A-League Preview: Melbourne City are the team to beat, Mariners to struggle
The 2016-17 A-League season kicks off on Friday night when Brisbane Roar hosts Kevin Muscat's Melbourne Victory.
With all 10 teams ready to stamp their mark on the 12th edition of Australia's top flight competition, ESPN FC takes a look at who is expected to challenge, and who will struggle.
Last season: Premiers, Champions
Predicted finish: 3rd
In: Ryan Kitto, Marc Marino, Henrique, Ben Garuccio, Jesse Makarounas, Nikola Mileusnic, Sergi Guardiola, James Holland
Out: Craig Goodwin, Bruce Kamau, Eli Babalj, Pablo Sanchez, Ruon Tongyik, Stefan Mauk, Bruce Djite
Minimum expectation: Last season's champions will be aiming for back-to-back titles, but despite making solid acquisitions in James Holland and Sergi Guardiola, they will need everything to go their way if they are to topple the might of the clubs from Melbourne. Anything less than a top-four finish, meanwhile, will be an unacceptable fall from last campaign.
Last season: 3rd
Predicted finish: 7th
In: Kye Rowles, Connor O'Toole, Jacob Pepper, Thomas Kristensen, Joey Katebian, Brett Holman
Out: Devante Clut, Jean Carlos Solorzano, Shane Stefanutto, Javier Hervas, Steven Lustica, James Donachie, Henrique, Corona, Jerome Polenz
Minimum expectation: Brisbane exceeded many expectations last term, finishing third thanks to the fine form of midfield import Corona and striker Jamie Maclaren. However, the arrival of former Socceroo Brett Holman cannot hide the off-field dramas which continue to undermine coach John Aloisi. Making the finals this season would be considered a triumph over adversity.
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
Last season: 10th
Predicted finish: 10th
In: Jacques Faty, Mickael Tavares, Ivan Necevski, Connor Pain, Blake Powell, Kwabena Appiah
Out: Luis Garcia, Daniel Heffernan, Francesco Stella, Tomislav Uskok, Anthony Kalik, Mitch Austin, Joshua Rose, Alastair Bray
Minimum expectation: Paul Okon will breathe fresh life into this club in the future, but with the players at his disposal, it's hard to see the Mariners lifting themselves from the bottom of the pile. They should earn more than the 13 competition points they picked up last season, but the finals are likely to remain out of reach for now.
Last season: 4th
Predicted finish: 1st
In: Manny Muscat, Bruce Kamau, Daniel Arzani, Luke Brattan, Ruon Tongyik, Neil Kilkenny, Fernando Brandan, Tim Cahill, Joshua Rose, Michael Jakobsen, Nicolas Colazo, Braedyn Crowley
Out: Alex Wilkinson, Aaron Hughes, James Brown, Jason Trifiro, Wade Dekker, Patrick Kisnorbo, Michael Zullo, Marc Marino, Ben Garuccio, Harry Novillo, Aaron Mooy, Jack Clisby, Jacob Melling
Minimum expectation: The spending power of the City Football Group is starting to show, with Tim Cahill and Neil Kilkenny joining reigning Golden Boot winner Bruno Fornaroli & Co. Given their offseason spree, winning a first piece of silverware will be the club's ultimate ambition. Anything less than that could result in dire consequences for coach John van 't Schip.
Last season: 6th
Predicted finish: 2nd
In: James Donachie, Mitch Austin, Alan Baro, James Troisi, Marco Rojas, Alastair Bray
Out: Kosta Barbarouses, Guilherme Finkler, Matthieu Delpierre, Archie Thompson, Giancarlo Gallifuoco, Dylan Murnane, Connor Pain, Thomas Deng, Jesse Makarounas, Danny Vukovic, Joey Katebian
Minimum expectation: Melbourne Victory were looking like title contenders again when they came oh-so-close to adding UEFA Champions League winner Michael Essien to their midfield. The return of Marco Rojas and James Troisi will, however, make Kevin Muscat's side one to fear, which should result in an almighty battle between Victory and crosstown rivals City.
Last season: 8th
Predicted finish: 8th
In: Devante Clut, Wayne Brown, Andrew Hoole, Jack Duncan, Ivan Vujica, Andrew Nabbout, Aleksandr Kokko
Out: Leonardo, Enver Alivodic, Josh Barresi, Brandon Lundy, Cameron Watson, Ryan Kitto, Daniel Alessi, Mark Birighitti
Minimum expectation: Following the club's takeover by Chinese businessman Martin Lee, I wrote "An area which the new Jets owner has already claimed victory is in the retention of key staff, led by gifted young coach Scott Miller." With Miller now inexplicably gone, the Jets have reverted back to square one and into another rebuilding phase under new coach Mark Jones. Finishing above the archrival Mariners and starting on a path to better things will be Newcastle's benchmark for success this term.
Last season: 5th
Predicted finish: 6th
In: Rhys Williams, Joseph Mills, Nick Feely, Liam Reddy, Brandon Wilson, Rostyn Griffiths, Milan Smiljanic, Joel Chianese
Out: Ruben Zadkovich, Gyorgy Sandor, Krisztian Vadocz, Diogo Ferreira, Hagi Gligor, Jerrad Tyson, Ante Covic
Minimum expectation: Perth have strengthened their squad through Adam Taggart and Rhys Williams, which means the finals once again beckon for the Western Australians. Expect coach Kenny Lowe to have his men primed for battle from the very start of the season, with only a little gap in class to prevent them from truly challenging for honours.
Last season: 7th
Predicted finish: 4th
In: Alex Wilkinson, Michael Zullo, Joshua Brillante, Danny Vukovic, Bernie Ibini, Bobo
Out: Jacques Faty, Mickael Tavares, Ali Abbas, Jacob Tratt, Anthony Bouzanis, Zac Anderson, Riley Woodcock, Robert Stambolziev, Alex Mullen, Chris Naumoff, Ivan Necevski, Andrew Hoole, Shane Smeltz
Minimum expectation: Another club to have spent large in the offseason is Sydney FC. High-profile recruits Bernie Ibini, Michael Zullo, Josh Brillante and Brazilian striker Bobo make this an enticing team indeed. However, with those price tags come expectations, so the heat will be on coach Graham Arnold to produce something special as a result of this investment. That pressure could take its toll when silverware is on the line.
Last season: 9th
Predicted finish: 9th
In: Kosta Barbarouses, Guilherme Finkler, Marco Rossi, Adam Parkhouse, Jacob Tratt
Out: Ben Sigmund, Manny Muscat, James McGarry, Oliver Sail, Justin Gulley, Albert Riera, Troy Danaskos, Blake Powell, Kwabena Appiah
Minimum expectation: A ninth-place finish did not sit well with the New Zealanders last season, hence the recruitment of experienced A-League performers Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler. But despite signing Italian defender Marco Rossi, Wellington still appear a little light on at the back. A finals berth would be ideal but potentially a bridge too far.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS
Last season: 2nd
Predicted finish: 5th
In: Jerrad Tyson, Steven Lustica, Bruno Pinatares, Aritz Borda, Robert Cornthwaite, Jumpei Kusukami, Jack Clisby, Jacob Melling, Kerem Bulut, Nicolas Martinez
Out: Alberto, Andreu, Romeo Castelen, Golgol Mebrahtu, Federico Piovaccari, Matt Sim, Mark Bridge, Alusine Fofanah, Shayne D'Cunha, Daniel Alessi, Dario Vidosic, Liam Reddy, Jacob Pepper, Scott Jamieson
Minimum expectation: The Wanderers should again be difficult to break down defensively, with coach Tony Popovic to insist on a sound structure at the back and in midfield. Much of the attacking onus will sit on the shoulders of newcomers Nicolas Martinez and Jumpei Kusukami, who will need to fire regularly to lift Western Sydney from a finals-bound team to genuine contenders.
Rob Brooks writes about Australian football and the A-League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @RobNJBrooks