After an offseason that has brought significant changes for Melbourne City and excitement for its supporters, the A-League kicks off this weekend with City facing a tough away trip against Sydney FC. Making predictions in the A-League is often a crapshoot, and the uncertainty only rises when we have little form on which to assess teams. Still, here are a few things to watch for when the City players runs out, probably in their more familiar red-and-white strip, at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
City enjoyed a largely indifferent preseason on the pitch. After some promising results against lower league opposition in the UK during its trip to Manchester, the side was knocked out of the FFA Cup at the first hurdle by this weekend’s opponent. The team’s traditionally poor record against A-League opposition in the preseason also continued, although City finally won its first-ever match against an A-League side a fortnight ago, downing Perth 2-1 behind closed doors at AAMI Park.
Sydney FC has enjoyed a superior preseason, having progressed into the quarter-finals of the FFA Cup and even defeated English Premier League side West Ham United in a friendly. New coach Graham Arnold commented several weeks ago that he was happy with the side’s progress, and he should be – Sydney FC has won nine of its 10 fixtures under his watch and is among the favourites to take out this year’s A-League crown.
All eyes will obviously be on City recruit David Villa, although it remains to be seen whether manager John van ‘t Schip will risk the former Spanish international, who has not played since scoring in Spain’s World Cup victory against Australia. My guess is he will start on the bench. Other new faces likely to feature for City include international marquee Robi Koren, robust midfielder Erik Paartalu and creative midfielders Damien Duff and Aaron Mooy. Fitting in all of City’s talented midfielders will be a challenge all season, but it’s not the worst problem to have. One player who will miss is the suspended Jason Hoffman. His place in defence will likely be taken by either youngster Ross Archibald or a midfielder such as Jonatan Germano.
On the other side, Sydney FC will begin life without Italian legend Alessandro del Piero, who’s traded Bondi for Delhi. His replacement as international marquee, Austrian striker Marc Janko, is on international duty and will not feature. Also missing out due to internationals are former Mariner Bernie Ibini (Socceroos), mainstay left-back Ali Abbas (Iraq) and youngsters Chris Naumoff and Hagi Gligor (Young Socceroos). Those are notable absentees, but Sydney can still call upon a wealth of talent, including new captain Alex Brosque and former A-League top scorer Shane Smeltz. The team is also strong at the back, with former Socceroo Sasa Ognenovski and Serbia’s Nikola Petkovic marshalling the centre. Impressive midfielder Terry Antonis should pull the strings in midfield.
As mentioned above, making predictions in the opening round of the A-League, as in almost any competition, is fraught with risk. It will likely take City’s new signings several weeks to gel, particularly those in attacking areas such as Koren and Duff. That said, City is certainly facing an under-strength Sydney team, with the absences of Janko, Abbas and Ibini in particular to sting the home side. With a full squad to select from bar the banned Jason Hoffman and luckless young defender Connor Chapman, City has no such issues and would be disappointed not to come away with all three points. Expect an attacking, entertaining contest that could go either way.
Sydney 1-2 City.
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