante Covic, Diogo Ferreira, Hagi Gligor, Gyorgy Sandor and Krisztian Vadocz (released), Ruben Zadkovich (retired), Jerrad Tyson (Western Sydney Wanderers)

Prediction: Second
We say: Perth won 10 of their last 13 games to end last season, jumping from ninth after round 15 to fifth following round 23, and loom as one to watch from the get-go this time round. Andy Keogh remains on the books following his January move, while Adam Taggart is finally available to play after he signed in the same window. Williams has a high ceiling if his body allows him to reach it, having suffered two unrelated Achilles ruptures. Although the Glory turned things around in the second half of the season, it was largely on the back of their improved attack as they more than doubled their scoring average. Their defence remained largely the same, conceding around 1.5 goals per game. A handful more clean sheets and Perth will be well and truly on their way to a top-two finish.

Sydney FC
Last season: Seventh
Ins: Bernie Ibini (Club Brugge), Bobo (Gremio), Danny Vukovic (Melbourne Victory), Michael Zullo and Alex Wilkinson (Melbourne City), Josh Brillante (Fiorentina)
Outs: Shane Smeltz (Kedah FC), Alex Mullen, Christopher Naumoff, Robert Stambolziev, Zac Anderson and Anthony Bouzanis (released), Jacques Faty, Ivan Necevski and Mickael Tavares (Central Coast Mariners), Ali Abbas (Pohang Steelers), Andrew Hoole (Newcastle Jets), Jacob Tratt (Sydney FC)

Prediction: Fourth
We say: There's a good chance the Sky Blues walk the talk under Graham Arnold again this season. Last campaign they sat third after round 15 and then failed to win again until the last round, which was enough to force a retooling of the squad. All six signings look like they'll be in the starting side for round one, and Bobo in particular could be the strike power they were missing in 2015-16. Ibini thrived under Arnold in 2014-15, scoring seven goals in 28 league games, and his run will be a welcome sight for Sydney fans who were slumping disappointed into their seats far too often earlier this year.

Wellington Phoenix
Last season: Ninth
Ins: Marco Rossi (Perugia), Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler (Melbourne Victory), Adam Parkhouse (Manly United), Ryan Lowry (ECU Joondalup), Jacob Tratt (Sydney FC)
Outs: Ben Sigmund and Albert Riera (retired), James McGarry, Oliver Sail and Justin Gulley (Wellington United), Manny Muscat (Melbourne City), Blake Powell and Kwabena Appiah (Central Coast Mariners), Troy Danaskos (released)

Prediction: Seventh
We say: It's normal for Australians to underestimate the Phoenix on a yearly basis, and some will say that's justified given that three of the past four seasons have seen the club finish ninth or 10th on the ladder with just seven wins. This season, however, Wellington could be among the teams pushing for a top-four berth. They already had some attacking talent between Roly Bonevacia, Roy Krishna and Michael McGlinchey, and now Barbarouses and Finkler bring championship-level quality that could ignite the team. Tall Italian defender Rossi will be given the task of shoring up a defence that conceded 54 goals last season, the worst in the club's history.

Western Sydney Wanderers
Last season: Second, lost grand final
Ins: Jarrad Tyson (Perth Glory), Nicolas Martinez (Olympiacos), Kerem Bulut (Iraklis), Jacob Melling and Jack Clisby (Melbourne City), Robbie Cornthwaite (Selangor), Jumpei Kusukami (Sagan Tosu), Steven Lustica (Brisbane Roar), Bruno Pinateres (Cerra), Emilio Martinez (Nike Academy), Aritz Borda (Alaves)
Outs: Daniel Alessi, Alberto, Andreu, Romeo Castelen, Shayne D'Cunha, Alusine Fofanah, Liam Reddy, Federico Piovaccari, Matt Sim and Golgol Mebrahtu (released), Scott Jamieson (IFK Goteborg), Jacob Pepper (Brisbane Roar), Dario Vidosic (Liaoning Whowin), Mark Bridge (Changrai United)

Prediction: Sixth
We say: Look at all that change. Jamieson, Castelen, Vidosic, Andreu, Alberto and Bridge each made at least 20 appearances last season as the Wanderers finished second and reached the grand final, and Tony Popovic has once again had to rebuild his team for a new campaign. That makes Western Sydney a fairly unpredictable outfit, though the bones do look good. The addition of four new imports – Nicolas Martinez, Kusukami, Pinatares and Borda – suggests there could be a breaking-in period for the team as those players adjust to the A-League. Bulut's short stint in 2015 was an exciting time and a full season in the A-League could see him net 15 goals.

Final table:
1. Melbourne Victory
2. Perth Glory
3. Melbourne City
4. Sydney FC
5. Adelaide United
6. Western Sydney Wanderers
7. Wellington Phoenix
8. Brisbane Roar
9. Newcastle Jets
10. Central Coast Mariners

Who is your A-League tip? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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