It’s been a busy off-season for A-League teams, and with transfer merry-go-round in full swing.
Today we slide on our glasses, grab our report cards, and grade your A-League club with a score anywhere from A+ to F, starting from the bottom six sides.
Melbourne Victory: A
Victory have acted swiftly and efficiently in the market to rectify a disastrous 2020/21 season.
In Tony Popovic, the club now have the calibre of coaching intelligence to take this squad forward, and his influence in Victory’s transfers have been clear to see.
Joining Popovic from his previous club (AO Xanthi) are Croatian goalkeeper Ivan Kelava, and Joshua Brillante, a two-time A-League champion with Sydney.
Most signings so far have been defensively focused. Matthew Spiranovic and Brendan Hamill come into the side having worked under Popovic at Perth and Western Sydney respectively.
Socceroo Jason Davidson returns to the A-League after two years with Ulsan Hyundai, while Jason Geria and Stefan Nigro return to the club, both having developed their game since departing.
In midfield, Spaniard Rai Marchan brings a wide range of passing and security in possession.
Victory still have work to do further forward, with Callum McManaman, Rudy Gestede and Elvis Kamsoba all gone. The club will be hopeful that Chris Ikonomidis and Nicholas D’Agostino will help fill that void while Marco Rojas returns to fitness.
While it’s unclear how likely Ben Folami is to lead the line for Victory after making his move from Ipswich Town permanent, the potential signing of Brazilian forward Kayke Moreno should go a long way to adding firepower.
Newcastle Jets: B+
With new boss Arthur Papas eager to instil a new brand of positive football, Newcastle fans have reason to be optimistic for next season.
Their business suggests they’re looking to youth to fill the gaps left by Nigel Boogard, Nicolai Topor-Stanley and Johnny Koutroumbis.
Mohamed Al-Taay joins from the Wanderers after winning their Youth League player of the year award, and 19-year-old Riley Warland, formerly of Fulham’s youth academy, joins from Perth.
They’ll now be working alongside the experienced recruits of Jordan Elsey (Adelaide United) and Matthew Jurman (AO Xanthi).
Dylan Murnane returns to Australia after five years in Scandinavia. The former Victory left-back, who provides 3.97 crosses per game, will look to replicate Connor O’Toole’s form on the flanks last season. Dane Ingham, while not quite able to match those numbers just yet, will do well providing competition and working under Papas.
The club will look to Beka Mikeltadze, Samuel Silvera and Daniel Penha for goals now that Roy O’Donovan has moved on. Mikeltadze had a strong end to the season with AO Xanthi and will be hoping to replicate that form down under.
Any concerns over a lack of creativity after Ramy Najjarine joined WSW have been addressed, with Cameroonian International Olivier Boumal capable of providing from both an advanced midfield role and on either wing.
Newcastle might still do well looking for a more defensive-minded and physical presence to add to their midfield. While an addition like Cameron Devlin would help the Jets score higher in this list, Newcastle fans likely won’t get to see him on the pitch as he’s currently all but confirmed to be joining Heart of Midlothian in Scotland.
Western United: C+
While John Aloisi will be keen to move on from Western United’s dreadful end to the season, more of the same issues are repeating themselves.
Aaron Calver, Tomislav Uskok, Andrew Durante and Brendan Hamill have all said goodbye, and the clubs only response at the time of writing was to sign Nicolai Topor-Stanley. The former Jets defender is a proactive and ever-present force at the back, but at 36 he is a short-term solution and only adds to Western’s aging squad.
The same issue appears with Jamie Young now providing competition for Ryan Scott. Young is by no means a bad player, it’s just a move that gives little indication towards long-term planning at the club.
In contrast, Western’s forward options look interesting. Dylan Wenzel-Halls matched Besart Berisha’s seven goals last season despite being 12 years his junior, and averages 3.98 shots per match, ranking him among the best in the league. Stick him in front of the leagues leading creator, Alessandro Diamanti, and he will score goals.
Competing with the former Brisbane man will be 19-year-old Noah Botic, who impressed in Hoffenheim’s academy and has been affectionately described as ‘the baby Mark Viduka’.
The Green and Black have also picked up a timely midfielder in the form of Neil Kilkenny, who with seven assists last season may assist Wenzel-Halls up top.
Western are a club in desperate need of positivity, but the lack of any other upgrades and the holes in their squad leave a lot to be desired.
Perth Glory: B-
The Glory have seen a lot of talent go out the door this off-season, and while the signings they have got over the line are astute, more work is going to be needed to take that squad to the next level.
Aaron Calver is more or less a like-for-like replacement for Jason Geria, adding aerial prowess and versatility to the Glory defence. Jack Clisby, at least from an offensive perspective, is an upgrade on Dane Ingham, having been more of a threat in the opposition’s half for the Mariners last season.
Brad Jones, though approaching 40, is well-travelled and an Eredivisie winner with Feyenoord. Expect to see him push Liam Reddy close for that #1 spot.
Brandon O’Neil returns after stints in Sydney, South Korea and Thailand, bringing combativeness and dynamism to a midfield no longer featuring the likes of Brandon Wilson.
Although the Glory are reasonably stocked out wide and up front with the recent signing of Adrian Sardinero to deal with Nick D’Agostino and Chris Ikonomidis leaving, Neil Kilkenny’s presence will be missed.
Kilkenny’s seven assists and 7.37 long balls per match allowed Perth to keep ticking even when their form was inconsistent, and his departure could prove to be the Glory’s biggest problem this window.
Western Sydney Wanderers: A+
At the current rate, the Wanderers look like a force to be reckoned with for the upcoming season.
Carl Robinson’s squad continues to get younger, with the likes of Scott McDonald, Dylan McGowan, Nicolai Muller and Graham Dorrans all being replaced by younger, exciting options.
An exception to that trend is Rhys Williams, but at 32, he’s still a good age for a central defender and will bring valuable leadership to the Wanderers defence. Johnny Koutroumbis, on the other hand, is already an intelligent front-foot defender at 23 and can only get better.
The Wanderers look stocked for midfield talent. Dimi Petratos joins after 10 goals in 28 games in Saudi Arabia, and Terry Antonis will be keen on regular game time after a stop-start season with Suwon Bluewings.
Ramy Najjarine brings fantastic creativity for a 21-year-old and would surely be relishing the chance to work under Robinson, the coach partially credited for unearthing Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies.
With McDonald and Bruce Kamau gone, former Phoenix striker Tomer Hemed is expected to lead the line. If he can carry his late-season form into the new campaign, it may be near impossible to stop the Wanderers’ attack.
Wellington Phoenix: D-
Unfortunately, things aren’t looking as bright for the Phoenix. The New Zealand club have had a fractured pre-season due to COVID restrictions and several players being on Olympic duty over the break.
To make matters worse, they’ll have to make do without Tomer Hemed and Ulises Davila creating chances and scoring goals.
Gary Hooper returns to Wellington after an underwhelming spell at India’s Kerala Blasters. Coach Ufuk Talay will be expecting the Englishman to step up if he’s to challenge David Ball, Ben Waine and Jaushua Sotirio for a starting spot.
The loss of Davila is huge. The Mexican’s leadership, goals and assists (seven each) helped the Phoenix to stay competitive and brought them within touching distance of a top six spot. The club still have players that can chip in with goals and assists, but not at the level Davila provides.
On a positive note, midfielder Nicholas Pennington is a capable replacement for Cameron Devlin. Pennington shares Devlin’s aggression and love of the tackle, while also bagging two goals and six assists in Italy’s third division.
None have felt the impacts of the pandemic more than the Nix, who only played two games in New Zealand last year. Unless the club can find a way to strengthen the squad, it could turn out to be another tough year.
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