Who will win the A-League title this season?

The 2016–17 A-League campaign was pretty much a one-horse race. Sydney FC won the regular season and then got the better of Melbourne Victory in the Grand Final. It was one of the most impressive campaigns by a title-winning side in the A-League in years and Sydney FC fans will hope for a repeat during the 2017-18 season. Graham Arnold’s side are the best and strongest team in the division and the Allianz Stadium faithful have every reason to be optimistic.

Sydney FC will start the 2017-18 A-League campaign as strong favourites and it would be a shock if they do not end up in the top two in the regular season. It was the Sky Blues’ third championship success and saw them go level with Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar. After bagging as many as 66 points from 27 matches in the regular league season, they ended up 17 points clear of second-placed Melbourne Victory.

Sydney FC eased past Perth Glory 3-0 in the semi-finals but the grand final was very close. They won 4-2 on penalties against the Melbourne Victory after it finished 1-1 after extra time. In the 29 matches Sydney FC played in the A-League last season they lost just once and had a winning percentage of 74.1.

While it would take a brave man to bet against Sydney FC winning the A-League title for the second successive season it would not be wise to predict that they would have it all their way in 2017-18. After all Melbourne Victory showed what they are capable of in the final. Kevin Muscat is a good manager and the 43-year-old former Australia international defender will have a plan to close the gap on their rivals.

Sydney FC are still the bookmakers’ favourites for the A-League title with odds of 3.25 but Melbourne Victory are not that far behind with odds of 5.00. Not since Brisbane Roar in 2012 have any team won the championship two years in a row, which suggests that a successful defence of the title is not easy. There’s value in placing a wager on the Melbourne Victory going all the way, especially as there are bookmakers offering sign-up bonus bets for A-League punters.

The chances of Melbourne Victory winning the title are good as they have one of the best players in the A-League in Besart Berisha. The 31-year-old striker scored 19 A-League goals last season and the former Arminia Bielefeld and Brisbane Roar man will be determined to repeat his heroics next season. The return of Kosta Barbarouses is also going to add extra firepower to Victory’s attack. The 27-year-old winger spent the 2016-17 season at the Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand, and he is now back at the Victory.

Barbarouses, who was the Wellington Phoenix Player of the Year in 2016-17, is well-known in the Australian football circuit. After all the New Zealand international made it to the PFA A-League Team of the Season in 2010-11 and then again in 2015-16. The winger’s pace, intelligence, and attacking prowess will be key in the Victory challenging Sydney FC for the championship next season. With Barbarouses creating chances and Berisha converting them Victory have the potential to emerge as the most potent and dangerous attacking team in the A-League.

Melbourne City will also fancy their chances of winning the A-League title. Warren Joyce is the club’s new manager and the former Manchester United Reserves coach could prove to be a smart appointment. Having played a role in the development of the likes of Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford the former Wigan Athletic boss will bring excellent know-how and coaching ability.

City won the FFA Cup last season but they endured a poor A-League campaign. After finishing fourth in the regular season they were knocked out by Perth Glory in the elimination finals. The arrival of Joyce is not going to make Melbourne City stronger overnight but when it comes to the big games the team will be better prepared and would give the opposition a genuine run for their money.

The signing of Eugene Galekovic could also prove to be a masterstroke. The Australian goalkeeper may be 36 years of age but his experience is invaluable. Having played over 200 league matches for Adelaide United over the past 10 years Galekovic knows what it takes to succeed in the division. City conceded as many as 44 goals in 27 matches in the regular season in 2016-17 – that’s way more than Sydney FC (12) and just two fewer than Adelaide United, who shipped 46. Galekovic’s presence between the posts is going to help in conceding fewer goals.

Brisbane Roar are only fourth favourite to win the A-League title next season with odds of 9.00 but the Suncorp Stadium faithful should be optimistic of a successful season. The Roar finished a respectable third in the regular 2016-17 A-League campaign and progressed to the semi-finals of the Finals series. Even then, they lost by just a single goal to the Melbourne Victory.

The loss of Jamie Maclaren, though, could be felt. The 23-year-old striker was the joint top-scorer in the A-League last season with 19 goals and it will be interesting to see how John Aloisi’s side cope with his departure to Darmstadt 98 in the second division in Germany.

Corey Gameiro has been signed by the club but will the 24-year-old forward hit the ground running? There is no doubt over the talent and quality of the former Fulham and Sydney FC man but the problem is that ex-Australia Under-23 international has had three knee reconstruction surgeries in four seasons. Would the striker be able to return to his best after all these injury problems?

While the 2016-17 A-League title race was pretty straightforward, there is every chance that next season is going to be a lot more competitive. After all, teams such as Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City will not allow Sydney FC to run all over them once again. Given the structure of the Australian top flight the league campaign would not matter as much as the playoffs would. Heading into the Finals series with momentum will be important for any side, and whichever teams are able to perform against the best in the division will win the title.

Prediction: Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory to finish in the top two in the league; Melbourne Victory to win the Grand Final.

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