With the player registration deadline fast-approaching, it’s crunch time in the transfer market for the A-League teams.
Shifting the focus to the top six sides, Kick360 will once again be putting your club under the microscope and grading their transfer activity from A+ to F.
The bulls face a tough task to build on the effort that took them to an unlikely semi-final last season.
Ante Milicic’s squad is depleted of numerous key players, including Denis Genreau, Matt Derbyshire, Markel Susaeta, Mark Milligan, Ivan Franjic and Beñat Etxebarria.
New striker Tomi Juric faces a tall order replacing Derbyshire, with his 14 goals accounting for over 42% of Macarthur’s total output. Juric managed to bag nine despite playing nine fewer games than the Englishman, and with good service will be expected to step up.
Providing that service will likely be Craig Noone, one of the most effective wingers in the league. Six goals and eight assists speak for themselves, but Noone’s average of 8.54 dribbles and 8.45 crosses per match present a real headache for any fullback he comes across.
With Ulises Dávila and Daniel De Silva also in the ranks, expect to see the goals shared out in abundance this coming season.
The problem for Macarthur lies in the heart of midfield. Miligan and Beñat were crucial to their possession-based game, and the club have been hard-pressed to find replacements.
Tomislav Uskok is a proactive defender capable of fulfilling Miligan’s role of stepping into midfield but lacks the technical prowess of the two retirees.
Jordon Mutch has seriously struggled for form and fitness over the last few years of his career and was only able to show quality in glimpses last year for the Wanderers. Unless the bulls are willing to gamble on Mutch’s fitness and Uskok finding his feet quickly, more reinforcements may be necessary.
Adelaide United: C
The theme for Adelaide’s off-season so far has been old faces returning to the club.
While George Blackwood’s crack at English football was complicated with back problems, the former Oldham Athletic forward doesn’t quite return empty-handed. Three goals and one assist in 13 games (six of which were starts) suggests that when available, he’ll be a vital contributor this season.
The biggest relief for reds fans will no doubt be the return of Isaías Sánchez. The Spaniard is back after a two-year stint in Qatar, bringing his composure and fantastic match intelligence back in front of Adelaide’s back four.
Few may be more relieved to have Isaías screening the red’s defence than new centre back Nick Ansell. The former Victory man endured a tough season at the back last year, winning in just one of the 14 matches he appeared in.
Isaías’ combination of smart tackling and game control will help ease the burden on the United defence to build play from deep, particularly with Jordan Elsey now gone.
While three fullbacks in Ryan Strain, Noah Smith and Michael Marrone have all departed, the club fortunately have enough cover in those areas.
Another year working alongside the vastly experienced Javi López will do wonders for Josh Cavallo, and Ryan Kitto is also a capable debutant at left back.
Brisbane Roar: B
Brisbane were well worth their place in the top six last season, maintaining the second-best defensive record in the league with just 28 goals conceded.
Their priority for the remainder of the off-season will be replacing the most important cog in that defensive machine: Macaulay Gillesphy. The Englishman’s monstrous 8.37 interceptions and 3.91 Aerial duels won per match set a very high standard for whoever comes into the Roar backline next.
Jordan Holmes joins from English sixth-tier side Ebbsfleet United to replace outgoing goalkeeping hero Jamie Young. Formerly of the Bournemouth youth setup, Holmes returns down under after his displays for Australia at the Tokyo Olympics.
Warren Moon has again searched for players of a younger profile to bolster his forward line. Luke Ivanovic has swapped sky blue for orange in search of first team football, struggling to break beyond the periphery at Sydney FC.
If he wants a starting spot up front, he’ll face stiff competition from Argentine forward Juan Lescano, fresh from scoring nine league goals for Russian second-tier side Enisey Krasnoyarsk.
Matti Steinmann returns to the A-League after a season in India, while Nikola Milseusnic will be a welcome addition to a squad without Riku Danzaki in attacking midfield. The former Adelaide winger is a proven contributor at this level and will have improved after a year in the Danish top flight with Randers FC.
Brisbane have almost all of the makings of potential title contenders, with a solid midfield and a fluid, dangerous attack. Whether or not they can run a tight ship at the back like last season may depend on their business from here onwards.
Central Coast Mariners: D+
Several European clubs have looked to the Central Coast for young talent, leaving the Mariners’ squad thin in certain areas.
The outstanding absentee in Nick Montgomery’s squad is Gianni Stensness, who joins Norwegian club Viking FK. This move leaves the Central Coast’s midfiled lacking in steel, and asking the likes of Oliver Bozanic to match Stensness’ defensive output might be a stretch too far.
With Alou Kuol now plying his trade at German club VFB Stuttgart and Daniel De Silva moving to Macarthur, the Mariners have gone for a new line of versatile attacking midfielders to score and create from deep.
Nicolai Müller was always a tough job for defenders while at Western Sydney, and his ability to slot into several positions only emphasizes how dangerous the former Bundesliga star is.
Beni Nkololo is a similarly flexible player capable of playing on either wing, as well as attacking midfield. With a cultured left foot and an eye for a through-ball, expect to see his assist numbers go up while feeding the likes of Matt Simon and Marco Urena.
It’s hard to be so optimistic about Cy Goddard. At 24 years-old, the attacking midfielder has never made more than 18 appearances or contributed to more than three goals in a single season and has only played just over 2,500 minutes of professional football (for context, that’s about the amount a starter at an A-League club would play in just one season).
Noah Smith is a smart replacement at left-back for Jack Clisby, but Montgomery might do well to look for an additional right-back too, with Stefan Nigro returning to Melbourne Victory.
Sydney FC: A
Sydney have managed to keep hold of the core of their squad, while managing to replace (or even upgrade on) the parts they have lost.
While Luke Ivanovic won’t get to develop his game further for the Sky Blue, Elvis Kamsoba offers more immediate impact, having scored five times for a struggling Victory side last season.
Kamsoba was adept at finding space in and around the box last season but may require more cutting edge if he’s to compete with Kosta Babarouses, Adam Le Fondre and Bobô for minutes in the Sydney attack.
James Donachie will likely slot into Sydney’s back four following Ryan McGowan’s departure. With the Sky Blue’s being a possession-heavy side, their centre backs tend to be less active defenders, but Steve Corica will take comfort in having a reliable figure like Donachie at the back.
The path to the starting eleven seems less clear for Connor O’Toole, who will have to fight with Joel King and the returning Michael Zullo for a left-back spot. It’s a selection headache that Corica won’t be too displeased to have.
Even if not a consistent starter, Alex Baumjohann’s creative influence can’t be overlooked, with the German notching up six assists, 3.5 crosses and 2.86 passes into the opponent’s penalty box per match.
Provided he can regain match sharpness, that creative responsibility will likely be taken on by Max Burgess.
The midfielder featured just once in the league last season, following contract disputes at Western United, but will be a valuable asset if he can recreate his 2019/20 output of seven goals and six assists in 22 games.
Melbourne City: A
It’s hard to suggest areas of improvement for any defending champion, yet alone one with a squad as strong as Melbourne City’s. Most of the players who have left have either been on the fringe, as is the case with Moudi Najjar and Ramy Najjarine, or play in a position which is already well-stocked – Ben Garuccio is an example of this.
Even starters Craig Noone and Adrián Luna leaving doesn’t set off any alarm bells, such is the depth of Patrick Kisnorbo’s selection.
With 136 Serie A appearances under his belt, Manuel Pucciarelli will slot comfortably into the attacking midfield role vacated by Luna, and will dominate the game alongside Connor Metcalfe and Florin Berenguer in the middle of the park.
The club have managed to find the near-perfect replacement for Noone in Mathew Leckie. The winger is back in Australia after 10 years in Germany, having established himself in the Bundesliga with FC Ingolstadt and Hertha Berlin.
With over 100 Bundesliga appearances to his name, Leckie has the potential to set the league on fire and potentially steer City to another title.
At this stage, any additions to the City squad would be icing on the cake. A thinner squad may not be the worst thing either, as it would give impressive youngsters like Nathaniel Atkinson and Marco Tillio more of a chance to shine.
Image Supplied: Getty