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A-League season preview

The winter codes of football are over for another year in Australia, now it is time for the other sport claiming title to that description to take the spotlight for the next few months - at least in on-field action. Making his debut on the blog is Daniel Daly, a keen A-League analyst and punter. Read his season preview below and give him a follow at @danielddaly


A-League 2014/15

The tenth A-League season kicks off this Friday night Australian time. Competitions dominated by only a handful of clubs has become the norm across Europe, however this years edition of the A-League is definitely for the punter or fan jaded by such occurrences as it promises to be as open as any previous edition of the competition.

For those new to Australian football, the competition is comprised of nine Australian teams and one from New Zealand, the Wellington Phoenix. The season is 27 matches long, culminating play-offs featuring the top six teams. Defending champions Brisbane Roar are out to win their fourth title in five years, albeit a bit weaker after losing key striker Besart Berisha to fellow title aspirants Melbourne Victory. Their main rival in recent years has been the recently formed Western Sydney Wanderers, who have finished first and second at the end of the regular season in their only two years.

Last year only two wins separated third-placed Central Coast Mariners and seventh-placed Newcastle Jets. This year promises to be more of the same with most teams either consolidating promising squads or strengthening in the off season. I think this season will prove even closer. The bookmakers have the field wide open so I think there is value to be found.

The Contenders.

Western Sydney Wanderers (WSW)
Last season: 2nd (lost grand final)
Prediction: 1st

Only in their third year, the Western Sydney Wanderers (WSW) have proven a force to contend with in just a few short years. The WSW are attempting to become the first Australian team to win the Asian Champions League after qualifying for the final to be played at the end of the month. In just two seasons Tony Popovic has proven himself to be one of the best managers the A-League has seen. Key departures of crowd favourites Shinji Ono and Youssouf Hersi has seen their attacking stocks dwindle but they have responded to every challenge yet in their short history. Vitor Saba, the key big name recruit, has the challenge ahead of him to play make WSW the way to the ultimate success.

ACL games and international call ups for some key players in the Asian Cup could tire some key players which could see a fall in form late in the season but with a great track record who would argue they can't win it in their third year.

Look for: Western Sydney to be as defensively strong as ever.

Recommended bet: Outright Winner at 6.

Sydney FC
Last season: 5th
Prediction: 2nd

The return of Alex Brosque, who has slotted straight back into the captaincy is not to be underrated. In Bernie Ibini, Shane Smeltz and marquee man Austrian Marc Janko will help the Sydneysiders overcome any hiccups in dealing with the loss of the great Alessandro Del Piero. However, the biggest signing for Sydney FC is the former Socceroos manager Graham Arnold, who returns to the A League after an unsuccessful year in the J.League. Arnold managed the Central Coast Mariners to a Championship and were runners up twice in a three year spell from 2010 to 2013. That period of success was after overtaking a side that finished eighth the season before his arrival. Sydney finished fifth last year without setting the world on fire. While the loss of Del Piero will hurt ticket sales in Sydney, they will be a more rounded outfit for his departure. Definite contender.

Recommended bet: Outright Winner at 6.

Brisbane Roar
Last season: 1st (won grand final)
Prediction: 3rd

The powerhouse team that just keeps winning. Apart from the obvious of Berisha’s defection to the Victory, there is not too much to investigate in the off season for the Roar. The champions have had time overcome their star leaving but there is still a question mark on who will step up in the big games now he is gone. To win Thomas Broich must continue be the supreme creator, and it will be interesting to see if Mensur Kurtisi can step in and bang home a double figure tally of goals his team will need to stay ahead of the pack.

The big question: Have they done enough to strengthen to stay ahead of the chasing pack?

Melbourne Victory
Last season: 4th
Prediction: 4th

Contrary to most media opinions, I think the Victory have had an up and down off season. It's all about defence for the Victory. They are very shaky at the back for a championship aspirant. The original Melbourne teams last clean sheet was in round ten last year. Almost twice as many Victory games have gone over 2.5 goals than under since Kevin Muscat took over as manager from Ange Postecoglou early last season. Furthermore 50 % of his games last season went over 3.5 goals as opposed to the capable defences of WSW and the Roar, whose games only went over 3.5 goals 19% of time in the last two seasons.

Victory have lost two of their best defenders from last season, club player of the year Adama Traoré moving to greener pastures and Pablo Contreras retiring. Victory were a stronger side with these two in the side, with the Goals Per Game Conceded (GPGC) rising to 2.0 with Contreras in the side, from just 1.35 with him out. For Traoré GPGC increased from 1.4 when in the side to almost a goal more with 2.38 when missing. To overcome this Victory have recruited strongly over the offseason, picking up a handful of players with strong European pedigrees. Defensively the have added former Vfb Stuttgart captain Matthieu Delpierre who joins Victory after a spell at Dutch side FC Utrecht and Daniel Georgievski from Romanian Champions Stuena Buceresti, in which he played in eleven Champions League matches last season.

The other big recruit is former Brisbane Roar star Besart Berisha who was the second top goal scorer in the league last season. There is no doubting his ability to score a goal in the big moments and he has an an impeccable 48 goals from 76 A-League games, however it must be noted in the last two seasons the Brisbane Roar played 54 regular games of which he played 37 and missed 17. The Roar actually were a better team without the Albanian, as their points per game and goals for per game increased with him out of the team.

On paper they have recruited well but they are going to challenge for the title then their defence needs to gel quickly.

The Others

Central Coast Mariners
Last season: 3rd
Prediction: 5th

Another consistent season last year which saw them only goal difference away from second place. Lost a few names in the off-season, but they did the before also.

Final word: Solid. The team with financial troubles continues to defy the odds with consistent performances from season to season. No reason to doubt they will play finals again, but I doubt they will they have the class to go much further.

Adelaide United
Last season: 6th
Prediction: 6th

Last year United got of to a winning start their first game before taking nine games to follow up that win before a mid season purple patch saw finals spot secured. Popular belief is that they finished the year strongly and whilst winning 5 their last ten games of the season, their season petered out losing the last game of the season 2-0 and the elimination final 1-0.

Josep Gombau's Spanish influence has had another year to develop and he has added yet another countryman in Pablo Sanchez Alberto, to assist his side with the loss of last year's top scorer Jeronimo. While they play entertaining Football, being the team with the second greatest goal difference last season, I want to see the reputations turn into results from this Barcelona-inspired revolution.

Expect: Consistency to be the issue again.

Melbourne City
Last season: 10th
Prediction: 7th

The much talked about franchise club with massive marquee loanee, David Villa, it is hard not to get sucked in by the excitement. Let's be honest, if he is even half fit anything short of a goal a game average from Villa will be disappointing. No doubt he is the biggest name closest to the top of his game to play in the A League's history. Expect him to put in a blinder or two come the end of the spell. However, and it is a big however, Melbourne City first team wont have changed that much from the disappointing last-placed finish last year. Once the hype dies down and Villa is wowing the crowds Stateside, I see a big drop off.

Wellington Phoenix
Last season: 9th
Prediction: 8th

The sole New Zealand outfit in the A League, the Phoenix did not put the long visiting road trip to their home country advantage, only winning three games at home last year. Stronger form at home will see great improvement from the Phoenix as they weren't woeful travelling.

Perth Glory
Last season: 8th
Prediction: 9th

Seven managers in nine seasons and a new look squad, Perth Glory are a bit of a mystery outfit. Keeping in tune with the theme of squad member musical chairs in the league, Glory have turned over large amounts of their first team from last year. The recruiting of proven A-League performers Mitch Nichols on loan and Youssouf Hersi from WSW, Glory have found themselves a strong attacking platform to support Irish striker Andy Keogh.

Only won 1 of 14 at home last season, so a stronger showing at home would yield a higher ladder position but unfortunately I think Perth are still a team on the up and might be better for a season of growth and managerial stability.

Betting option: Expect a double figure goal tally from Irish striker Andy Keogh with strong support from fellow new recruits Hersi and Nichols. Back him to be the clubs goal scorer at 2.4

Newcastle Jets
Last season: 7th
Prediction: 10th. Last.

Controversial owner. Tick. Most talented player leave. Tick. Bad start to the 2014/15?

Like their namesake in England, the Newcastle Jets will be praying the tough times away as they already look very unsteady before the season has even started. Highlights of last year's finish of seventh included supplying the golden boot winner Adam Taggart, now at Fulham, and beating Champions Brisbane Roar 3 times. The down side is their squad is completely different, with massive changes to the roster, the challenge is on the new manager Phil Stubbins to get the team playing good football from the get go.

Positive: Not paying Emile Heskey massive money to score one goal in a season.

Negative: Losing your captain? Having the Golden boot winner leave or being owned by a bankrupted former mining magnate? You choose.

Betting options: 4.33 on Jets to finish bottom looks big.

For latest market prices, use Oddschecker AU

Andy Keogh Perth Top Goal Scorer at 2.4
Newcastle to finish bottom at 4.33
Split stakes on Sydney FC/WSW to win out outright at 6 and 8 respectively.
A few shillings on a Sydney derby Grand Final at 19.

If the A-League is a competition you seriously you want to look at for betting, then you'll be pleased to know it is one of the many leagues covered in depth by Football Form Labs. Take a look at what they have to offer here.


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