<
>

A-League Men preview: Can anyone stop defending champs Western United?

play
What 'Ernie the Disruptor' will bring to Football Australia (2:48)

Football Australia boss James Johnson says newly appointed chief football officer Ernie Merrick will operate as "a technical director with teeth." (edited) (2:48)

Another torturously long offseason is at an end. The 2022-23 A-League Men (ALM) season is here.

Set to kick off on Friday evening when defending champions Western United take on defending premiers Melbourne City in a Grand Final re-match, we have broken down the key things to know for all 12 clubs competing in this year's competition, as well as a player to keep an eye on and a fantasy bargain you should have in the new official ALM fantasy competition.

Think you know better? You can face off with the ESPN's The National Curriculum (TNC) podcast team in their own ALM fantasy league here.

ADELAIDE UNITED: 2021-22 - 4th
W12, D7, L7, GD +7 - Semifinalists

Coach: Carl Veart
Key Players: Ben Halloran, Craig Goodwin, Alexandar Popovic, Hiroshi Ibusuki

Best Case Scenario: Heading into his third full season in charge of the Reds and having fostered a strong and healthy dressing room dynamic, everything clicks into place for Veart's side. The Reds are right in the race for the Premiership as Halloran and Goodwin produce magic up front for Ibusuki and Popovic becomes a star in the backline.

Worst Case Scenario: As the defensive depth struggles to keep up, the wheels fall off the club's ageing Spanish trio of Juande, Javi Lopez, and Isaias and Veart proves too inflexible to shift his approach and/or change personnel until it's too late. The club crashes out of the finals and Goodwin or Halloran leave... again.

Likely Scenario: The Reds are one of the most consistent sides in ALM, reaching eight of the last 10 finals series. They'll likely push to hit that mark again in 2022-23 and the offensive talent is there for more but potential issues with depth in defence and with their midfield composition, combined with pragmatism from the dugout, will be working against them breaking through for silverware.

One to Watch: A 20-year-old centre-back, Popovic was one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2021-22 ALM campaign, which ended with him being tapped as an All-Star to face Barcelona and a call-up into Australia's junior national teams. With Jacob Tratt, George Timotheou and Michael Jakobsen all departing the Reds, he should start and kick on.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Nestory Irankunda - $169,900: The Reds' recent reputation as a talent factory is more centred around their ability to bring players up to A-League level, rather than give them consistent minutes when there, but Irankunda should get opportunities to grab goals and assists off the bench, especially with talented and under-utilised winger Bernardo set to miss there months after foot surgery.

The National Curriculum Says: TNC's favourite Red (Under The Bed) is officially sticking around. "Professor" Halloran's move to South Korea was mercifully short-lived, and Veart will be relieved to have him locked in alongside goals and assists machine Goodwin. With no midfield reinforcements, however, it is difficult to see how United improve on last season's fourth-placed finish. Are we seriously resigning ourselves to another year of the dreary Isaias/Juande double pivot? -- Josh Parish.

BRISBANE ROAR: 2021-22 - 11th
W7, D5, L14, GD -10

Coach: Warren Moon
Key Players: Charlie Austin, Riku Danzaki, Jay O'Shea, Rahmat Akbari

Best Case Scenario: The distractions and legal drama surrounding the Roar this off-season serve to galvanise the group and they're able to stage an unlikely push for finals football, with the players and Moon able to help soothe the increasingly frayed relationship between the fans and their club.

Worst Case Scenario: The chaos and distractions of the off-season, the latest chapter of which will see the club appeal its defeat to defender Corey Brown at the National Dispute Resolution Chamber, sees the Roar collapse in on itself even further. Disharmony grips both the fanbase and the football department as the club crashes to the wooden spoon. Crowds sink to some of their lowest levels in Roar's history as fans openly revolt against current ownership.

Likely Scenario: Austin's addition as an attacking pivot will improve what was an incredibly frustrating attack to watch last season, Danzaki will be fun, and there's young talent there that could shine, but it's difficult to see Roar being able to overcome off-field distractions and a lack of high-quality depth.

One to Watch: A lot was expected of Moon heading into the 2021-22 season but, unfortunately, the 40-year-old was unable to deliver on the promise. Now heading into his third full season in charge of the Roar it's likely a make-or-break season for his tenure at the club and, possibly, his senior ALM coaching career.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Riku Danzaki - $292,500: After quickly becoming beloved by Roar fans during a spell on loan in 2020-21, Danzaki returned to the Sunshine State on a six-month loan, with Roar hoping to make the deal permanent. Likely to be a key creative force while Austin works as a point of reference, he's the 17th cheapest midfield option and behind several more defensively minded players.

The National Curriculum Says: After scoring just 29 goals last season, Austin should provide the firepower and personality the Roar had been lacking, while fan favourite Danzaki will be eagerly welcomed back for a second loan spell. However, the club's treatment of defender Brown and the ongoing dispute over his contract could prove an unwelcome distraction. Moon is one of Queensland's own, but if his side continues to falter, will fans' patience wear thin? - Josh Parish.

CENTRAL COAST MARINERS: 2021-22 - 5th
W12, D6, L8, GD +14 - Elimination Final

Coach: Nick Montgomery
Key Players: Danny Vukovic, Dan Hall, Jason Cummings

Best Case Scenario: The Mariners continue to take strides under Montgomery and bolster their growing reputation as the model for small-market ALM clubs. A full season of Cummings helps take them to another level, Hall is a bastion of strength in defence and although depth issues prevent a tilt at the Premiership, lightning in a bottle is found in the finals and they claim the title.

Worst Case Scenario: The club's new ownership meddles with the effective formula that Montgomery has developed in Gosford and the resulting disharmony sees some players fall back towards the mean. Unable to keep pace with the improvements the rest of the league has made, the club returns to the bottom rungs of the table.

Likely Scenario: Again likely to be a neutral's favourite based on both their community underdog feel and the personalities at the club (Matt Simon's retirement notwithstanding), the Mariners will likely be in the mix for finals football again this campaign. If they can go with the league's top end of town over the full length of a season, though, is a significant question. The loss of Marcos Urena will hurt them.

One to Watch: Fresh off making his Socceroos debut, Cummings has a simple task ahead of him in the first six weeks of the season: score goals, grab assists, change games, and give Arnold little choice but to bring him to the 2022 World Cup. Enjoying his new surroundings on the coast and entering his prime years he can hurt opposition teams in a variety of ways, be it as a facilitator dropping into various positions away from goal or as a lethal finisher in and around the box and could prove one of the most devastating strikers in the league.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Samuel Silvera - $192,000: Back at the club with whom he broke out with during the 2019-20 season and subsequently earnt a move to Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira, 21-year-old Silvera signed a three-year deal this offseason and could be the latest youngster to benefit from Montgomery's trust. Garang Kuol's departure for Newcastle in January could open the door for greater opportunities.

The National Curriculum Says: The Mariners are in a unique position because their most exciting player, Kuol, hasn't started a match for them, and he'll be gone by January. The big question for Montgomery's side will be how he goes about replacing the spine of his team after the departures of Urena, Kye Rowles, Mark Birighitti, and UFO-favorite Oliver Bozanic. Four players from Portugal have been brought in as has the experienced hands of Vukovic, in the hopes of improving on last season's fifth-placed finish - Nick Stoll

play
1:05

Yorke: Great honour to manage A-League All-Stars

Dwight Yorke opens up on his new role as manager of the A-League All-Star team.

MACARTHUR FC: 2021-22 - 7th
W9, D6, L11, GD -7

Coach: Dwight Yorke
Key Players: Filip Kurto, Ulises Davila, Daniel Arzani

Best Case Scenario: Buoyed by their first-ever piece trophy and propelled by a fearsome collection of attacking talent, who themselves are sitting under the learning tree of a striking legend, the Bulls become one of the best teams to watch in ALM. Defensive concerns are mitigated by a tide of goals at the other end of the pitch as they add a second piece of silverware.

Worst Case Scenario: Yorke's inexperience and his system are increasingly exposed when he has to go up against professional sides week in and week out, as opposed to the NPL sides that dominated the Cup run. Injuries and poor form hit the frontline for the second year in a row and the understrength backline can't keep up, leading to finals being missed again.

Likely Scenario: After the Bulls went from the team that wanted the ball more than anyone in their first season to an outfit that treated it like a biohazard in their second, they will likely present an easier on-the-eye product this season. How much of their attacking output will be fueled by functionality, given their potential problems in extended possession, as opposed to just giving the ball to one of their stars and expecting them to do something is an issue.

One to Watch: Arzani is one of the most polarising figures in Australian football, but what shouldn't be debatable is that the 23-year-old possesses all the tools to be one of Australia's best attackers and that if he can fulfil his stated goal of adding goals and assists to his output he's a Johnny Warren medal frontrunner.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Al Hassan Toure - $165,300: Toure has arguably been surpassed in hype by his younger brother Mohamed (perhaps he and Alou Kuol can share tips) but still possesses plenty of talent. Craig Noone's return will likely affect his minutes, but he's been playing and scoring in the Australia Cup and should at the very least be a handy weapon off the bench, with the potential to start for Yorke.

The National Curriculum Says: A lot can change in the A-League's very long offseason. Last campaign the Bulls were one of the most boring teams to watch in the competition, this season they might be the most exciting. New coach Yorke has assembled potentially the best attacking quartet in Davila, De Silva, Arzani and Toure. A successful cup run shows this team should be feared by the rest of the competition and hopefully continued success on the pitch will contribute to a much-needed increase in attendance and memberships - Nick Stoll

MELBOURNE CITY FC: 2021-22 - 1st
W14, D7, L5, GD +22 - Grand Finalists

Coach: Patrick Kisnorbo
Key Players: Curtis Good, Florin Berenguer, Jamie Maclaren, Tom Glover

Best Case Scenario: The ALM's resident heavyweights brush themselves off after last year's Grand Final and go right back to winning football games. In his third full year in charge, Kisnorbo adds some new dimensions to the team's tried-and-tested approach and juggles the presence of an embarrassment of attacking riches to create a devastating whole as the team wins both the premiership and championship.

Worst Case Scenario: City try to run it back again with new contributors but very few adjustments and, despite their fearsome collection of contributors, run into the problem of diminishing returns. After failing to beat a single top-four side all last regular season and only once -- in extra time -- in finals, City are again unable to put the good sides away and they go out in the playoffs.

Likely Scenario: The sheer amount of talent assembled at City, which on paper is the strongest in the league, keeps them up the pointy end of the table and challenging for silverware and the on-loan Berisha has the potential to star if he sees the field enough. But inevitably, the litmus test for Kisnorbo arrives in finals football. Such are the standards associated with this side, a trophyless season constitutes a letdown.

One to Watch: Marco Tilio's form last season helped propel him into the Socceroos' squad and spark conversation around a potential move to Europe. Nonetheless, the 21-year-old only played 53% of available minutes then and with City's attack even more crowded this campaign his pathway to greater contributions -- especially in the first six weeks when World Cup selection is on the line -- is highly contested.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Callum Talbot - $210,300: Not a lot of joy for bargain hunters when it comes to the City squad (which is probably fitting given their status as the local outpost of the petro-dollar fuelled CFG) but new signing Talbot might just present a bit of value. He's been receiving more minutes than Scott Galloway in preseason and City's is a system that likes to incorporate its wing-backs into build-up play

The National Curriculum Says: The internal and external expectations are still as high as ever for City, who are looking to shake off the disappointment of last season's Grand Final. Acquisitions such as Thomas Lam and Berisha do help their cause, but there are lingering concerns about their defence which at times last season, looked suspect -- particularly in transition. The microscope will be on them when they face top four sides this season, given their struggles against the league's best sides last year but expect the reigning premiers to stick to the "process" and be right up there again. - Nick D'Urbano

play
4:55

Nani Exclusive: Victory's new marquee man on joining the A-League

Melbourne Victory marquee signing and Portugal star Nani sits down to talk about his move to the A-League & how he wants to help the grow the game in Australia.

MELBOURNE VICTORY: 2021-22 - 2nd
W13, D9, L4, GD +17 - Semifinalists

Coach: Tony Popovic
Key Players: Roderick Miranda, Rai Marchan, Jake Brimmer, Luis Nani

Best Case Scenario: Reinforcement with Nani, better luck with injury and fitness, and another year in Popovic's system help Victory build on last year's return to form and go one better: romping to the Premiership and their coach's first ALM title.

Worst Case Scenario: As was the case in his last ALM stint at Perth, Popovic is unable to back up a strong first season and results take a slide. As the injury bug again bites, Nani hardly sees the field and becomes Daniel Sturridge 2.0, Popovic is poached midseason to become Socceroos coach, the defensive depth is exposed, and the team scrapes into finals under a caretaker, only to immediately be eliminated.

Likely Scenario: Much closer to the best case than the worst case. Looking at the investment and squad assembled, at least challenging for silverware should be a base expectation for Victory and Popovic's continued inability to win an ALM Grand Final is likely to get another test. Off the field, their home crowds will likely be doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the league's average attendance.

One to Watch: After signing on a permanent deal following an initial loan spell, Ben Folami was one of the major beneficiaries of Popovic's arrival at AAMI Park as he parlayed a strong run of form into a call-up for the (albeit understrength) Socceroos. Heading into this season the arrival of Nani and a healthier Chris Ikonomidis may put a squeeze on his minutes but he's spoken of already learning from the Portuguese star.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Chris Ikonomidis - $172,200: Ikonomidis' pricetag has been driven down by a 2021-22 campaign in which he struggled for fitness, but the Socceroos' ability to rack up stats at ALM level when he's able to get on the park is well established. The Victory attack will likely be crowded but he has been finding the net this preseason and, no matter how faint his chances may be, has a World Cup to play for.

The National Curriculum Says: Victory made headlines this offseason with their acquisition of Luis Nani and will be hopeful that the "sugar rush" delivered by his arrival will carry them to A-Liga Men's glory in 22/23. Concerns around defensive depth and risk-averse possession play remain, but with a host of high calibre recruits added to an already strong roster, expect the second season of the "Popalution" to carry through to the pointy end - Lachie Flannigan

NEWCASTLE JETS: 2021-22 - 9th
W8, D5, L13, GD +2

Coach: Arthur Papas
Key Players: Michael Weier, Reno Piscopo, Angus Thurgate, Beka Mikeltadze,

Best Case Scenario: Piscopo proves even more of a creative force than the departed Daniel Penha was, and the positive and possession-dominant Jets continue to be the best side to watch in the league. Mikeltadze becomes the league's undisputed best striker, Weier turns into one of its best keepers to cover for defensive shortcomings, and Papas' second year in charge results in finals football.

Worst Case Scenario: All the defensive issues that sunk the Jets last season remain stubbornly persistent and the attack, for all its dominance of the ball, can't bail them out. The club sink towards the bottom of the table and concerns over their lack of an owner become increasingly loud.

Likely Scenario: The concerns that the club are still effectively owned by a collective of rival ALM clubs remains, but on-field the Jets remain Box Office. They score a lot, concede a lot on the counter, and push for the last spot in finals football, with 'Big Mike' Weier and the defenders in front of him ultimately determining if they achieve that mark or not.

One to Watch: Moving back to Australia after previously playing for Wellington, Piscopo looks set to be handed the keys to the Jets' attack and, especially in Papas' system, can turn into a creative force. A World Cup berth is likely beyond him, but a strong season should launch him into consideration for the Asian Cup.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Daniel Stynes - $170,700: Making the move over from Perth Glory, Stynes is one of many new faces at the Jets that will be banked upon by Papas to take the squad to the next level. The potential exists in Stynes to make a mark in midfield, in a system that will present plenty of opportunities to see the ball, and his cheap price presents potential value.

The National Curriculum Says: The Box Office Jets need the sequel to be an improvement on the original. They played some of the best football in the league last season but were often let down by poor defence. There are many reasons to be hopeful about Newcastle this season, the additions of Piscopo, Carl Jenkinson and Brandon O'Neill are upgrades on what they had in those positions last season and don't be surprised if Georgia youth international Beka Dartsmelia impresses. Papas is a season wiser and the Jets should be in the top six as a result - Nick Stoll

PERTH GLORY: 2021-22 - 12th
W4, D6, L16, GD -23

Coach: Ruben Zadkovich
Key Players: Ryan Williams, Bruno Fornaroli, Darryl Lachman

Best Case Scenario: After a season in which almost everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong and a preseason in which the club have already been forced to relocate games, an entirely new playing group rallies around Zadkovich and they restore some semblance of pride in the Glory badge as they push for finals.

Worst Case Scenario: Zadkovich's poor results during his interim stint turn out to have not just been because of injuries and life on the road, and results and performances fail to improve under his permanent appointment. The squad assembled fail to find cohesion and are misaligned in their skillsets and Glory finish bottom again.

Likely Scenario: Things, almost by default, improve on last season but finals look to be a very big ask -- Zadkovich likely to earn coach of the year honours should he lead them there.

One to watch: Glory fronted up a transfer fee to bring Williams back home to Perth after 12 years in Europe, and the one-time Socceroo will now likely be a key part of the club's reclamation project. At just 28, he should have plenty of good football left in the tank and has signed a three-year deal, ostensibly buying into the rebuild under Zadkovich.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Stefan Colakovski - $165,300: After stepping into the first-team and helping City lift their first ever ALM title in 2020-21, Colakovski fell to the back of the pack last season and ultimately made the decision to leave his boyhood club for more opportunities out West. He has all the talent to make a contribution at this level and could link up well with Bruno Fornaroli in a Glory XI that is otherwise very much unsettled.

The National Curriculum Says: Perth's offseason has flown under the radar, or at least compared to last season when Sturridge was the name on everyone's lips. New head of recruitment Andy Keogh has quietly assembled a talented squad, and they're a smokey for finals football, but that will depend on whether inexperienced coach Ruben Zadkovich has the Midas touch required to guide them to the top six - Ben Smith

SYDNEY FC: 2021-22 - 8th
P8, D7, L11, GD -7

Coach: Steve Corica
Key Players: Alex Wilkinson, Joe Lolley, Luke Brattan

Best Case Scenario: Corica's attempts to institute a new approach at Moore Park pay immediate dividends as the club romp back to the top of the table. The new Sydney Football Stadium becomes a Sky Blue fortress, international arrivals Lolley, Jake Rodwell, Robert Mak and Diego Caballo all become standouts, and the club win yet more silverware.

Worst Case Scenario: Corica's attempts to institute a new look go disastrously. Stung by a series of early defeats, including an opening day embarrassment against Victory, and unable to fix the rot he panics and reverts back to the 'Arnieball' 4-2-2-2. This does little to arrest the slide, though, and Sydney miss the finals for the second year in a row.

Likely Scenario: Sydney's attempts to return to the finals becomes one of the biggest storylines of the season for, despite a new contract, Corica's tenure won't survive another year out of the playoffs. He absolutely has the talent at his disposal to achieve it, so the pressure is on.

One to Watch: Max Burgess has consistently shown flashes of the skillset and mental approach to the game that gives him the potential to be one of the ALM's best. At 27, though, now is the time that he will need to make that leap and realise that potential or he never will -- and Corica should give him the chance to do so.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Joe Lolley - $209,000: One of the internationals targeted by Corica in his attempt to institute a new formation at the Sky Blues, former Nottingham Forest man Lolley played over 1,000 minutes in the Championship last season and looks set to start as a key attacker for Sydney, suggesting he's undervalued compared to other attacking options heading into the season.

The National Curriculum Says: Are coaches truly set in their ways, or can Corica learn a few new tricks? Sydney's disappointing dip to 8th place last season felt like the end of an era but instead of replacing the man in the dugout, Sydney have chosen evolution, not revolution. The formerly all-conquering 4-2-2-2 has finally been shelved in favour of a 4-3-3, and ostensibly a more proactive approach with the ball. The foreign stars who traditionally have given the Sky Blues an edge have also been refreshed. But will Sydney regret trying to cling to the past? - Josh Parish.

WELLINGTON PHOENIX: 2021-22 - 6th
W12, D33, L11, GD -15 - Elimination Final

Coach: Ufuk Talay
Key Players: Oli Sail, Scott Wooton, Steven Ugarkovic, Yan Sasse

Best Case Scenario: After being forced to spend the past two years in Australia because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kiwi fans rally around the club in the wake of their return to New Zealand and the Nix become imperious at home. Forced to use different approaches and formations last year in the face of an injury crisis, Talay displays a new level of adaptability and the club earn the right to host a final in Aotearoa.

Worst Case Scenario: Their goal difference last season was the worst of any side in ALM history to ever qualify for finals and the Nix regress to the mean in 2022-23. As results take a turn, so do crowds that haven't had absence make the heart grow fonder and the club's attendees figures, television ratings, and off-field circumstances once again become the most compelling thing about them.

Likely Scenario: Being able to play home games actually at home should be huge and fans should expect to be competing for finals come the end of the season. How far they go will be determined significantly by how much they can improve their defence and if they've struck gold with their new foreign signings Bozhidar Kraev and Yan Sasse. Nix fans should also absolutely prepare for Talay to be linked with jobs in Australia again, especially if Corica struggles in Sydney.

One to Watch: A 25-time Bulgaria international that has played against Liverpool and Ajax in the Champions League and still just 25 years old, Kraev doesn't fit the type of foreign player that normally signs for ALM clubs, in a good way. A bigger-bodied No. 10, he could have a lot of joy setting the table for his new side in attack.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Ben Waine - $204,800: At 21 years old, 'The Waine Train' scored six goals for the Phoenix last season and looks like he's rapidly becoming a regular part of the All Whites squad. The subject of reported interest from an English League One side during the offseason, he remains, for now, a member of the 'Nix.

The National Curriculum Says: Home is where the heart is and Wellington are finally ready for a full season of normality for the first time in three years. They've managed to defy the odds throughout this period, playing finals last year and just missing out the season prior. Now, with almost all their home games back in New Zealand plus a number of solid signings in tow, including TNC favourite Ugarkovic, finals should be the expectation for the 'Nix. - Nick D'Urbano

WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS: 2021-22 - 10th
W6, D9, L11, GD -8

Coach: Marko Rudan
Key Players: Marcelo Guedes, Brandon Borrello, Lawrence Thomas

Best Case Scenario: Finally, the Wanderers stop flattering to deceive and actually take advantage of the fact that they've got more inherent advantages than any club in ALM by making finals football. One of the league's more sound footballing minds, Rudan is able to avoid the dressing room disharmony that led to the end of his tenure at Western United and the club give its fanbase something more than slickly produced hype videos to get excited about.

Worst Case Scenario: Deja-vu strikes and the Wanderers, despite investing heavily in their squad, playing in the league's best stadium and facilities, and existing in Australian football's heartland, miss the finals again. The dressing room collapses, Rudan leaves, and the club are forced to undergo another rebuild.

Likely Scenario: This is really hard to say. Looking at everything assembled at Wanderland, they should 100% be playing finals football and possibly challenging for silverware. However, it has also reached the point where it's almost impossible to give the Wanderers the benefit of the doubt. They should finish in the top six but nobody at this stage can be surprised if something, or multiple things, go wrong and they don't.

One to Watch: One of the scant few players retained by Rudan in his complete rebuild of the Wanderers' list, Ramy Najjarine played the most minutes he's ever played in a professional season in 2021-22. Playing under his fourth coach in as many seasons didn't help and the 22-year-old will have to win out against a crowded field in the battle for playing time, but he has the talent to help the Wanderers return to some semblance of respectability.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Kusini Yengi - $165,300: Crossing over from Adelaide to WSW this offseason, much to the Reds' chagrin, Yengi is one of a multitude of new faces that have arrived at Wanderland intending to return the club to finals football. At 23-years-old, Yengi has all the physical tools he needs but is also reaching the point of his career when he needs to step up and demand those minutes.

The National Curriculum Says: We've all seen this movie before. After handing the keys to Rudan, ripping up the squad and starting over, will the Wanderers finally rediscover the magic of the Popovic era? With 16 new faces, 17 out the door and just six players retained, Western Sydney will likely take some time to gel. But one signing looms over the rest -- Milos Ninkovic crossing the divide. His departure from Sydney has devolved into a messy war of words, and many Wanderers fans are yet to be convinced that the ageing superstar is worth the outlay. How much is left in the tank? - Josh Parish.

WESTERN UNITED: 2021-22 - 3rd
W13, D6, L7, GD +10 - Champions

Coach: John Aloisi
Key Players: Jamie Young, Leo Lacroix, Aleksander Prijovic, Tongo Doumbia

Best Case Scenario: Any thoughts of a championship hangover are quickly put to rest by United, who maintain their defensive fortitude from a year ago and add greater attacking flare on the way to back-to-back titles. It's all capped off by the club announcing the commencement of construction on their long-anticipated stadium.

Worst Case Scenario: United's ageing squad are unable to keep pace with the improvements made by their rivals and they fall back into a dogfight for finals rather than the Premiership and ultimately miss out. Come to the end of the season, everyone remains none the wiser about when their stadium is to be built.

Likely Scenario: United will once again be one of the most difficult sides to beat in the league, with new Mali international Doumbia helping to strengthen what is already a stout spine. At their best on the counter, they will likely play finals again but concerns around depth and the side's age profile may come back to bite them.

Breakout Player: One figure that might assuage both the above fears surrounding depth and an older squad, however, is Nicholas Milanovic. The 20-year-old has quickly established himself as one of the most promising and technically gifted youngsters brought in by United's nascent academy and is at the point now where he should be seeing more regular ALM minutes.

Potential Fantasy Bargain: Dylan Pierias - $185,500: Pierias status as a potential bargain stems from two key points. His price point is an obvious one, but there's also the fact that he is listed as a defender when he operates almost exclusively as an attacking threat in Aloisi's system. Given the extra points that are awarded for goals and assists when they come from a defender, this adds value to a 22-year-old needing to take that next step in his game.

The National Curriculum Says: In the words of Alessandro Diamanti "the vibes" are good in Melbourne's west and with good reason. Their championship-winning squad hasn't changed much, with Aloisi opting to run it back with the sprinkling of a few new players to bolster their depth. Retaining Prijovic is huge but their squad isn't exactly getting any younger, with a number of their starters on the other side of 30. Expect them to be right up there again this season but can they defy Father Time and reach the summit again? - Nick D'Urbano