Season preview – Adelaide United

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Adelaide United head into the 2014/15 season with the ceiling raised. A sense of excitement surrounds the club and it’s playing squad, maintaining the enthusiasm and self belief that saw the Reds overcome a trying start to last campaign.

After coach Josep Gombau’s first season at the helm, expectations have been adjusted with the Reds targeting a significant improvement in their league standing come seasons end.

United’s 2013/14 season

Adelaide ended the 2013/14 season on a sour note, bowing out with a 1-0 loss in the finals away to Central Coast Mariners.

The Reds finished the regular season in sixth place with 38 points, a good achievement given their fruitless start to the campaign, combined with the mid table congestion of most A-League seasons.

United are the neutral’s favourite, capable of delivering stylish attacking football and plenty of goals. The charisma and passion of Gombau on the sideline added an extra dimension to United, often absent around the league.

Adelaide’s high tempo passing game will be yet another reason to keep an eye on the Reds, as they opened up teams with surgical precision last season.

United were the most prolific scorers in the league last season as they found the back of the net on 45 occasions. The Reds scored in 21 of their 27 matches during the regular season and scored three or more goals in seven of those games.

The goals didn’t come from just one or two players though, with striker Jeronimo Neumann and winger Fábio Ferreira both scoring nine goals each. Left winger Sergio Cirio and playmaker Marcelo Carrusca were on target eight and six times respectively, and striker Bruce Djite added five goals.

But there teething problems last season and Adelaide’s high defensive line was breached too regularly in the early stages of the season, and combined with an inability to close out games, the Reds went on an eight match winless streak that was broken with a superb 4-0 win over Central Coast.

From that point onwards, albeit for one or two hiccups, United rediscovered their mojo and their passing game clicked into gear with the goals flowing.

Home form vs away form

United’s home form was terrific last season and the Reds secured 25 of their 38 points at Coopers Stadium, losing there just twice. Adelaide haven’t lost at home in 2014, with their last defeat at Coopers a 2-1 loss at the hands of Brisbane Roar on December 6, 2013. 29 of the Reds’ 45 goals last season were scored in front of their home fans.

This record is a strong foundation on which United can build for the coming season, and they will do everything they can to ensure Coopers remains an impenetrable fortress.

But the flipside to United’s good home form was their poor away record with just three wins in 14 matches. 16 goals in 14 matches is something the Reds will need to be improve.

Although United’s defensive record on the road wasn’t horrific (21 goals conceded in 14 games), Adelaide’s profligacy in front of goal meant increased pressure on their defence.

The three worst performances from United’s defensive unit all came away from home, with 3-0 and 4-3 losses to Melbourne Victory and a 3-3 draw with Melbourne Heart. These displays highlighted problems for the Reds at the back, however, two of these matches were early in the campaign (Rounds 7 & 8) when United were struggling for results and confidence was understandably knocked.

But there was significant improvement in positioning and communication throughout the season, as well as greater composure when playing the ball out from defensive areas.

United failed to keep a clean sheet until their demolition of the Mariners in round 10. They kept seven more in the next 17 games, providing plenty of optimism.

Transfer activity

United have been busy during the offseason and their full dealings are listed below.

Arrivals:

  • Craig Goodwin, left fullback/winger, from Newcastle Jets, two year contract
  • Jimmy Jeggo, midfielder, from Melbourne Victory, two year contract
  • Dylan McGowan, defender, from Heart of Midlothian (Scotland), two year contract
  • Mark Ochieng, right fullback, from Australian Institute of Sport, two year contract
  • Pablo Sánchez, forward, from Club Deportivo Lugo (Spain), one year contract
  • Dylan Smith, midfielder from Australian Institute of Sport, two year contract
  • Ben Warland, defender, from Australian Institute of Sport, two year contract

Departures:

  • Jake Barker-Daish, midfielder, released
  • Daniel Bowles, right fullback, released, signed with Brisbane Roar, two year contract
  • Jon McKain, defender, released
  • Jacob Melling, midfielder, released, signed with Melbourne City, two year contract
  • Jeronimo Neumann, striker, released, signed with Newcastle Jets, two year contract
  • Michael Zullo, left fullback, expiry of loan deal, returned to FC Utrecht (Netherlands)

Full Adelaide United squad, squad numbers listed in brackets:

Goalkeepers: Eugene Galekovic (1) (Captain), Paul Izzo (20), John Hall (30)

Defenders: Michael Marrone (2), Nigel Boogaard (3), Dylan McGowan (4), Osama Malik (5), Cassio (6), Mark Ochieng (12), Ben Warland (15), Craig Goodwin (16), Tarek Elrich (21), Jordan Elsey (23)

Midfielders: Isaías Sánchez (8), Marcelo Carrusca (10), Dylan Smith (13), Cameron Watson (14), James Jeggo (18), Nathan Konstandopoulos (32)

Forwards: Pablo Sánchez (7), Sergio Cirio (9), Bruce Djite (11), Awer Mabil (17), Fábio Ferreira (22), Bruce Kamau (24), Anthony Costa (26)

United have assembled a good squad and have strengthened in areas of need such as central defence and midfield, bringing in the talented Dylan McGowan and Jimmy Jeggo. United have also filled their hole at left back after the departure of Michael Zullo by signing South Australian born Craig Goodwin.

In terms of style of play and the need to fill a position, Goodwin is perhaps the most natural fit of any signing made in the A-League this offseason. The acquisition of Pablo Sánchez looks to be a very clever one as he has fitted into Gombau’s philosophy seamlessly.

The FFA Cup

Adelaide United have taken to Australia’s newest football tournament well, defeating fellow A-League sides Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar.

United have dealt with injuries and absences for various reasons in both these matches and now find themselves facing Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on October 21 in the quarter finals.

A congested fixture calendar is largely due to the Asian Cup in January  means FFA Cup and some A-League matches are being shoehorned into midweek slots, and coaches are now required to rotate and rest players more than ever.

A key period where Gombau must get this rotation right is between Rounds 1 and 3, where United will play three matches in the space of ten days.

United begin their season with a tough away trip to defending Champions Brisbane Roar. The Reds first home match of the campaign is a blockbuster clash in Round 2 at Adelaide Oval against arch rivals Melbourne Victory on October 17, before they travel to Sydney for their FFA Cup quarter final. They then return home to face the impressive Perth Glory at Coopers Stadium on October 26.

This stretch of games is compounded by a spate of injuries and the absence of four players included in Paul Okon’s Young Socceroos squad.

Awer Mabil, Marc Ochieng, Ben Warland and goalkeeper Paul Izzo will be unavailable for the first two rounds of the season plus the FFA Cup quarter final, and could potentially miss United’s Round 3 match, as the AFC under 19 Championships finish on October 23.

United’s treatment rooms been almost as busy as the training pitch during preseason, and their resources are stretched at both ends of the pitch.

After suffering a horrible leg fracture during the final stages of last season Michael Marrone is seeking fitness. There are lingering doubts as to whether club legend Cassio will ever return to the pitch, while Fábio Ferreira and Cameron Watson will be on the sidelines for a few more weeks with ankle and toe problems respectively. Osama Malik is in line for a Round 1 return as he battles a calf injury, with fellow defender Jordan Elsey out for at least a further month with a fractured arm.

Where will United finish?

When speaking to Football Central in April, Gombau said that he was confident he would deliver silverware during his tenure with the club.

“I am sure that after these three years we will win something.”

The first trophy United can win is the aforementioned FFA Cup. Their opponents, Sydney FC, boast a strong attacking lineup having shown good form during their cup and preseason matches.

But United’s also been in strong form and if Gombau plays a strong side in the quarter final, United have every chance of progressing.

As for the A-League season, Gombau has stressed the importance of playing in the Asian Champions League and with United’s proud history as Australia’s most successful side in the competition, a top three finish will be the minimum objective.

Gombau’s stated it is a personal ambition of his to coach in Asia’s premier club competition after guiding former club Kitchee SC to the knockout stages of the AFC Cup on two occasions.

“You play in Asia you have another objective, you are travelling, you are playing strong games overseas, it’s a big experience for everyone…I think that this needs to be the objective for next season, to try to be qualified for this,” Gombau said in April.

The Reds are perhaps the league’s best dictator of games, they control the ball better than any other side and pass with great purpose, but the problems last season were largely defensively.

If United can conceded fewer goals – as they have done in the early stages of this season – then there is every chance they could be contesting this season’s Grand Final.

The Reds will also need to start better than last season as they won just one of their opening nine matches. Hypothetically, if United had picked up just four more points last campaign, they would have finished second on goal difference and been playing Champions League football this season.

With another year under the tutelage of Gombau and with some shrewd signings, United could very well finish in the top three and return to Asia’s top tier.

Andrew Cussen

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