A-League mega preview: Where will your club finish?
ACCORDING to the bookies it's a three-horse race for the 2018-19 A-League title with both Melbourne sides and Sydney FC favourites to win.
Victory coach Kevin Muscat - who endured intense scrutiny last year before leading his side to the title - has spent the off-season freshening up his side and his staff.
Their Melbourne neighbours City meanwhile, will be looking to fill the void left by Daniel Arzani who departed the club for a loan spell with Scottish side Celtic.
Ahead of the 2018-19 season, News Corp's football reporters run the rule over all 10 teams and their prospects.
COACH: Warren Joyce. While the Englishman broke Melbourne City records en route to third-place, he'd remain gutted by the semi-final loss. With added depth this season, Joyce may become more ruthless in selection.
LAST SEASON: Third (lost to Newcastle Jets in a semi-final).
KEY INS: Michael O'Halloran (Rangers), Riley McGree (Club Brugge, loan), Richie Da Laet (Aston Villa - loan), Curtis Good (Newcastle United), Lachlan Wales (Central Coast Mariners), Florin Berenguer (FC Sochaux), Mark Birighitti (NAC Breda), Anthony Caceres (Manchester City, loan), Rostyn Griffiths (Pakhtakor Tashkent).
KEY OUTS: Daniel Arzani, Stefan Mauk, Marcin Budzinski, Oliver Bozanic, Denis Genreau, Dean Bouzanis, Nick Fitzgerald, Manny Muscat, Bruce Kamau, Ruon Tongyik, Christian Cavallo.
X-FACTOR: Bruno Fornaroli. The predator was sidelined for most of last season and despite pain in his ankle upon returning, he still contributed with five goals late in the campaign. With a full pre-season under his belt, he's ready to fire and desperate to make a maiden grand final.
PROSPECTS: City had its best chance of qualifying for a grand final last season, but blew it. Daniel Arzani's loss is a massive blow, but it is far more balanced across the field with genuine competition for spots. Finals beckon, but it needs everything to go right to make the GF.
LADBROKES TITLE ODDS: $6
David Davutovic (HS)
COACH: Kevin Muscat. Having endured intense scrutiny midway through last season with calls for his head, Muscat inspired a stunning revival and flawless finish to the season to claim his second championship and an A-League record fourth title. Muscat has shrewdly freshened up the squad and backroom staff.
LAST SEASON: Champions after finishing fourth on home-and-away ladder.
KEY INS: Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Ola Toivonen (Toulouse), Raul Baena (Granada, loan), Georg Niedermeier (SC Freiburg), Nick Ansell (Tondela), Corey Brown (Brisbane Roar), Storm Roux (Central Coast Mariners).
KEY OUTS: Leroy George, Besart Berisha, Rhys Williams, James Donachie, Stefan Nigro, Mitchell Austin, Matias Sanchez, Cameron McGilp, Christian Theoharous, Pierce Waring.
X-FACTOR: Keisuke Honda. The Japanese superstar is one of the biggest signings in A-League history and the quality of his set pieces alone will make Victory a massive front-third threat. At 32 and having scored at last June's World Cup, Honda still has plenty of gas in the tank.
PROSPECTS: Strong off-season recruiting leaves back-to-back titles a real proposition - the visa signings are quality. Victory appears to have improved its depth and will be among the biggest beneficiaries of the introduction of the FIFA international breaks.
LADBROKES TITLE ODDS: $5
David Davutovic (HS)
COACH: Marco Kurz, The astute German is arguably the best coach in the country. He is tactically brilliant - this season Adelaide will unveil three new systems including the trusty 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield - and has the ability to counter opponents' bench moves in an instant.
LAST SEASON: Fifth.
KEY INS: Michael Jakobsen (Melbourne City FC), Craig Goodwin (Sparta Rotterdam), Ken Ilso (Penang), Mirko Boland (Eintracht Braunschweig), Scott Galloway (Wellington Phoenix), Louis D'Arrigo (Reds youth), Carlo Armiento (Reds youth), Ben Halloran (V-Varen Nagasaki).
KEY OUTS: Tarek Elrich, Johan Absalonsen, Ben Garuccio, Dzengis Cavusevic, Mark Ochieng, Daniel Adlung, Jordan O'Doherty, Ersan Gulum (loan ends).
X-FACTOR: Mirko Boland. The 31-year-old German is a box-to-box midfielder who has a great eye for goal and a defence-splitting pass. Not afraid to get physical either - if the opposition demands he plays that way. He is also mentally tough - his 300-plus games in the pressure cooker environment of the German Bundesliga 1 and 2 is a solid foundation for strength.
PROSPECTS: It will depend on how fit Kurz's best 11 will be this season. He is an old school manager, demanding hard work from his side which is extremely disciplined. Kurz is a true leader. He has empathy for his side which will fight to the death even though it hasn't got the same budget as most other A-League sides.
LADBROKES TITLE ODDS: $12
Val Migliaccio (AA)
COACH: John Aloisi. The Roar's longest-serving coach is about to start his fourth season in charge and, for the first time in his tenure, has had a pre-season devoid of problems. On paper at least, he has recruited well in the off-season despite not having at his disposal the marquee budgets of other clubs. There are no excuses if the Roar fails to deliver, which no doubt Aloisi has been told by the club's Indonesian owners.
LAST SEASON: Sixth.
KEY INS: Adam Taggart (Perth Glory), Stefan Mauk (NEC Nijmegen), Tobias Mikkelsen (Nordsjaelland), Alex Lopez (Sporting Gijon), Stefan Nigro (Melbourne Victory), Dylan Wenzel-Halls (Western Pride).
KEY OUTS: Jade North, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, Michael Theo (all retired); Corey Brown (Melbourne Victory), Massimo Maccarone (Carrarese), Ivan Franjic (Perth Glory), Corey Gameiro (Central Coast Mariners).
X -FACTOR: Eric Bautheac. A-League fans didn't see the best of the flamboyant Frenchman last season because of his late arrival and injuries. But the silky winger showed more than enough to suggest that with a full pre-season behind him, he's going to torment defenders on a weekly basis. Bautheac's service to centre-forward Adam Taggart will be crucial to the club's title hopes.
PROSPECTS: Roar looked extremely solid in the pre-season against A-League opposition. Aloisi would have liked for his side to have been more ruthless in front of goal, but signs are that Brisbane will more than trouble the competition's glamour clubs. Expect it to be perched among the top three or four teams come the business end.
LADBROKES TITLE ODDS: $11
Marco Monteverde (CM)
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
COACH: Mike Mulvey. A championship winner with Brisbane, Mulvey has a very different job on his hands at the Mariners. Amid the Usain Bolt circus there has been some astute recruitment.
LAST SEASON: 10th
KEY INS: Jack Clisby, Jonathan Aspropotamitis (both Western Sydney Wanderers), Corey Gameiro (Brisbane Roar), Matt Simon (Sydney FC), Mario Shabow (Newcastle Jets), Joe Gauci (West Torrens Birkalla), Michael McGlinchey (Wellington Phoenix), Kalifa Cisse (BEC Tero Sasana), Peter Kekeris, Jordan Murray (APIA Leichhardt), Josh Macdonald (Wollongong Wolves), Aiden O'Neill (Burnley, loan), Matt Millar (South Melbourne), Ross McCormack (Aston Villa, loan), Tommy Oar
KEY OUTS: Josh Rose (retired); Trent Buhagiar, Liam Rose, Storm Roux, Jacob Poscoliero, Josh Bingham, Blake Powell, Peter Skapetis, Tom Glover, Wout Brama, Alan Baro, Daniel De Silva.
X-FACTOR: Ross McCormack. The Aston Villa forward's arrival on loan heralded a distinct change of ambition at the club and McCormack has already shown at Melbourne City that he can conjure goals from almost everywhere - the currency the Mariners have sorely lacked for years.
PROSPECTS: Football goes in cycles and there's a feeling that maybe the Mariners are climbing out of the doldrums. With McCormack and Tommy Oar on board, expectations are on the rise.
LADBROKES TITLE ODDS: $21
Tom Smithies (DT)
COACH: Ernie Merrick. An old hand with shrewd man-management skills and a coaching formula that pulled off a rare ascent from wooden spoon to grand finalists in his first season. Now the Scotsman's challenge is to meet heightened expectations with a target on his team's back.
LAST SEASON: Second (lost grand final).
KEY INS: Matthew Ridenton (Wellington Phoenix), Jair (Yanbian Funde), Mitch Austin (Melbourne Victory), Lewis Italiano (Stirling Lions), Kaine Sheppard (Avondale).
KEY OUTS: Daniel Alessi, Devante Clut, Ivan Necevski, Riley McGree (Melbourne City), Pato Rodriguez, Mario Shabow, Wayne Brown, Jack Duncan.
X-FACTOR: Dimi Petratos. Took a breakout campaign by storm to bolt into the Socceroos. The competition's leading chance-creator also scored 10 goals and, fresh from his World Cup taster and with Asian Cup selection to work for, expect more magic from the versatile attacker.
PROSPECTS: With Nathan Tinkler still lurking in recent memory, it sounds odd to call the Jets a bastion of stability. Yet Merrick has kept the core of his squad together, a key factor in Sydney FC's recent success. Those who've left are not insignificant, but enough proven quality remains to enjoy another strong season.
LADBROKES TITLE ODDS: $9
Emma Kemp (DT)
COACH: Tony Popovic. Having failed in Turkey, former Western Sydney Wanderers mentor Popovic is back in the A-League after accepting a lucrative offer to coach the A-League's biggest disappointment since the competition's inception in 2005. The pressure is on Popovic to deliver some overdue success to the Glory. He has lured some good players to Perth and the onus is on him to make them click.
LAST SEASON: Eighth.
KEY INS: Chris Ikonomidis (Lazio), Jason Davidson (HNK Rijeka), Matthew Spiranovic (Hangzhou Greentown), Ivan Franjic (Brisbane Roar), Tomislav Mrcela (Jeonnam Dragons), Brendon Santalab (Western Sydney Wanderers), Tando Velaphi (Wellington Phoenix), Fabio Ferreira (Sydney FC), Juande (UCAM Murcia).
KEY OUTS: Adam Taggart (Brisbane Roar), Joe Knowles (released).
X-FACTOR: Chris Ikonomidis. The attacking midfielder is unlucky not to be in Graham Arnold's current Socceroos squad such is his prodigious talent. Having been on the books of Italian Serie A club Lazio, Ikonomidis's creative spark is crucial to the Glory's chances of finally winning some A-League silverware.
PROSPECTS: Glory's squad is extremely strong despite the loss of sharpshooter Adam Taggart to Brisbane. There is a lot of belief in the west that Glory has a team good enough to win the title. Of course the travel factor will again be a challenge, but if it can at least be solid on the road, its home form could be enough to turn it into a genuine contender.
LADBROKES TITLE ODDS: $7
Marco Monteverde (CM)
COACH: Steve Corica. After a lengthy apprenticeship, Corica has finally been rewarded for his patience by landing one of the best-resourced coaching roles in the country. Following Graham Arnold is a tall order though, and Corica must overcome the traditional scepticism about assistants ascending to the head role.
LAST SEASON: Lost in semi-finals after finishing top of the ladder.
KEY INS: Trent Buhagiar (Central Coast Mariners), Siem De Jong (Ajax), Daniel De Silva (Central Coast Mariners, loan), Jop van der Linden (AZ Alkmaar), Adam le Fondre (Bolton Wanderers).
KEY OUTS: Bobo, Adrian Mierzejewski, Jordy Buijs, Luke Wilkshire, Matt Simon, David Carney, Anthony Kalik, Fabio Ferreira.
X-FACTOR: Adam Le Fondre. The diminutive forward has already impressed with his work rate, mobility and finishing, scoring a brilliant goal in a friendly with Newcastle. Bobo's exit was a huge blow, but Le Fondre looks a born goalscorer.
PROSPECTS: After two years of domination, big question marks hover over the premiers after the exits of Graham Arnold, Bobo and Adrian Mierzejewski. There's lots of talk that the winning culture remains, but the Sky Blues need a convincing start to the season to settle any nerves.
LADBROKES TITLE ODDS: $5
Tom Smithies (DT)
COACH: Mark Rudan. The former Sydney FC captain has been relatively successful as coach of Sydney United, twice claiming the NSW NPL title and the Australian NPL title. His credentials as a coach and a man manager will be tested at Phoenix, arguably the toughest gig in the A-League due to its geographical location.
LAST SEASON: Ninth
KEY INS: Steven Taylor (Peterborough United), Filip Kurto (Roda JC Kerkrade), Mitch Nichols (unattached), David Williams (Haladás), Michał Kopczyński (Legia Warsaw, loan).
KEY OUTS: Michael McGlinchey, Matthew Ridenton, Matija Ljucic, Andrija Kaluderovic, Goran Paracki, Adam Parkhouse.
X-FACTOR: Roy Krishna. If the Fijian is in form, so is Phoenix. He is critical to the side's forward forays and averaging a goal every three games is a great return. Phoenix must find a way to keep Krishna floating between the lines and initially wide where he causes most damage.
PROSPECTS: A frustrating side, promising for many seasons to be among the top two only to drop vital points at home where it has won just 42 per cent of matches. That home statistic must improve for Rudan's side to have any hope of shaking the ladder.
LADBROKES TITLE ODDS: $34
Val Migliaccio (AA)
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS
COACH: Markus Babbel. After a calamitous season under Josep Gombau, the former German international is tasked with restoring the powerhouse to its glory days. Babbel's balance between the expansive and pragmatic suggests he's adaptable enough to work with the personnel at his disposal.
LAST SEASON: Seventh.
KEY INS: Nick Fitzgerald, Bruce Kamau, Ruon Tongyik (all Melbourne City), Tarek Elrich (Adelaide United), Patrick Ziegler (1. FC Kaiserslautern), Alex Baumjohann (Vitoria), Rashid Mahazi (Moreland Zebras).
KEY OUTS: Jack Clisby (Central Coast Mariners), Alvaro Cejudo (released), Michael Thwaite, Chris Ikonomidis (loan ends), Jonathan Aspropotamitis (Central Coast Mariners), Brendon Santalab (Perth Glory), Steven Lustica (released).
X-FACTOR: Alex Baumjohann. There's a bit of Thomas Broich about the German recruit. Once scouted by Bayern Munich but since unlucky with injuries and club circumstances, the technically talented playmaker has already turned heads in pre-season and could be the ace up the sleeve.
PROSPECTS: Babbel's new order has shown promising signs despite some poor pre-season results. The potential is there, certainly for a finals push. But depth shapes as a central issue for a youthful squad and an experienced midfielder would aid the cause.
LADBROKES TITLE ODDS: $8
Emma Kemp (DT)