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Reds alert for new season success

Adelaide United’s new A-League Men season kicks off on Sunday. Spiro Karanikos-Mimis measures up their chances.

Photo: AAP/Kelly Barnes

Photo: AAP/Kelly Barnes

It’s been a difficult week for football in Australia (more on that later) but we can finally turn our attention to the start of the new A-League Men season.

The longest pre-season in professional football is finally over and the real stuff is here.

Being honest, Adelaide’s pre-season didn’t really fill me with confidence. A good win against Newcastle in the Australia Cup was followed up with two dour performances in the same competition against Adelaide City and Brisbane Roar.

Add to that a mixed bag of friendly results and it’s been an underwhelming start.

Earlier in the pre-season, Adelaide United was praised for its off-season recruiting, keeping the vast majority of last year’s squad and only adding a few pieces.

In fact, depending on who’s fit and available, Sunday’s starting 11 may not see a single new face from last season in the 11 (if you’re willing to agree Halloran is not a new signing per se).

Of course, those decisions will be at the behest of the coaches.But the burning question for all fans remains: can Adelaide go one step better this year?

Unfortunately, I believe the answer to that question is: unlikely.

Not that Adelaide doesn’t have a good squad. Arguably, the team has a better balance to it than it did last year and I’m particularly interested in the performances of Clough and Ibusuki now that they’ve had a pre-season with the team.

The issue for me is the strength of the other teams in the league.

Melbourne Victory are solid, Melbourne City will again be in the mix, and you can’t ignore the Champions Western United either. MacArthur look like a strong unit and the surprise packet will, in my opinion, be Central Coast Mariners (though how they cope with losing Garang Kuol in the new year will be interesting).

The Reds will be disappointed if they don’t make finals and rightly so. That should be the target this year. As we’ve always said, once you make finals, anything is possible. Should Adelaide want to improve its league standing, it must do better at home.

Last year the Reds played 15 regular season games at Hindmarsh. Seven of those ended in a draw or a loss – that is 46 percent.

One other thing I’m hoping to see from Adelaide is more flexibility in their tactical approach. It’s been a bugbear of mine for a while now. As good as Carl Veart’s tenure has been, at times the game plan has been too predictable and United have seemingly been unable to change tactically (the most recent example being the Australia Cup game against Adelaide City, where Paul Pezos outcoached Veart on the night).

United coach Carl Veart. Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

Another point of concern is the defence. Should Adelaide lose one or two through injury, the cupboard is a little bare (noting though that the meteoric rise of Alexandar Popovic has caught everyone by surprise).

If Nick Ansell can stay injury free, his experience in the backline will be a huge boost for Adelaide. On the other hand, the forward line is whetting my appetite.

Craig Goodwin. Photo: Adelaide United

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Assuming the Reds stick with their 4-2-3-1 formation, I would expect Clough to play the 10, Ibusuki (who’s suspended for Sunday’s opener) to lead the line and Goodwin and Halloran to play the wings. That is a quality attacking quartet and we haven’t even factored in Blackwood, Irankunda, Kasumovic and Bernardo (injured until January).

What Veart deicides to do in the centre of midfield will be interesting. Isaias is a lock of course. Despite being 35, he’s still outrageously talented.

Isaias. Photo: AAP/James Elsby

That leaves the following options: D’Arrigo, Juande, Cavallo, Yull and Ethan Alagich. The departure of Nathan Konstandopoulos (and Adelaide’s decision not to replace him) means the door is open for Cavallo, Yull and Alagich to see more game time. But they won’t be starting regularly.

It will come down to D’Arrigo and Juande. It’s a tough choice but I suspect Veart will go with Juande, as D’Arrigo and Isaias are very similar players (remembering that D’Arrigo burst onto the scene as Isaias’ replacement when he departed for Qatar).

It feels like D’Arrigo is a seasoned veteran these days and it’s easy to forget he’s only 21. But the Reds need to be careful with how they handle his game-time. He is the obvious incumbent for that midfield when either Juande or Isaias are no longer there, but is he willing to ride the pine for another 12 months waiting for that chance? It’s a balancing act that Veart will need to manage.

The uniqueness of a World Cup smack-bang in the middle of a season will be something all clubs will need to navigate for the first time.

The A-League Men competition will stop after Round 6. That will either provide a chance for teams to re-assess their current form and work on a few things or completely halt momentum.

It will make for interesting viewing when the competition resumes in early December (which is, mind you, before the World Cup concludes – not sure what that says about the football authorities’ belief in the Socceroos).

But for now, we can look forward to Sunday, where the Reds must begin the season with an away game against Wellington Phoenix, who are always difficult to beat in New Zealand. With the Reds not playing at home until October 30, it’s vital they start the season well and get points in the bank.

Finally, a quick note on the Australia Cup Final.

What should have been a celebration of football in Australia, and a chance for NPL and former NSL clubs to further their case for inclusion in the National Second Division, has instead reopened old wounds.

The conduct of a lot of Sydney United fans during the match was disgraceful. Booing the Welcome to Country, fascist songs and banners and Nazi salutes were on display.

The governing body has started issuing severe punishments to those involved, which, I can only praise. This is a line-in-the-sand moment, and they cannot waver. They must continue to come down hard on the fans involved and as unfortunate as it may be, the club itself.

You would think Sydney United’s claim for a spot in the NSD has been irrevocably damaged by the scenes we saw.

It cannot happen again.

Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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