The A-League returned last weekend after a five-month hiatus with plenty of positives and negatives to come out of the first weekend of games.
Finally it appears the F3 Derby is back after an enthralling, storyline-laden contest between Newcastle and Central Coast, while the grand final rematch between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC disappointed with its dreary atmosphere and lack of excitement.
This week’s blockbuster is undoubtedly the Melbourne Derby, but there should also be a keen eye on the Jets to see if they can back up their stunning 5-1 victory last week with a win against Perth, while Western Sydney and the Mariners is likely to be a free-flowing, entertaining match.
Hopefully the domestic competition can serve as a distraction from all of other issues suffered by the code in this country during the past week.
Victory guns return, but City look resilient
Mark Milligan, James Troisi and Kosta Barbarouses are three handy additions to the Melbourne Victory squad after returning from international duty to take on derby rivals Melbourne City at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.
Whether they are in the starting line-up or not is another question – especially Milligan, who played all 210 minutes against Syria and was the victim of several heavy challenges.
City will be boosted by the return of Australian hero Tim Cahill, but he is unlikely to start the match after lasting all 120 minutes for the Socceroos on Tuesday night.
This means we will get another look at star Scottish striker Ross McCormack – who had a tidy debut against Brisbane without particularly impressing.
City were impressive in their shape against Brisbane and appear to be a lot more defensively solid and resilient under Warren Joyce.
It’s an important match for Kevin Muscat’s Victory, who will be desperate to get their first win on the board after last week’s loss with a depleted first XI to Sydney FC.
Two losses at home to start the season against arguably their two biggest rivals will be an absolute nightmare start and star striker Besart Berisha is ready for the occasion.
“Derbies are very special, special to me and special to the supporters. Games like this, you have to be ready. It’s a special game,” Berisha said.
“One thing is for sure, we are fit, we are strong and we are very confident going towards this game.”
– Kieran Francis
Mariners boosted by key returns against Wanderers
They were in the match of the opening round, but the Central Coast Mariners could be involved in another exciting contest when they take on Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday, albeit for different reasons.
The Mariners were left licking their wounds as they capitulated to a 5-1 derby defeat against the Newcastle Jets, a side who now seemingly have the on-field quality to match their lofty aspirations.
But that was just round numero uno.
“I don’t think lifting the players for next week will be an issue,” Mariners coach Paul Okon said.
“There’s more games to come and we’re not going to lose our confidence or lose belief we will continue to work and prepare as best as we can for a tough away trip to the Wanderers next week.”
This time around, the Gosford-based side welcome back Storm Roux and Andrew Hoole both of whom were missing last weekend.
For Hoole, at least, Spotless Stadium proved to be a happy hunting ground last season, snatching a late equalizer with a free-kick to help the Jets secure a draw.
And he’ll be looking for a repeat of those heroics against an in-form Wanderers side on Saturday.
“The last time I went there we were 2-0 down and pulled it back to 2-2 and I was lucky enough to score the free-kick in the last couple of minutes,” Hoole said.
“I have good memories there so if I’m called upon, hopefully I can add to the scoresheet.”
– Cronan Yu
Will the Jets back up against Perth?
Newcastle were easily the most impressive team of the opening weekend, but we’ll learn more about Ernie Merrick’s side as they take on Perth in the Hunter on Sunday.
The Glory will be on the road for the second week in the row, losing their season opener 2-1 at the Wanderers, and the Jets won’t have a better chance to start the season with two consecutive wins.
Merrick seems to have installed a solidarity into the Jets team, with the additions of Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Daniel Georgievski complementing Nigel Boogard in defence, while Ben Kantarovski and Steven Ugarkovic are a combative midfield pairing.
They also seem to have plenty of flair and goals in attack with F3 Derby hat-trick hero Roy O’Donovan being supported and fed by marquee Ronald Vargas, Andrew Nabbout and Dimi Petratos.
On the other hand, Perth weren’t particularly impressive against Western Sydney, and despite only losing by a goal, the game would have been out of sight before half-time if Shane Lowry and Jacob Poscoliero hadn’t denied the Wanderers with two brilliant last ditch challenges.
Their 4-4-2 formation was prised open way too easily and star player Diego Castro was forced to come too deep for the ball after being marked out of the game early.
Glory’s attack does look potent at times, with Andy Keogh and Adam Taggart always a threat in front of goal.
Last season, Perth conceded 53 goals but score the same, and it’s looking like being a similar scenario this campaign.
– Kieran Francis
Sydney looks to continue winning run, though Ange rumours take their toll
The Socceroos managerial fiasco has taken its toll on Australian football in the past 48 hours.
But Sydney FC are undoubtedly the biggest losers in the wake of reports that Ange Postecoglou will quit the national side following the play-offs against Honduras in November.
Graham Arnold has long been linked with a return to the national set-up, and The Covert Agent exclusively revealed to Goal that the FFA had approached the Sky Blue coach to take over the top job even if he continues to flat-out deny it.
And it makes sense – Arnie is a well-respected tactician who is keen on man-management and has improved dramatically since his last stint with the Socceroos.
He’s ambitious too, so while he might enjoy the rigours of club football, pitting himself against the biggest minds on the world stage is one he would lap up.
It will be interesting to see how Sydney FC react to all of this on the pitch in their return to the Allianz Stadium against Wellington on Sunday, particularly four days after a mid-week FFA Cup win.
No doubt, a win would solidify their title credentials. But with the side still looking far from their best, it could be more difficult than it seems.
– Cronan Yu
Brisbane need to bounce back after opening night horror show
Brisbane Roar were the most disappointing team of the opening weekend, as they meekly surrendered to Melbourne City in the first game of the season.
Attacking midfielder Brett Holman will return for Friday night’s clash against Adelaide United at Suncorp Stadium, but the team will still be without French import Eric Bautheac because of visa issues and Danish midfield rock Thomas Kristensen through injury.
Italian striker Massimo Maccarone looked sharp on debut and will be better for his first run-out, while talented 19-year-old Joe Caletti impressed in midfield, after being blooded at the back-end of last campaign.
Adelaide only managed to draw their first match against Wellington across the ditch, but their performance featured impressive debuts from their foreign trio – Daniel Adlung, Johan Absalonsen and Karim Matmour.
Adlung was man-of-the-match and impressed with his passing and movement, while Absalonsen, who scored the equaliser, and Matmour also look to be class attacking players.
Australian-Turkish centre-half Ersan Gulum also put in an uncompromising defensive performance on his first start the club.
– Kieran Francis
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