Sunday, 6 October 2013

A-League Season Preview 2013-2014 - Brisbane Roar

Roaring to go

The Roar had a disappointing start to last season. With long time assistant Rado Vidosic taking over from 2-time championship winner, Ange Postecoglu as manager, many were optimistic about "the brains" finally taking on the main job. However, the experiment was not as long lived as one might have hoped with Vidosic only lasting until December before a management reshuffle saw former Gold Coast United care-taker, Mike Mulvey take the reigns. Mulvey was able to take an underperforming Roar team into the semi-finals before falling over to league champions, West Sydney Wanderers 2-0.

Mulvey has since gone on to refresh the squad with some youth players and a few new additions. The mercurial Thomas Broich remains as the talisman of the team with star striker Besart Berisha is looking to maintain his title as the league's most prolific goalscorer after getting a return of 14 goals despite playing in an underperforming team. The only concern for Roar fans will be, if the Albanian gets injured, who will score goals for the team? Even in pre-season so far, Berisha has scored a lion's share of Brisbane's goals.

Brisbane looked lost at times under Vidosic, and Mulvey's revolution has taken some time to take affect. When he took charge, some underwhelming results, including being knocked out on penalties from the Asian Champions League qualifying stage, many were already calling for his head, but such was the same when Postecoglu took charge 4 seasons ago, and we know what happened then.

So far so good

After a loss to minnows Lions FC in the opening match of their pre-season, the Roar have gone on to win 11 games in a row, including 4 wins against A-League opposition. By all reports, these victories have been much in the attractive, attacking-style that fans are used to seeing in Suncorp Stadium. A 1-0 win over Melbourne Victory and a 4-1 trouncing of Sydney have shown that the Roar may well be a grand threat to the A-League with now arguably the best first-eleven midfield in the league. The addition of Liam Miller and Roar legend Matt McKay looks to boost an already stocked midfield that included Thomas Broich and Luke Brattan. Chance creation may not be an issue, but if Berisha goes off the boil, gets injured or endured a lengthy suspension, there are not many other goal scorers in the side. With Mitch Nichols now departed for Melbourne Victory, that is a possible 10 goals from midfield gone. It will be up to the likes of Broich, McKay and Miller to start putting away more chances. However a newly fit Henrique and a sprite youngster by the name of Kwame Yeboah could well add a few more important goals where necessary. Depth will be an issue however, with mostly youth players or younger players coming off the bench.

The major change for the Roar tactically has been with Ivan Franjic moving to right-wing and Jack Hingert playing behind him. Both Hingert and Franjic are quality full-backs and to not play one of them would be wasteful. This way the Roar can utilize both players to the fullest with Franjic and Hingert able to interchange on the right-hand side.

Mulvey looks to have his team on track for the new season with some very effective and attractive football in pre-season. T

Ins and Outs

Brisbane have been lucky in terms of players leaving. The only real major losses in the off-season were that of Ben Halloran and the long-serving Mitch Nichols. Halloran was not at his best last season, but that is not to say he wasn't an important player to have for Brisbane. Similarly, Nichols is the epitome of inconsistent, but he does consistently score important goals from midfield.

The additions of Liam Miller and Matt McKay however will probably erase any doubt from the
Roar faithful's minds about the loss of quality. Irish international Miller has been a very important player for Perth Glory over the past two seasons and although on the wrong side of 30, he still has plenty of pedigree and ability to help Brisbane this season. The home-coming of Brisbane-boy Matt McKay too will have many excited at the prospect of the current Socceroo returning to the form he had in his championship winning season as captain. McKay will have to take the backseat on captaincy this year with Matt Smith retaining the arm-band, but the influential McKay is a quality player that will likely add greatly to the dynamism of the Roar's midfield. Particularly after the loss of Massimo Murdocca, McKay's running and ability to work in small places will certainly help fill that role and more.

Defence has also been revamped since last season with Matt Jurman being shown the door. Young James Donachie and Jade North are likely to be the partners for Matt Smith in defence on a regular basis.

Former Sydney FC attacker Dimitr Petratos joins the team from Kelantan after looking fairly good for the Malaysian Premier League side. He joins Diogo Ferreira from Melbourne Victory after he was perhaps a little unfairly released from the team after filling in at right-back. The two players add to the squad depth in midfield and on the wing with Ferreira also reinforcing right-back.

Transfers in

Kwame Yeboah (FW) (Brisbane Roar Youth Squad)
Ben Liftin (MF) (Brisbane Roar Youth Squad)
Matt McKay (MF) (Chanchung Yatai)
Liam Miller (MF) (Perth Glory)
Diogo Ferreira (MF) (Melbourne Victory)
Dimitri Petratos (FW) (Kelantan)

Transfers out

Stef Nijland (MF) (Loan Return - Now at PEC Zwolle)
Ben Halloran (MF) (Fortuna Dusseldorf)
Mitch Nichols (MF) (Melbourne Victory)
Massimo Murdocca (MF) (Melbourne Heart)
Matt Jurman (DF) (Sydney FC)
Steve Lustica (Loan Return - Now at Adelaide United)
Do Dong-Hyun (MF) (FC Gifu)
James Meyer (FW) (Pune FC)

Key Player and Hottest Prospect

Thomas Broich:
One could easily make the case that Matt McKay or Besart Berisha would be the Roar's key
player, but few are as consistent as the German playmaker. Broich has been pivotal for the Roar's success over the last 3 years and it has been when he has performed poorly that the team has also played below par. His experiment in the middle at the beginning of last season ended with him being played out on the left once more and this proved to be the better position for the former FC Koln midfielder. 11 assists last season went a long way to helping the Roar up the table and his ability to draw defenders created many more goal-scoring chances. Whilst Broich is getting older, his wile certainly hasn't faded.

James Donachie:
Donachie is already known to A-League fans, but at 20 years old he has plenty of potential and time to grow. The centre-back played very impressively for the Roar when called upon despite his tender age as he often filled in for Matt Smith or Matt Jurman. A tall defender with decent touch, Donachie is the first in-line to take on a central defensive spot if his captain or former Socceroo Jade North lose their position. Donachie grew as a player last season and will only get better this year. The fact that Mulvey has not signed another centre-back as cover is testament to the belief that the Roar staff have in him to shine when needed. As North and Smith age, Donachie will be ready to pounce and make that starting position his.

Final Verdict

The Roar have strengthened their positions with experienced campaigners and a sprinkling of youth. Whilst depth in centre defence and in the striking positions is lacking, the Roar will likely mount a very strong challenge on the title this season. Out are the frustratingly inconsistent player of Nichols and Jurman and in come the experience of Matt McKay and Liam Miller. This is music to the ears of Roar fans, and there will certainly be the expectation that Suncorp Stadium will become home to yet another final.

Mike Mulvey is set to start his only full-season in charge of a professional club and early signs are showing that he know what he's doing. The young coach certainly has his work cut out for him with the competition of the A-League increasing, but with the players at his disposal he will be confident of a strong showing this year with and eye on continental qualification.

Brisbane look like champions elect to me, but this is possible my personal bias setting in. I will however reign in my prediction and suggest they will finish in the top 3 come the end of the season.

Tentative (biased) prediction: 1st.

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