Sunday, 6 October 2013

A-League Season Preview 2013-2014 - Adelaide United

Up, Down and Around Again

Adelaide are a club that is too big to ever write off. The inaugural league champions have been up and down the table like a pogo stick since the A-League's inception. Last year was a disappointing year for the Reds. The only real plus to the Reds campaign was the form of Socceroo, Dario Vidosic. The Brisbane-born playmaker often looked like the only played on the field for Adelaide at times and truly shone in an under-performing team that, whilst had a good early season spurt, sputtered to an awful halt. A 4th place finish in the 12-13 season really flattered the Reds.

Vidosic however wasn't the only player that excelled in a flagging team, the ever present Eugene Galekovic showed time and time again why he has been consistently named the best keeper in the A-League. The Adelaide captain was consistent and ever active. His form, recognised by Holger Osieck, even lead to a call-up and a starting position for his country in the East Asian Federation Cup against China, Japan and South Korea. His performance against the Koreans put even some of the world's best to shame with crucial save after crucial save.

Consistency was the biggest issue and some key injuries and international call-ups certainly didn't help their cause but they will be looking forward to a brand new season and with some key signings, and albeit some key departures, things are looking up for South Australia's sole representative.

The Times They are a Changing

There have been a few major changes around Hindmarsh.
The biggest of which would undoubtedly be the change of coach. Former Barcelona coach, yes the Barcelona, Josep Gombau has taken over the reigns from care-taker manager Michael Valkanis. Whilst Valkanis has been kept on as an assistant coach, it is the Spaniard that has taken creative control. Apart from his credentials from Catalonia, Gombau has a relatively humble resume. The only real first-team coaching he has done has been in the Hong Kong Premier League with Kitchee SC. Whilst it is very easy to dismiss such credentials as a lounge chair enthusiast, Gombau actually won the HK Premier League twice including an almighty domestic treble in the 2011-2012 season. Playing a balanced, possession based game, Gombau was able to mastermind something that is very difficult to do regardless of the quality of the players. One has to remember that the skill of your players is relative to your opposition. Whilst Hong Kong is certainly not a footballing power in any way, shape or form, to win a treble in any competition is rather a feat. To add to this, Gombau picked up the best-manager award two seasons running with success in the 2010-2011 award as well as the 2011-2012 edition.

Most of the press around Gombau however has been on his Barcelona connection. Given the standing of Spain's juggernaut in world football, it is no surprise but, as mentioned above, he not only has the philosophy, but he has shown that he can win titles with that philosophy which is probably more important.

Gombau has been quick to say the expected with pronouncements of possession based, attacking football and hopefully turn it into a successful brand. The Amposta native was quick to bring in some Spanish signings, with whom he worked with at Barcelona, and it is hoped that the likes of Sergio Cirio and Isaias Sanchez will be able to help stamp the Blaugrana brand on Adelaide.

Ins and Outs

Adelaide have suffered from the massive loss of playmaker Dario Vidosic whom has moved to greener pastures in the Swiss Premier League with FC Sion. The Brisbane-native chipped in 10 goals and 10 assists and was an outstanding player in a mediocre team.
However, whilst the loss of Vidosic is hard to cope with, the regenerated Marcelo Carrusca will certainly have some fans on the edge of their seats. The Argentinian playmaker was sidelined with injury and otherwise behind Vidosic for the number 10 role last season, but his flashes of brilliance showed great signs for the future. Now with Vidosic gone, there are few others of Carrusca's quality that would be able to take his spot from him. The former Argentina U-20 international has great pedigree and a long with Eugene Galekovic, he should be key to any success the reds may have this season.
There however also remains a question as to who is going to score the goals. Whilst Geronimo Neumann was prolific in the striking role last season, his inconsistency and ill-discipline showed that he was not the man to lead the line, at least not by himself. Adelaide also lost Sergio Van Dijk mid-season, and whilst the much criticised Dutchman was not on top of his form when he left the club, he certainly knew where to find the net. Add to that the loss of Vidoisic and loan-signing, now Wanderers player, Tomi Juric there are few in the squad that can score goals consistently at A-League level. Bruce Djite has shown himself to be very hit and miss at this level and Brent McGrath, a recent signing, has never played in the A-League before. McGrath also does not exactly have an impressive goal-scoring record abroad with his former club Brondby. It does make you wonder where goals will come from. New Spanish forward, Sergio Cirio may have what it takes to have a good season in the A-League, but being played as mostly a winger at his former club, one wonders how consistent he will be.
There are plenty of players that can score goals in this line-up but few of them I would expect to hit double-figures by the end of the season.
This criticism is however not to detract from some of the quality signings Adelaide have made this season. Along with the two Spaniards, Adelaide have managed to lure Socceroo left-back, Michael Zullo to Hindmarsh on a loan deal from FC Utrecht as well as signing Hajduk Split midfielder, Steve Lustica on a free-transfer. By all rights, these are some impressive players, but are they where Adelaide needs them?

Transfers in:

Jordan Elsey (DF) (Adelaide United Youth)
Awer Mabil (MF) (Adelaide United Youth)
Sergio Cirio (FW) (Hospitalet)
Isaias Sanchez (MF) (Ponferradina)
Brent McGrath (FW)  (Brondby IF - 4 week injury cover)
Michael Zullo (DF/MF) (FC Utrecht - On Loan)
Tarek Elrich  (DF) (West Sydney Wanderers)
Steve Lustica (MF) (Hajduk Split)

Transfers Out: 

Sergio Van Dijk (FW) (Persib Bandung)
Zenon Caravella (MF) (Newcastle United Jets)
Iain Ramsay (MF) (Melbourne Heart FC)
Tom Juric (FW) (Loan return - now at West Sydney Wanderers)
Fabian Barbiero (MF) (Released)
Evan Kostopoulos (MF) (Released)
Iain Fyfe (DF) (Mes Kerman)
Dario Vidosic (MF) (FC Sion)

Key Player & Best Youth Prospect

Marcelo Carrusca:
As mentioned previously in this post, the Argentinian playmaker will be absolutely key to any
success that Adelaide acheive. He has been performing well in pre-season and was the deciding factor against Melbourne Heart as he scored his team's two goals to win the game 2-1. If his sparks from last season are anything to go by, the 30 year-old could well out-perform former Reds favourite and countryman, Marco Flores (now at Central Coast Mariners).
Big things will be expected of the number ten, but all signs are looking good for Carrusca to have a successful season. The only questions raised will be if their are players ahead of him to finish the chances he creates.

                                  Awer Mabil:
Mabil is a name that won't be too familiar with A-League fans outside of Adelaide, but the 18 year old forward from Kenya, but after winning the NYL's best player award last season, there is a good chance we will be seeing more of him on A-League match days. He made 5 appearances last season for the reds but will be looking to make an even bigger impact this season. Whilst his competition has increased with the addition of a fit Fabio Ferreira and the signing of Sergio Cirio, there will be plenty of time for this young man to make his way onto the pitch. Fast, skillful and with an eye for goal, Mabil has a great future ahead of him.

Final Verdict

Adelaide certainly have the quality to mount a serious challenge on the A-League title. Whilst their pre-season results have been average (2 wins, 1 loss and a draw against A-League opposition) there are certainly many reasons for Adelaide fans to be optimistic. The lack of a recognised A-League quality goal-scorer will be a concern, but it is too early to judge their potency. Josep Gombau's new system bodes well for an exciting brand of football, but will it be a successful formula? There have been many teams in the A-League's past that have played attractively, but haven't been effective. (Think Brisbane Roar Mk. 1 or Melbourne Heart Mk. 1)
 I however am optimistic. I think we will see Adelaide around the top 3 at the end of the season, but looking at other teams in the competition this year, they could well be near the bottom if results don't go their way. This is the A-League after all!

Tentative prediction: 2nd

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