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Hopes high as United heads into new season

Manton St Tales

Adelaide United kicks off the the new A-League Men’s season with a difficult first game against Perth Glory in the west. Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is excited, but asks: Will the Reds improve or will it be another lesson in frustration for fans? 

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It’s finally here, and not a moment too soon. The new football season starts tonight and I’m excited.

Much has changed: a new brand, a new name and a new broadcaster.

As I’ve written before, the competition isn’t the best, but it’s ours and we must support it. Without labouring a point, the football community could be anything it wants if we all just got along – but let’s not re-hash that discussion today.

Personally, I cannot wait to get back to Hindmarsh Stadium and enjoy watching the football once more. For now, that will need to wait another week.

United start their season with a tricky away game against Perth Glory in Western Australia tomorrow night.

The Reds’ pre-season has been a mixed bag. Two wins in the FFA Cup against Floreat Athena and Adelaide Olympic and a string of friendly wins against NPL teams suggests that United are ready to go. But you’d expect Adelaide to win those, considering they faced NPL teams (and in one instance an NPL select team) who were either out-of-season or wrapping up.

There is one fixture that is the outlier this pre-season; a two-nil loss to Brisbane Roar on October 31.

There’s not a lot of info available from the game, other than to suggest Adelaide played its best available team and lost. And while it’s hard to make conclusions from a game that was not extensively covered by either team on their social media, there is some concern that the only game against an A-League Men opponent ended up in a loss.

Perth have the upper hand against the Reds. Adelaide has only beaten Perth twice in their last 10 meetings. Last season, United lost all three of their games against the Glory.

Perth has, of course, lost their talisman in Diego Castro. He will be missed by all everyone and Perth will be a lesser outfit without him.

There is the small matter of Daniel Sturridge. With 26 caps for England next to his name, he’s arguably the biggest signing in the game since Alessandro Del Piero. We will need to see if Perth risk him, as he’s only just finished his time in quarantine since arriving in the country.

For Adelaide to dispel some of the concern’s fans have about the state of the club right now, a good performance on Saturday night is a must.

So, let’s break down some of the key issues that may finally be resolved on Saturday night.

Defence

Which four make Adelaide’s best defence? That’s my biggest question leading up to tomorrow night.

There’s no doubt that Josh Cavallo and Javi Lopez are the first-choice full backs (though, pray they don’t get injured at the same time). That leaves the two central defenders. We know the coaching team at United like a left-foot right-foot combo. Therefore, its either Ansell or Tratt on one side and Jakobsen or Timotheou on the other.

I would love George Timotheou to be given the green light to play left centre-back. As fantastic as Michael Jakobsen has been, it’s probably time for Timotheou.

The realty is though that Jakobsen will get the nod again and, assuming he’s fit, Nick Ansell will partner him.

Who is Bernardo Oliveira?

Bernardo is the son of Adelaide United fan favourite Cassio (I’m a tad annoyed he didn’t choose to go buy Cassinho – or little Cassio).

Bernardo is not Adelaide first parent-child signing – that honour goes to Dom Costanzo. But he is, by virtue of the fact he played in the FFA Cup, the first to play a competitive fixture for the Reds.

Veart really rates Bernardo and I’ve seen enough to suggest he will be a talent.

Unfortunately for Bernardo, the pressure will be on from day one. His emergence was one of the reasons why the United coaching panel were comfortable letting Al Hassan Toure depart after he requested to play on the wing rather than as a striker.

It’s not fair that Bernardo will have to carry this on his shoulders but that will be the reality of the situation for fans.Assuming both Ben Halloran and Craig Goodwin are fit to play, the wings are theirs. But expect Bernardo to get his fair share of game time this season.

Who plays the 10?

Recruiting an out-an-out 10 was arguably the biggest challenge for United this off-season and it didn’t happen.

Why? Because Isaias became available. He wasn’t the player the Reds needed but he was the player the Reds wanted. You can’t begrudge them that – a club legend and one that had to be back with Adelaide this season.

With money an issue, United simply won’t be recruiting a playmaker.

There is George Blackwood, who has said in the past he prefers playing that role. But he’s more of a shadow striker than a playmaker and it would seem unlikely that Veart will change his tactics to accommodate this.

Ben Halloran played there during pre-season but that’s not ideal for the Reds.

So, it will be Stefan Mauk who once again plays in that spot. And while it’s not his preferred position, he’s the best option.

Photo: AAP/Brendon Thorne

The truth is that if Mauk hadn’t played the majority of last season with a broken leg, he would’ve likely finished up with more than 10 goals for the season (he finished on seven).

Goals

Talking about goals, here is the full list of league goal-scorers (including finals) for Adelaide last season:

Juric – nine; Goodwin – eight; Mauk – seven; Halloran / Yengi – four; Mohamed Toure – three; Konstandopoulos – two; and Elsey/Juande/D’Arrigo/Dukuly – one.

Once more, United did not get a player into double figures – a perennial problem. They’ve only managed it four times since the competition started [Sergio Van Dijk (17), Bruce Djite (11), Craig Goodwin (10) and Riley McGree (10)].

The question has to be asked: where do the goals come from?

Will Mohamed Toure take the next step in his development? Will Kusini Yengi’s form continue into this season? How much has George Blackwood improved after just one season in England?

The reality is that all three of those players are unlikely to score a plethora of goals for the Reds. So, it will be up to the midfield to add 20 or so goals again. If Halloran, Goodwin and Mauk can score 20 between them, then there won’t be as much pressure of the strikers to score regularly.

Much will depend on the form of Craig Goodwin, who continues to be a goal and assist machine at this level. If he fires, Adelaide will probably force its way into finals discussions.

The best 11

As I say every year, the only opinion that matters when selecting Adelaide’s team belongs to the coaching panel. For what it’s worth, here is my best 11: Delianov, Cavallo, Timotheou. Ansell, Lopez, D’Arrigo, Isaias, Goodwin, Mauk, Halloran, Yengi.

Adelaide’s best team is a solid outfit. The main issue for Adelaide is depth. Should players get injured, the roster will be stretched. Alexandar Popovic, Bernardo and Nestory Irankunda are all untested at this level and the likes of Dukuly and Yull are still finding their way.

In a squad of 24 players, having five with little to no experience at senior will test the Reds should injuries and suspensions become an issue. (And that’s not factoring in players like Yengi and Toure who, when you look at it objectively, are still finding their feet).

A lot of things would need to go right for Adelaide to make a splash this season and I fear that while a lot of teams have recruited to improve, the Reds have managed to just (and I emphasise just) stay on par with last season’s squad.

I suspect it will be another season of up and downs for fans, who will be left feeling frustrated that the promised “top three every year” remains firmly out of reach.

Adelaide United squad (including scholarship players)

Nick Ansell, George Blackwood, Joe Calleti, Josh Cavallo, Ethan Cox, Louis D’Arrigo, James Delianov, Yaya Dukuly, Joe Gauci, Craig Goodwin, Ben Halloran, Nestory Irankunda, Michael Jakobsen, Ryan Kitto, Javi Lopez, Stefan Mauk, Bernardo Oliveira, Alexandar Popovic, Juande Prados, Isaias Sanchez, George Timotheou, Mohamed Toure, Jacob Tratt, Kusini Yengi.

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