I haven’t lost my marbles – but this team will be better without Alessandro Del Piero.
The Sky Blues have always given the impression they are chasing something, even if they are not sure what it is. With Graham Arnold, arguably the competition’s best coach, coming on board, they should finally have a period of stability and clear direction for the future.
Austrian signing Marc Janko is my early tip for the golden boot award as season’s top scorer. He still plays for his country with 17 goals from internationals — at 31, he is at the peak of his career.
KEY MAN: It’s a triple dead heat between Arnold, Janko and Alex Brosque, who can press his claims for a Socceroos recall.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG: They will have at least six players away on international duty for Round 1.
PREDICTION: Clear the trophy cabinet, silverware is coming.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS
They should hit the ground running, buoyed by their Asian Cup experience. Still, this will be a massive test for Tony Popovic as he builds a new squad.
Vitor Saba replaces Shinji Ono as their flagship signing and creative midfielder — he has massive boots to fill. Nigerian defender Seyi Adeleke is also an interesting pick up.
The Wanderers are an unknown quantity on the pitch. Off it, we know they will have passionate support, a team that will fight for everything and a brilliant goalkeeper in Ante Covic.
KEY MAN: Saba will have to be a special player to cover what this team has lost. Losing Ono and Youssouf Hersi from any team is massive.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG: They finish below Sydney FC. Ouch!
PREDICTION: The RBB will keep singing.
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
What would the new season be without the poor Mariners suffering a cash crisis, the minnows battling the oil of Melbourne City and the Russian roubles of Sydney FC?
It’s just the way the Mariners like it. However, this time they might be punching too far out of their weight division, especially with Michael McGlinchey leaving.
What they have going for them is an unbreakable spirit, an astute coach in Phil Moss and some of the best young talent in the country.
KEY MAN: The captain John Hutchison and his deputy Nick Montgomery are hard men. They will be up for the fight.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG: Dare we say it, the club goes broke.
PREDICTION: A finals spot.
The poor Jets are in trouble. Nathan Tinkler has jumped, the club has struck turbulence and there is no parachute in sight. New coach Phil Stubbins has signed on for a tough job.
I feel for the Jets, because they have such loyal and passionate fans who deserve better than what the club has been through during the Tinkler debacle.
Argentine pair Jeronimo Neumann, a good signing from Adelaide, and the silky Marcos Flores are the hope of the team. Of course, Flores is coming off a serious knee injury. It’s also good to see David Carney back in the A-League.
KEY MAN: Jeronimo scored 16 goals in 51 games for Adelaide and will have to be better for the Jets.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG: Nathan Tinkler returns.
PREDICTION: Wooden spoon. I hope not.
If you played football on paper instead of grass, you would already have them in the grand final. Besart Berisha is a proven goalscorer in this league and now he joins the brilliant Archie Thompson up forward. That’s a one-two punch with knockout power.
Carl Valeri joins the club to drive the midfield with Mark Milligan. That’s quality right there.
The only question mark against Victory is the defence. They leaked some soft goals last season. If they stay strong at the back, they should do brilliantly.
KEY MAN: Matthieu Delpierre might be an unknown in Australia, yet he has played for Lille, VfB Stuttgart and, most recently, FC Utrecht. Oh, and he’s a defender.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG: Shut the gate, the defence has fallen down again.
PREDICTION: Top two.
What shape will David Villa be in when he arrives? We all know the Spaniard is world-class, the new Del Piero. The TAB is already taking bets on whether he will score against Sydney FC in Round 1. I just hope he understands this is a tough, physical league.
The prospect of Damian Duff, Villa and Slovenia’s Robert Koren in attack, that’s European quality right there. Erik Paartalu and Aaron Mooy are great Aussie signings.
Villa might only be here for 10 games, but that’s enough to make an impression and set up City’s season. If things do go awry, there is plenty of cash to fix it.
KEY MAN: Sheikh Mansour, otherwise known as the owner of Manchester City.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG: United Arab Emirates runs out of oil.
PREDICTION: They make a loan bid for Sergio Arguero or Yaya Toure.
It’s the end of an era for the Roar, with Besart Berisha leading the list of defections. There is still some class with Matt McKay, but losing you goalscoring talisman hurts any team.
Berisha was also the emotional spark, the man who reflected the attitude of this team, even if he did go off like a firecracker at times.
Still, they are the champions and there is a lot of pride in protecting that legacy. Thomas Broich is still there, and that might be enough to keep them in the finals. But their pre-season form has been poor and the club has let the players know it hasn’t been good enough.
KEY MAN: Without his sidekick, Broich will have to go it alone. The German is a brilliant playmaker and will do his best to lead the attack.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG: The possession game loses its edge without a proven goalscorer.
PREDICTION: Bottom half of the top six.
If the Reds start the new season the way the finished the last one, look out.
Their coach Josep Gombau promised it would take a year to bed in his Barcelona-type philosophies, so now it’s time for the Spaniard to deliver.
He has a good team, led by Marcelo Carrusca and the Spanish armada of Isaias, Cirio and Pablo Sanchez, so there are no excuses.
It’s a team overloaded with midfielders and will need a cutting edge up front after Jeronimo’s defection to Newcastle.
KEY MAN: The team physio who has to keep Bruce Djite fit. It’s been a big job in the past.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG: Another horrendous start to the season.
PREDICTION: Josep Gombau to pull at least one funny face on the sideline and have at least one blow up at a press conference.
Coach Kenny Lowe and owner Tony Sage must love it hiding all the way over there in the west. They can slide under the radar and quietly go about their business.
I know Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold was very impressed with what Glory had to offer when they met during the pre-season. Youssouf Hersi and Mitch Nichols are solid pick-ups, with both players having success in the A-League.
This has always been a team that plays hard, uncompromising football and I wouldn’t expect too much to change. If they can win away from nib Stadium, they could rattle a few cages this season.
KEY MAN: Hersi was brilliant for the Wanderers. He gives the Glory flair and pace to go with the muscle.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG: Their footballing talent gets lost somewhere over the Nullabor — again.
PREDICTION: Will leave some bruises.
Way over the odds at $34 to win the championship. Ernie Merrick is a damn good coach, Michael McGlinchey is a wonderful talent, Nathan Burns lands in New Zealand with something to prove and there is a hard-core of Kiwis.
They have surprised in pre-season, with a mobile midfield and more creativity indicating the old Phoenix way of fighting over the ball like a junkyard dog might be replaced by a more sophisticated approach. But don’t worry, this team will be tough when it needs to be.
I can speak highly enough of McGlinchey and what he did for the Mariners. His work with Jeremy Brockie could be exciting.
KEY MAN: The airline hosties. Someone has to keep these guys relaxed on away trips. Currently, they get jet lag before they leave Wellington airport.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG: Injury to McGlinchey would be tough to cover.
PREDICTION: They will turn Westpac Stadium into a fortress.