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Hyundai A-League Season Preview 2018/19

Hyundai A-League Season Preview 2018/19

So here we are on the verge of a new season and what promises to be an exciting season on and off the field with the competition potentially offering the closest title race in years, a host of expansion clubs waiting in the wings, and the last season of FFA control over the HAL before it goes independent next season.

Roar situation report:
The Lions of Brisbane enter the new season full of optimism after a disappointing 2017/18 season but stability off the field and excellent squad recruiting mean supporters have genuine hope to believe we can go all the way. Sponsors have been signed up on time, the kit has returned to our famous ‘Orange and Black’, and the club has been free of off-field controversies for the first winter in a long while. In short, there is a “feel good factor” about everything Brisbane Roar this season (and that extends to our excellent W-League team too).

What’s changed:
Plenty has changed at BRFC, both on and off the field. The most obvious one is Roar are now at home in their new training facilities at Logan, with a dedicated top-quality training pitch, medical and player lounge facilities the Roar players have never had it so good. And then there’s the arrival of a new physio (from the EPL), a new fitness coach (from WSW) and a new Assistant Coach to work alongside the Aloisi’s and there’s been a raft of new faces behind the scenes in the Administration side too. And player recruitment has been top-notch and crucially early this winter with 22 out of the 23 squad in place very early for pre-season training. It’s not an over-statement to say BRFC have never had it so good.

Player Departures:
Corey Gameiro, Mitchell Oxborrow, Jade North, Massimo Maccarone, Corey Brown, Ben Khalfallah (retired), Michael Theo (retired) and Ivan Franjic all left the sunshine state. Perhaps only the departure of Franjic had Roar fans scratching their heads but the offer of more money out west would have been hard to resist. While there’s a loss of some much loved players in there few would argue with these departures.

Player Arrivals:
Arriving in their place to refresh the squad are Adam Taggart (Perth Glory), Dylan Wenzel-Halls (Western Pride), Stefan Mauk (NEC Nijmegen), Tobias Mikkelsen (Nordsjaelland), Stefan Nigro (Victory), Alex Lopez (Sporting Gijon) and Aaron Reardon (promoted). Most noticeable is the total refresh of the forward with Mauk, Mikkelsen, and Taggart combining with Bautheac to create a dynamic front-line. The late arrival of Alex Lopez, a genuinely popular player during his time at Sheffield Wednesday who comes with plenty of top-flight experience in Spain, also presents an option to refresh Roars midfield. Not since Corona have Roar had a genuine box-to-box midfielder with a wide range of passing options. The arrival of Stefan Nigro from Victory (in effect a straight swop for Corey Brown) provides much needed competition for O’Toole at Left Back and it will be interesting to see which one John Aloisi opts for.

Eric Bautheac is the only designated marquee this season although its likely one other player (probably Taggart or Mauk) has been elevated effectively exempting their salary from the cap. After the long but ultimately fruitless chase for former Arsenal star Flamini, Roar management did leave the door tantalising ajar for a possible marquee signing in the January transfer window.

Likely formation:
After a few experiments with formation last year, most notably 4-4-1-1, expect Roar to return to Aloisi’s preferred 4-2-3-1 although an interchange to a classic 4-3-3 might be on the cards, especially at home.

Pre-season summary:
It’s been a near-perfect pre-season for Roar with the only defeat in ten games coming in the crucial FFA Cup tie against City with a freakish Fall-n-Rolli goal in the 119th minute sealing a win. But Roar remained undefeated in pre-season friendlies (the only other side to do so have been SFC). The squad looks fit and healthy with the only injury concern going into the new season being Brett Holman whose recovery from a knee operation seems to be taking an age. Roar have not opted to bring in injury cover and hopefully Brett is back and firing on all cylinders before Christmas.

Concerns from the pre-season:
If there is a concern from the pre-season period it is, despite remaining unbeaten, a lack of wins and a lack of goals. That new front 4 combination seem to be working well together and creating numerous chances but are consistently failing to put them away in games. Roar had trouble scoring last season and they can ill-afford that problem to extend in to the new season.

Why Roar might succeed:
Two things really: depth and quality of the squad. There is serious quality in the squad with genuine competition for most positions. The flow-on effect will be a strong starting XI supported by a strong bench and whereas last year Aloisi was looking to his bench and seeing Oxborrow, Skapetis and Gamerio, this year he’s going to have the likes of Holman, Mackay, Lopez, Nigro, plus a fully-fit Henrique to call upon.

Why Roar might struggle:
Will the forwards gel and will they score goals? If not, Roar will find dropped points very costly in what is expected to be a very tight competition this season, so they may struggle if they don’t find goals consistently. Last season the Roar defence struggled to defend Jamie Young’s goal and only consistently outstanding performances from our shot-stopper saved our skin. The defence must improve this year, or we will drop points.

Key questions to be answered:
There are plenty of key questions to be answered going in to pre-season and it’s to be hoped John Alois has the answers going in to Round One. The first is who will partner Avram in the centre of defence? Three players are fighting for this position and its between DeVere, Pepper and Bowles. The next question is does Alex Lopez start over club legend and Captain, Matt Mackay? Matt’s fitness always keeps him in contention but with a dynamite front 4 would the passing range of Lopez be better suited? And the last question is over Left Back, O’Toole or Nigro? Both are excellent players so who will get the nod? And maybe a supplementary question, if Matty doesn’t start who will the game-day captain be? We wouldn’t be looking beyond Jamie Young for that.

Breakout Youth player:
Watch for young Aaron Reardon, has had an excellent pre-season.

Player of the year candidates:
Jamie Young romped away with it last year so who’s likely to be in the frame this season? We’re betting Eric Bautheac, Stefan Mauk and Adam Taggart will be locked in a 3-way fight for the ‘Gary Wilkins Medal’.

Likely top scorer:
Taggart, Taggart and Taggart. But there’s goals in Stefan Mauk as well but we’d be surprised if anyone other than Adam Taggart tops the scoring list come May. He must be a serious contender for the Golden Boot too.

One to watch:
There’s plenty of quality in this year’s squad but we’re not going to look beyond Jamie Young who had an outstanding season last time around. If Jamie has a good season, this Roar team will too we reckon.

Any ‘Jonnie Warren Medal’ candidates:
Eric Bautheac, Stefan Mauk and Adam Taggart. Spotting a theme?

Any ‘Young Player of the Year’ candidates:
Stefan Mauk is likely to be a standout player in this year’s competition but both Nigro and O’Toole, if either get a consistent run in the team, have the potential to seriously impress.

What is the Press saying:
The media have been surprisingly underwhelming in their assessment of Brisbane Roars chances, rather more predictably favouring the two Sydney and Melbourne sides. Typical assessments range from a 4-5th place finish or missing out on the finals altogether. Despite this there is an acknowledgment of the quality in the squad with frequent high praise for Roar players Young, Avram, Kristensen, Bautheac and new signings Taggart, Mauk and Lopez. Mikkelsen seems to be getting over-looked completely with a genuine lack of appreciation for his pedigree. So, its fair to say the media seem lukewarm on Roar but that’s actually nothing unusual and should provide added motivation to John Aloisi and his team.

Best Case:
In a tough competition there’s no reason why Roar can’t go on and do the double: Premiers and Champions.

Worst Case:
Making finals and a 5th or 6th place finish.

Games to watch out for:
There’s plenty to look forward to. The opening round fixture against Mariners is followed up by the Nix with the all of club photo and Roar Rascals promotions (free family tickets for all Miniroos) expected to drive a very healthy crowd of around 20,000. After that there’s City at home in our only televised Saturday night game before we have two homes games each against Victory, Wanderers and Sydney. Also make a note in your diary for the final home game of the season which will be the newly configured ANZAC Day fixture vs. Adelaide United which, with a full ANZAC ceremony planned and State dignitaries in attendance is likely to drive a record regular-season attendance of well over 30,000

Where can you watch:
Live at Suncorp Stadium obviously with membership sales at an all-time pre-season high Roar will be hoping for a return to regular big crowds. And all games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports with a regular Saturday evening broadcast on TEN’s digital channel. In addition, all games will be broadcast on the ‘My Football’ App which is free to Telstra customers and a modest annual fee for a digital pass for non-Telstra customers.

New season campaign:
There’s no better place to watch Roar’s games than live at Suncorp stadium and this season the RSF will be running a “Bring. A. Mate” campaign encouraging supporters to, you know, bring a mate along. Each season around 50,000 individuals purchase tickets to Roar’s games and if each of them brought just one mate to a game, our average attendance would jump by nearly 4,000. So, can you bring a mate?

First Game:
This Sunday at home to Magic Mike Mulvey’s Central Coast Mariners. Tickets via Ticketek and don’t forget …. Bring. A. Mate.