A-League Rev-Up: Graham Arnold and Kevin Muscat renew rivalry with epic sledge

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A rematch of last season's grand final headlines the first round of the new league season as new managerial appointments hail in a new era

After a long winter in which Australian football's most loyal supporters were teased with the magic of the FFA Cup, several key Socceroos World Cup qualifiers, the A-League - now into its 13th instalment - is finally back! 

If anything, the new league season promises to be bigger and better than ever before and the first set of mouth-watering fixtures, including a rematch of last season's grand final, will hopefully serve as a teaser to an exciting campaign ahead.

Without further ado, Goal explores five storylines that could impact the first weekend of the 2017-18 season.


Arnie and Muscat renew their rivalry


As last season's top two sides prepare to do battle at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening exactly five months after an epic Grand Final, the Big Blue has been overshadowed by a war of words between the two rival coaches.

Melbourne Victory's hot-headed boss Kevin Muscat, who had earlier said he was "sick of complaining", whinged about depleted squad with several of his high-profile stars, including the likes of Socceroos James Troisi, Mark Milligan as well as New Zealand international Kosta Barbarouses, set to miss the clash due to international duty.

"The fact that one team has got everyone available and the other team doesn't still doesn't sit right with me," he said.

"But I'm sick of complaining about it so I'm not going to...It's not right that our members -- and we've got 23,000 as we speak -- turn up to round one and they don't see the team that we've prepared for the season."

Graham Arnold and Kevin Muscat

Opposite number Graham Arnold wasn't exactly sympathetic either, gleefully boasting of the fact that he took into account international fixtures when recruiting players.

"Maybe they should have recruited differently," quipped Arnold.

"One of the first things I do when I recruit is look at the international programming, whether it's Socceroos or a (youth tournament) and you're going to miss them for three or four weeks.

Not one to resist a quick jibe, a salty Muscat hit back saying such comments are "archaic and has held the game back". 

Muscy might have the upper hand now, but with a side who are undoubtedly favourites to win back-to-back A-League crowns, the former Socceroos assistant might be the one having the last laugh by the conclusion of the weekend.


Oldies but goodies


Whilst Muscat has been making all the headlines off the pitch in Melbourne, his doppelganger Massimo Maccarone will be hoping to do all the talking on the pitch when Brisbane Roar open their account against Melbourne City on Friday. 

The former Italian international arrives in Australia with quite the CV, with the former Milan academy graduate having previously played for the likes of Middlesbrough as well as a host of Serie A clubs. 

Although 38, the striker maintains his body still has the ability to cope with the physical rigours of the game.

Massimo Maccarone Brisbane Roar

"I am 38 now ... I don't know if it's the end yet," said Maccarone.

"I am very lucky with my body in my career. I have never had any big injury. In the last seven or eight years I just look after my body. I take good food, look after myself, lots of sleep. I work for my body to be young."

The former Empoli man is expected to lead "Dad's Army" with 10 players in the squad over the age of 30.

And while it mightn't be the most ideal recruitment technique, the vast experience they have in the squad could be crucial if Brisbane Roar are to enjoy a successful season.


Jets look to go one-up on Mariners


Ok, let's be honest here, apart from our friends who hail from luxurious beach-front apartments of the Central Coast and those who live in the Hunter Region, no one actually cares about about the F3 Derby. 

It's a rivalry which many deem as insignificant, boring and just not very interesting at all. It doesn't help when it's often overshadowed by the league's more popular derbies on the same weekend too.

But this season, things could be different. Both sides, for instance, have new managers in Ernie Merrick and Paul Okon. They both have new, exciting players whilst both clubs also harbour hopes of a run into the A-League finals.

For the Jets though, after an off-season where they signed Ronald Vargas, Roy O'Donovan but also pulled the plug on a deal for Neymar's former BFF Patito Rodriguez from his Santos days, this could be a launching pad for something special.

They've only scored 37 goals in 41 matches against their fierce rivals, but with an extraordinary front-line, you think they might start closing the gap on the Mariners.


Wanderers hail in a new era


Just a day earlier, Tony Popovic looked relaxed and was all smiles as he posed for pictures with the club's fans during their season launch.

The next day, the man who had brought so much success to the club, was gone.

It was a decision which shocked the A-League, and possibly one which caught out his own players too. 

"I came to this club for the coach. I liked his character and I liked his personality," said new recruit Alvaro Cejudo.

There's not doubting how big a loss he is: the former Crystal Palace man was a fan favourite and brought much ingenuity to his side as he looked to develop a winning formula which could utilise each of his player's strengths.

They had looked good in the FFA Cup up until that point, and although they are still expected to challenge as title contenders this season, time will tell how much of an impact Popa's decision to walk away with have.

 


Industrious Adelaide look to make their mark


You've gotta feel sorry for the players.

Adelaide United's crop of stars are set to be rewarded for their run into the FFA Cup semi-finals by new Adelaide United boss Marco Kurz with...wait for it... an increase in training sessions on a daily basis.

The German coach has promised that his troops will train up to four times a day as they continue to adjust to the rigours of his managerial regime.

“I cannot train at the same level (here), for example in Germany I trained four times per day before breakfast, before and after lunch and after dinner,’’ Kurz said. 

Marco Kurz Adelaide United

“If I did this now I would kill the players and kill the team. But I think we’re on the right path, we’re at a good level.

“They know they can run more than their opponents in this moment.

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“I think for a successful game you must be fit.

However, such a revelation should strike much more fear into the hearts of their upcoming opponents, Wellington Phoenix who have proven to an unknown quantity. 

If anything, the hosts will have to be at the best, otherwise, the Reds' recently improve fitness levels could see them run rings against their rivals on Sunday.

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