A-League 2019-20 Season Preview & Futures Probabilities
When A-League season 15 kicks off this Friday night in Adelaide, it’ll mark the commencement of one of the most important junctures in league history.
In recent times, the league has been criticised for diminishing crowds, lack of competitive diversity and administrative turmoil, as well as the groundhog-day-feel of a ten-team league which rewards 60% of its participants with a post-season spot
The league, however, will be hoping that its newest round of expansion will make for a circuit-breaker to the increasing negativity, with the green and black of Western United FC set for its debut in 2019, with another new franchise - Macarthur FC - set to join next year.
While the league has been dominated by traditional powers Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory over its lifetime, and recently, sharing four of the last five championships, the A-League hasn’t been without its challengers. The Newcastle Jets in 2018 returned to the Grand Final for the first time in ten years, while last season, Perth Glory won it’s first-ever Premier’s Plate, only to fall agonisingly short in the Grand Final, losing to Sydney FC on penalties.
While the A-League is currently in something akin to limbo, anxiously waiting to see if it can be jolted back to life, one certainly you can rely on is that Stats Insider will have you covered all season with match projections for each and every game, as well as futures projections so you continually check in on how your team is progressing.
The first-season transition from now-Socceroo coach Graham Arnold to Steve Corica couldn’t have gone much better for the 'Sky Blues,' with a record-equaling fourth A-League Championship.
Over the last three seasons, Sydney FC have turned themselves into the definitive league force, dropping just 11 home and away matches over its last 81 fixtures, winning a combined four Championships and Premierships, while also hoisting the FFA Cup in between.
Sydney will once again start favourites heading into the season, returning the core of its squad led by the likes of Johnny Warren Medal and Joe Marston Medal winner, Milos Ninkovic, and marksman, Adam Le Fondre, who netted 18 times in his debut season. In the off-season they also added New Zealand international, Kostas Barbarouses, as well as former German U-21 national player, Alexander Beaumjohann.
499 - That’s how many effective tackles Sydney applied last season, a league-high number and testament to the club's efficient game plan. Unlike so many clubs the world over who pray at the alter of possession football, the Sky Blues have been comfortable without the ball, with the centre of their midfield - Brandan O’Neill and Josh Brillante - both in the competition’s top five for effective tackles in 2018-19.
Sydney will, however, have to re-organise their midfield following Brillante’s move to Melbourne City.
Perth Glory made for the most wonderful story of last season, doing everything but winning the club's first A-League Championship. Under the stewardship of the revered A-League manager and former Socceroo stalwart, Tony Popovic, Perth Glory not only dominated the regular season - winning their the club's first-ever Premier's Plate - but did so scoring more goals and conceding less than the rest of the league while posting a +33 goal difference.
While Perth lose Andy Keogh, who top-scored for the club last season, his replacement comes in the form of Uruguayan, and former Melbourne City star, Bruno Fornaroli, who Popovic will be hoping will be able can replicate, and potentially better, Keogh's scoring production.
27 - Diego Castro’s goal involvements. While Perth’s 37-year-old Spanish captain, and former Johnny Warren Medalist, only netted nine times, their talismanic playmaker was the driving force behind much of Perth’s offensive success last season, involved in 27 of Perth's goals. Castro's brilliant nine-goal, eight-assist season was rewarded by making the PFA Team of the Year for the third time in four seasons.
Melbourne Victory's 6-1 semi-final beat down at the hands of arch-rival Sydney FC ushered in tremendous change at one of the league's most storied establishment clubs.
Out went legendary club figure - inaugural captain, and long-time coach - Kevin Muscat, replaced with German, Marko Kurz, who’d coached Adelaide United to moderate success over the previous two seasons. The squad itself has also had some profound changes, with all of Carl Valeri, Keisuke Honda, Terry Antonis, James Troisi and Kostas Barbarouses either retiring or moving on to other opportunities. While the Victory has brought the band back together somewhat, with forwards Robbie Kruse and Andrew Nabbout re-signing with the club after years abroad, Kurz will also be hoping new additions such as Jakob Poulsen, Tim Hoogland and Kristijan Dobras can help usher in the next era of Victory success.
400 - The Victory surrendered 400 shots at goal last season, which was a significant contributing factor behind the 32 goals they conceded, and a key difference as to why they failed to keep up with the likes of Perth Glory and Sydney FC all season. The 400 conceded shots were in sharp contrast to the 289 and 299 conceded by Perth and Sydney respectively, and an area Kurz simply must make sure he can solidify if the Victory is to return to genuine prominence in 2019-20.
Melbourne City, still searching for their place in this A-League landscape, have turned to 64-year old Frenchman Erick Mombaerts to finally take the club through to a maiden Grand Final appearance.
While City has qualified for the A-League Finals in each of the last five seasons, they’ve never finished inside the top two, while never seriously taking on the appearance of a legitimate Championship contender.
An air of mystery surrounds the established quality amongst the squad, too, with the club's biggest off-season acquisitions coming in the form of the Uruguayan duo, Javier Cabrera and Adrian Luna, with Austrian defender Richard Windbichler expected to fit into the centre of its defence. The mystery extends further with City expected to throw 16-year-old Raphael Rodrigues into the starting line-up for this weekend’s Mekbourne Derby against the Victory.
344 - That’s how many passes per goal Melbourne City required last year, which was the worst mark in the league. In fitting with the City Football Group imprimatur of possession-oriented football, City were unwavering in its determination to keep hold the ball, even if it was more often than not failing to produce goals. Only cellar-dwellers Brisbane Roar and the Central Coast Mariners scored less than City last season.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS
MAKE FINALS PROBABILITY: 55.4%
The Western Sydney Wanderers were everything the A-League could have dreamed of from an expansion perspective, immediately establishing a passionate fanbase with their some incredibly efficient results mixed in perfectly. The Wanderers won the Asian Champions League, and contested three A-League Grand Finals in their first four seasons, with coach Tony Popovic overseeing one of the best Australian football stories of the decade.
Unfortunately for the Wanderers, Popovic's excellence was parlayed into a big-money move to Turkey, with the Wanderers failing to re-create their initial brilliance without him. The Wanderers have missed the last two post-season campaigns with current manager - former Bayern Munich and Liverpool FC legend, Markus Babbel, failing to improve the team in his first season at the helm.
In fact, Babbel’s Wanderers won just six of their 27 fixtures last season, while their season is already on the back foot with star marquee signing, Radoslaw Majewski expected to miss the bulk of the campaign with a serious knee injury. To make matters worse, their top scorer over the past two seasons, Oriel Riera, has returned to Spain, while perhaps their most promising performer, Alexander Beaumjohann, has joined the rival Sydney FC.
62% - The Wanderers conceded the third-most goals in the league in 2018-19, not helped by keeper, Vedran Janjetovic’s 62% save percentage, which was a number only the Mariners' Ben Kennedy and Brisbane’s Jamie Young faired worse in amongst goalkeepers with more than 20 appearances.
MAKE FINALS PROBABILITY: 51.0%
Adelaide United have been one of the most consistent A-League entities, making the finals in ten of their last 14 seasons, winning themselves a Championship and a couple of FFA Cups, while also being the first ever Australian team to contest an Asian Champions League Final.
While results have been stable for the Reds, coaching structure hasn’t, with recent hire, Dutchmen, Gertian Verbeek, the seventh different coach to patrol the sidelines this decade, taking over from Marko Kurz who is now the head honcho at Melbourne Victory.
Thankfully for Verbeek, the squad hasn’t changed as drastically as so much of the league has, with the club bringing back the bulk of a team who was able to make the semi finals last season, losing only to Perth Glory on penalties. Their big signing is Norwegian striker, Kristain Ospeth whose scoring touch will be desperately needed for the lowest scoring team among last year's six finalists.
0 from 7 - The Reds played seven matches against the league’s two grand finalists - Perth and Sydney - last season, failing to register a win in any of their encounters. Conversely, they lost just once form their 12 encounters against bottom four teams.
MAKE FINALS PROBABILITY: 42.1%
Two seasons ago, and after seven straight seasons without Finals, Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick's first season at the helm functioned as something of a fairytale, with the club making it all the way to a Grand Final.
Unfortunately for Newcastle, season two under Merrick was a stark reality check. They lost two of their first three matches and were constantly playing catch up. While the team rattled home strongly, they failed to make the A-League Finals which was a bitter pill to swallow for a club who'd made such gigantic strides the season prior.
25 - That’s the amount of shots on target that Dimitri Petratos had last season, though while only translated to five goals, was the eighth highest number in the league, and bettered only by Kosta Barbarouses and Craig Goodwin where non-traditional strikers were concerned.
WESTERN UNITED FC
MAKE FINALS PROBABILITY: 41.9%
The A-League has been crying out for change, with Western United FC the club Australian football is looking to, to provide a spark. From their iconic strip to the inspired appointment of manager, Mark Rudan, to their admirable ambition to connect with Western Victoria's diverse demographic profile, there's a lot to be excited about where United are concerned with high hopes at their Truganina base.
Though brand new, Western United will have a distinct air of familiarity, with A-League legend, Besart Berisha leading the line. Berisha's two A-League Championships, two Golden Boots and 116 all-time leading goals will be a welcome addition, however the team's squad looks solid with the league's all-time most experienced player, Andrew Durante, expected to slot into the middle of defence with reigning Goalkeeper of the Year, Filip Kurto, between the sticks. The teams’ creativity should come in the form of 36-year old, preciously talented, highly decorated, 17-capped Italian national, Alessandro Diamanti.
97 - Polish goalkeeper, Filip Kurto’s 97 saves last season led the league and was a driving force behind Wellington Phoenix's return to finals football. It was Kurto’s first season in the A-League and he was rewarded with Goalkeeper of the Year honours.
The three-time Champions won just four matches last season, missed the A-League Finals for the first time in nine years, and all hell broke loose for a Brisbane Roar franchise which once mesmerised Australian football under Ange Postecoglou.
Liverpool FC legend, Robbie Fowler, comes in as manager, taking over from former Socceroo John Aloisi. The squad has 13 new faces, led by Roy O’Donovan who has scored 39 A-League goals over his last four seasons with the Jets and Mariners.
Unfortunately for the Roar, their early-season schedule looks absolutely brutal with a first-up assignment away to Perth Glory, only to return from the cross-country trip for a clash against Melbourne Victory. Five of Brisbane’s first six matches are against teams who made the top 6 last season, which will make for a tremendously difficult induction for Fowler and his squad.
71 - The Roar conceded 71 goals last season, which has the unfortunate distinction of being the most goals ever conceded in a single A-League campaign. The Roar surrendered multiple scores in 20 of their 27 games last season, giving up 11 in their final two matches against Perth and Adelaide to cement their place in history.
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
The Central Coast Mariners have missed the finals for five straight seasons, and even more alarmingly, have collected three of the league's last four wooden spoons, firmly entrenching themselves as the whipping boys of the competition.
Former Matildas coach, Alan Stajcic, has been bought in to steer one of the most difficult ships in Australian sport, with the Mariners' famously low budget expected to keep the club in the doldrums for some time. Expectations in Gosford remain low, and anything other than yet another wooden spoon would be seen as a positive step for Stajcic and the Mariners.
18% - A gaudy 18% of the Mariners' passes last season were long balls, with a clear lack of sophistication hampering the clubs' attempts to get itself off the bottom of the table. The Mariners produced a league-low 103 shots and 31 goals scored last season.
The Wellington Phoenix’s second postseason appearance in seven years - and the ensuing celebrations - were unfortunately short-lived for the New Zealand club. Not only were they swiftly bundled out of the playoffs 3-1 by Melbourne Victory, but their squad was immediately plundered of talent. They lost reigning Johnny Warren Medalist and Golden Boot winner, Roy Krishna, to a lucrative Indian Premier League contract, while their Goalkeeper of the Year, Filip Kurto, spectacularly defected to the new Western United franchise with manager Mark Rudan, constituting an almighty blow.
To top things off, their captain - and the league's most experienced player - Andrew Durante, also left, joining them both at the expansion club.
Highly respected first-year coach Ufak Talay will step in to replace Rudan at the Cake Tin. Talay most recently served as Steve Corica's assistant manager during Sydney FC's Championship run, gaining huge plaudits for his tactical acumen. He will, however, be up against it in 2019-20, considering the sheer scope of talent that has left the club.
86.96% - That, incredibly, is the percentage of Wellington's 2018-19 goals that has walked out the door this offseason. The Likes of Krishna, David Williams and Sarpreet Singh contributed 40 of the Phoenix's 46 goals last season. Trying to replace those goals will constitute one almighty task for Talay in his first year as manager.