The early weeks of the A-League schedule has been thrown into disarray by COVID-19, but there’s still three big clashes on the opening week docket – including a debut outing for Macarthur FC.
History: Played 2: Western United 1 V Adelaide 1
Last meeting: March 7, 2020: Western United 5 d Adelaide 1 at Coopers Stadium
Final Thoughts: Sophomore club Western United and a new-look Adelaide United open the A-League season amid a reshuffled early-season schedule.
Western United stormed to a fifth-place finish and a semi-final berth – eventually eliminated by Melbourne City – in a highly impressive debut campaign. Marc Rudan remains in charge of a relatively stable roster.
Adelaide missed the 2020 playoffs by a point and have had a high player turnover during the off-season. Riley McGree, Paul Izzo, Kristian Opseth and James Troisi are among the departing brigade, while ex-Western United goalkeeper James Dalianov and Australian rep Tomi Juric bolster the squad. Carl Veart retains the coaching reins after taking over as caretaker in June.
The teams finished with one win apiece after two high-scoring clashes last season. Berisha (Western United) and Miluesnic (Adelaide) both scored first-half doubles before the Reds claimed a 4-3 victory at Ted Whitten Oval. But it was one-way traffic in Adelaide, with Berisha notching another brace in a 5-1 Western United rout.
Western United look the better proposition heading into the season, while greater continuity and home-ground advantage gives them a solid edge over Adelaide in Round 1.
History: Played 31: Melbourne City 14 V Brisbane 11 (6 Draws)
Last meeting: January 3, 2020: Melbourne City 1 d Brisbane 0 at AAMI Park
Final Thoughts: Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City were both originally scheduled to face different opposition in Round 1, but this is nevertheless an intriguing opening-week match-up.
Melbourne City are coming off a strong 2019-20 campaign in which they finished second before going down to Sydney FC 1-0 in the grand final after extra-time. City have picked up Perth goalscorer Andrew Nabbout, while Josh Brilliante headlines a sizeable list of transfers out.
The Roar finished a creditable fourth last season, but their campaign was somewhat derailed by coach Robbie Fowler’s return to England during the COVID-19 break. Warren Moon takes the reins, meaning we should see a bit more attacking enterprise compared to the gritty defensive outfit Fowler moulded.
Melbourne City have won five and drawn one of their last eight against Brisbane. But honours were shared last season, with both clubs grabbing a home win either side of a draw in Brisbane.
I’m leaning towards the more established City line-up in this one, but the Roar should give a solid account of themselves in Redcliffe.
History: First meeting
Final Thoughts: Macarthur FC’s A-League entry has been overshadowed by COVID-19 disruptions to the competition’s early rounds. But the newcomers have put together a handy squad under manager Ante Milicic, who will have fellow Socceroos reps Mark Milligan, Tommy Oar, Ivan Franjic and James Meredith at his disposal.
Western Sydney Wanderers are coming off a disappointing 2019-20 season, landing ninth with only nine wins. Carl Robinson took over from manager Jean-Paul de Marigny in October, while Wanderers have picked up James Troisi and Bernie Ibini from rival clubs.
Macarthur are an unknown quantity, but the excitement of their debut outing may be enough to inspire an upset.
History: Played 45: Newcastle 16 V Central Coast 13 (16 Draws)
Last meeting: July 24, 2020: 0-0 draw at Central Coast Stadium
Final Thoughts: The F3 derby closes the A-League’s rejigged opening round, with both clubs looking to put indifferent 2019-20 campaigns behind them. Central picked up another wooden spoon in a five-win season, while Newcastle limped into eighth with nine victories.
The Mariners have farewelled a host of last season’s mainstays and recruited only modestly. The Jets are adjusting after Carl Robinson’s October departure, with Craig Deans taking over as interim coach. Newcastle have also ended on the debit side of the gains and losses ledger.
The Jets have won six and drawn two of their last nine against the Mariners. Both Gosford-hosted fixtures last season finished in a stalemate, while the Jets held on for a 4-3 win in the sole Newcastle clash.
In a key opportunity for both sides to get off to a confidence-boosting start, a draw is shaping as the best bet.