A-League 2018-19 preview part two: Newcastle Jets to Western Sydney Wanderers

Jonathan Howcroft
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">One of Sydney FC’s new signings, Siem de Jong, is expected to become an A-League force. </span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Matt King/Getty Images</span>
One of Sydney FC’s new signings, Siem de Jong, is expected to become an A-League force. Photograph: Matt King/Getty Images

Newcastle Jets

Ins: Mitch Austin (Victory), Jair (Yanbian Funde FC), Lewis Italiano (Stirling Lions), Matthew Ridenton (Phoenix), Kaine Sheppard (Avondale)

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Outs: Wayne Brown (Sutton United), Devante Clut (Blacktown City), Jack Duncan (Al-Quadsiah), Riley McGree (Club Brugge – end of loan), Pato Rodriguez (Moreirense), Mario Shabow (Mariners)

Newcastle Jets were the feelgood story of last season and a stable offseason suggests they should be a similar force again this year. Jack Duncan and Riley McGree will both be missed but otherwise it is largely the same squad that illuminated last year’s competition.

An example of the confidence in Lawrie McKinna’s project is the re-signing of both Dimitri Petratos and Steven Ugarkovic. Both have been among the competition’s standout performers in recent seasons with ample quality to flourish overseas.

Alongside that pair there are dependable performers all over the ground. Of those, Nigel Boogaard and Nikolai Topor-Stanley deserve special praise for their partnership at the heart of defence.

Up front Ernie Merrick will hope the absence of the suspended Roy O’Donovan for the opening third of the season does not prove too costly. The return of a fully fit Ronny Vargas following last year’s broken leg should provide some compensation.

Perth Glory

Ins: Jason Davidson (HNK Rijeka), Fabio Ferreira (Sydney), Ivan Franjic (Roar), Juande (Spezia), Chris Ikonomidis (Lazio), Tomislav Mrcela (Jeonnam Dragons), Brendon Santalab (Wanderers), Matthew Spiranovic (Zhejiang Greentown), Tando Velaphi (Phoenix)

Outs: Andreu (released), Joseph Mills (Forest Green Rovers), Adam Taggart (Roar), Xavi Torres (Elche), Jeremy Walker (Green Gully)

The most intriguing side entering the 14th incarnation of the A-League are Perth Glory. The club has undergone major surgery in recent months with former Sydney FC CEO Tony Pignata recruited to lead the administration and Tony Popovic brought in as head coach.

Together Pignata and Popovic have been active during an ambitious transfer window, replacing a notoriously porous backline with one Graham Arnold could conceivably select for the Socceroos. At a stroke Glory’s squad now seems mature and uncompromising with an imposing defence boasting Matthew Spiranovic, Tomi Mrcela, Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson. Perth fans will hope this is finally the stable foundation to allow the brilliant but mercurial Diego Castro opportunity to shine consistently enough to secure a trophy, and showcase the pace and power of the enormously talented Chris Ikonomidis.

Perth now have a squad and a coach that should be competing for a premiership or a championship, it just remains to be seen how long it will take Popovic’s renovations to gel.

Sydney FC

Ins: Trent Buhagiar (Mariners), Siem de Jong (Ajax), Daniel De Silva (Mariners) Adam le Fondre (Bolton Wanderers), Jop van der Linden (AZ Alkmaar)

Outs: Bobô (Alanyaspor), Jordy Buijs (V-Varen Nagasaki), David Carney (released), Fabio Ferreira (Glory), Anthony Kalik (Hajduk Split), Adrian Mierzejewski (Changchun Yatai), Matt Simon (Mariners), Luke Wilkshire (Wollongong Wolves)

Following a golden run under the stewardship of Graham Arnold the 2018-19 season represents a small diversion into the unknown for Sydney FC. Under Arnold Sydney were a model of consistency but his departure leaves one of his assistants, club legend Steve Corica, in charge of keeping the form club over the past two seasons on the road to glory.

Corica’s job has not been helped by the departures of foreign stars Bobô, Adrian Mierzejewski and Jordy Buijs but their replacements are top drawer with Adam le Fondre, Siem de Jong and Jop van der Linden all impressing early in their Sky Blue careers. The arrivals of Daniel De Silva and Trent Buhagiar from Central Coast point to a more youthful edge to Corica’s version of Sydney FC, although the latter’s potentially season-ending ACL injury last weekend is an unfortunate blow.

If an unbeaten preseason is anything to go by it should be business as usual for last year’s premiers. They could even become the first club to defend the FFA Cup when they take on Adelaide United later this month.

Once again the Sky Blues look to be the team the rest will have to catch.

Wellington Phoenix

Ins: Max Burgess (Sydney Olympic), Louis Fenton (Melbourne Knights), Michał Kopczyński (Legia Warsaw), Filip Kurto (Roda JC), Mitch Nichols (Glory), Armando Sosa Peña (Almeria), Steven Taylor (Peterborough United), David Williams (Haladás)

Outs: Lewis Italiano (Stirling Lions), Andrija Kaluđerović (Delhi Dynamos), Matija Ljujić (Belenenses), James McGarry (Willem II), Michael McGlinchey (Mariners), Goran Paracki (Neftçi PFK), Adam Parkhouse (mutual contract termination), Matthew Ridenton (Jets), Logan Rogerson (Carl Zeiss Jena), Marco Rossi (Robur Siena), Keegan Smith (Lower Hutt City), Tando Velaphi (Glory)

New Zealand’s A-League representatives haven’t made the finals for the past three seasons and it’s difficult to see them interrupting that run this time around. Despite a couple of decent additions Wellington Phoenix’s threadbare squad continues to look short of trophy-winning quality and with rival clubs improving en masse it could be another wearisome campaign for the Yellow Fever.

The major variable in that equation is Mark Rudan. Wellington’s new coach arrives with impeccable credentials as an A-League championship-winning captain and NPL title-winning coach. After much speculation over where Rudan would land as an A-League manager, he has accepted the hardest job in the competition.

Rudan’s recruitment suggests his first priority is making Phoenix hard to beat, using visa spots on a new goalkeeper (Filip Kurto) centre-back (Steven Taylor) and hardworking midfielders (Michał Kopczyński and Mandi). Goalscoring will be the responsibility of Nathan Burns and Roy Krishna, although exciting teenager Sarpreet Singh may prove the most eye-catching figure in yellow and black.

Worryingly, preseason included an FFA Cup exit to NPL opposition and two defeats out of three to A-League rivals.

Western Sydney Wanderers

Ins: Alexander Baumjohann (Clube Vitória), Tarek Elrich (United), Nick Fitzgerald (City), Bruce Kamau (City), Rashid Mahazi (Moreland Zebras), Jordan O’Doherty (United), Danijel Nizi (Morecambe), Ruon Tongyik (City), Patrick Ziegler (Kaiserslautern)

Outs: Jonathan Aspropotamitis (Mariners), Kearyn Baccus (City), Álvaro Cejudo (Racing Santander), Jack Clisby (Mariners), Chris Ikonomidis (Lazio – end of loan), Steven Lustica (Inter Zaprešić), Brendon Santalab (Glory), Michael Thwaite (Gold Coast United)

Last season was a rare misstep for Western Sydney Wanderers and as a consequence a return to the top seems a little way off. At the heart of the club’s issues has been a coaching merry-go-round precipitated by the departure of foundation boss Tony Popovic this time last year which led to an ill-fated dalliance with Josep Gombau. Markus Babbel has been brought in to pick up the pieces but he joins with the Wanderers still squatting on an AFL oval (Western Sydney Stadium is due for completion mid-2019) and dealing with significant player churn.

Heavy friendly defeats to the Mariners and Jets as well as a 3-0 FFA Cup defeat to Sydney FC suggest there remains plenty of work still to be done by the decorated former German international. He will hope to be afforded more time to get things right than his predecessor.

Babbel returned to Germany to recruit countrymen Alexander Baumjohann (once lauded by Jupp Heynckes) and German second division stalwart Patrick Ziegler, although a knee injury to the latter will delay his start to the season. Other new faces include promising youngsters Jordan O’Doherty, Ruon Tongyik and Bruce Kamau, while there’s also a return for the premiership-winning Tarek Elrich.

At this stage of proceedings the Wanderers seem a little behind the leading contenders but after last season’s chaos a year of stability and rebuilding would be no bad thing with the promise of a return to their own ground next season a catalyst for further progress.

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