A run of 19 games unbeaten saw Sydney FC trounce everything, and everyone, before them last season, and will be hoping that they can replicate their majestic form in a bid to win back-to-back A-League Championships.
It is easier said than done for Graham Arnold and his men, of course, but the Sky Blues are well-equipped to pull off such an extraordinary feat thanks in large to several high-profile off-season recruits.
2016-17 finishing position: 1st
Coach: Graham Arnold
INS AND OUTS
Ins: Paulo Retre, Chris Zuvela, Alex Cisak, Luke Wilkshire, Adrian Mierzejewski, Anthony Kalik
Outs: Bernie Ibini, Filip Holosko, George Blackwood, George Timotheou, Danny Vukovic, Bai Antoniou, Milos Dimitrijevic
STAR PLAYER - Adrian Mierzejewski
Key to Sydney’s success last season came down to the brilliance of the club’s quartet of Filip Holosko, Alex Brosque, Milos Ninkovic and Bobo in the final third.
Holosko is now gone, of course, but in Adrian Mierzejewski, Graham Arnold has a player who has everything it takes to set the league alight.
Mierzejewski, of course, is no spring chicken. He’s 30 years of age and in his prime, boasts of an impressive CV having played for Polonia Warsaw, Trabzonspor and has 40 international caps for Poland.
He also has quite the dazzling left foot – not quite on par with Lionel Messi’s, but good enough that his style of play is somewhat reminiscent of a certain David Silva.
What is rather striking about the Pole’s style of play is that it’s so pure it’s hard to find a significant deficiency. He’s balanced, fleet of foot and can dribble past defenders with ease. He possesses a mean left boot and has the ability to score some long range stunners. His passing is superb and his movement off the ball into space is a class above the rest.
There’s no denying his talent. But this could be his most important season yet.
With some serious talent coming through the Polish ranks, and given his age, this could very well be Mierzejewski’s last chance at featuring in a World Cup. He’ll be hoping to cement a spot in Adam Nawałka’s team and his hunger to succeed could making frightening good. Lethal too.
And with all that is at stake, he really could be Arnold’s best. And perhaps, A-League’s best.
"Adrian is very good,” Arnold said.
"He’s exciting, a very good player and not only has he got a strong CV of where he’s come from, but he’s top shelf.
"When he settles in more, knowing what the other players do on the pitch and the combinations come together it’s exciting,"
BREAKOUT PLAYER - Chris Zuvela
He says he idolises Ronaldinho, and whilst Chris Zuvela might be of the same pedigree (yet), there’s every chance he could become Australia’s latest attacking sensation.
The 20-year-old youngster – who has been a mainstay in the Sky Blue’s NPL squad - is renowned for his versatility having previously played both a forward as well as a midfielder, famously chipping in with a lively display against Arsenal in July.
The Young Socceroos’ ability means he can deployed in several positions and could play a part this season following the departure of playmaker Milos Dimitrijevic and attacker Filip Holosko.
Despite several departures in the off-season, the Sky Blues look stronger than ever with the club retaining a similar squad that swept all before them last season with the added bonus of securing a number of astute signings the likes of Mierzejewski, Luke Wilkshire to name a few.
Whilst the likes of Alex Brosque and Bobo will be crucial in the final third, Sydney’s midfield is certainly not lacking in firepower either.
In fact, it is potentially the strongest in the league boasting the likes of Johnny Warren medallist Milos Ninkovic and the aforementioned Polish international amongst the ranks. And with the ever reliable of Josh Brillante and Brandon O’Neill sitting the centre of the park, the reigning champions will be hard to stop this season.
For Arnold, though, the side’s defence could be the most concerning aspect of their game.
The Allianz Stadium outfit will be without Matt Jurman as centre-back, who was rewarded with switch to the K-League after a series of impressive performances last term.
Meanwhile, marauding right-back Rhyan Grant will sit out for most of the season after rupturing his ACL during pre-season training whilst the absence of the reliable Danny Vukovic could prove to be costly, particularly when current no.1 Andrew Redmayne came under-fire last season for his inconsistent glove-work.
FINAL PREDICTION: 1st
Despite reports coming out of the dressing room that the players have been ‘overloaded’ during pre-season, it’s hard to bet against Sydney FC claiming back-to-back A-League titles.
The Moore Park outfit possesses one of the A-League best, if not, the best midfield and also have a consistent goalscorer in Bobo.
Their only glaring weakness seems to be their defence, but with Alex Wilkinson still leading at the back, Sydney FC could just be as hard to beat this time around as they were last term.