The six biggest A-League stories of the pre-season

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Bankwest Stadium will host the launch of a brand-new era for the competition (how many times have we heard that?) on Sunday 27 December.

It will be a competition run independently from Football Federation Australia and with a brand-new club featuring. Given the timing and with the pandemic easing in Australia, the A-League should receive plenty of attention in 2021 – you can bet on it.

In addition to the matches themselves and the atmosphere, it is the narratives which make the competition so intriguing and captivating to its audience.

With this in mind, here are some of the biggest storylines heading into the 2020/21 A-League season.

1. Macarthur FC’s first season

Western United quickly reminded fans how much a new team can bring to the league. Macarthur should – hopefully – be no different in 2021.

The Bulls have assembled an impressive line-up headlined by Basque pair Benat and Markel Susaeta, as well as former Socceroo Mark Milligan who returns to captain the side. Youngsters such as Denis Genreau and Moudi Najjar will be doing everything they can to break through.

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The sky is the limit with Macarthur. There is no reason why the Bulls cannot replicate the seasons Western United and the Western Sydney Wanderers had in their respective inaugural campaigns.

There is certainly plenty to like about the Bulls and with the NSW government ticking off full capacity at stadia, there is no reason why Campbelltown Stadium should not be ringing with cow bells.

2. Independent A-League

For the first time ever, the A-League will be run independently by the clubs this season.

The competition’s divorce from Football Federation Australia was – to some – long overdue and greatly welcomed by the game’s stakeholders.

The first season will certainly be a challenge given clubs will feel the significant effect of Covid 19 for some time. All 12 clubs have made it clear they would look to support each other and ensure everyone survives: a promising early sign nonetheless.

While FFA still has the final say over things like the league’s expansion, it is time for the clubs to put their money where their mouths are and take the competition forward.

3. The year of redemption

Melbourne City could not shake of the ‘Heart’ tag last season, no matter how hard they tried.

Three runners-up medals and a whole heap of ‘what could’ve beens’ were what the club was left with after an arduous campaign.

But City wasted little time crying over spilt milk bringing in Andrew Nabbout, as well as Olyroo Aiden O’Neill and a host of youngsters.

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City has the chance to take some revenge in its opening match against Champions Sydney FC, with Rhyan Grant – and his shoulder – expected to be tightly marked.

On the other side of the Yarra, Melbourne Victory will be equally keen to rectify its nightmare 2019/20 campaign. The four-time Champions missed the finals and sacked head coach Marco Kurz after just 11 games.

This new-look Victory side has shown promising glimpses in its Asian Champions League matches so far and have had the opportunity to gel in highly competitive fixtures. There will no doubt be plenty of intrigue awaiting them among fans back in the A-League.

The same can also be said about the Western Sydney Wanderers. After failing to christen Bankwest Stadium with a finals return, expectations will once again be high for the Wanderers.

4. Local coaches dominate

10 of the 12 head coaches this season are locally produced with Carl Robinson the odd one out and the Newcastle Jets yet to announce a head coach.

The pandemic saw several of the league’s international coaches return to their home counties, with Grant Brebner, Warren Moon, Carl Veart and Patrick Kisnorbo all getting the call-up at their respective clubs.

Australian coaches have been high in demand for several seasons and will have a grand opportunity in 2020/21 to make a name for themselves at the professional level.

5. Crowds to return

The A-League is set to become one of the first sports in Australia to welcome back fans to the stands in full capacity.

While dipping attendances have been in a concern in previous seasons, fans will hopefully return to the terraces in their droves and inject the atmosphere which sets the A-League apart.

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The season launch between the Wanderers and Macarthur should be just as exciting off field as it is on it. While many Victorian fans have their fingers crossed the state government will allow for stadia to return to full capacity before the first local Derby.

6. Second division excitement

In 2021 the discussion around a professional second division should dial up. With the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) in constant communication with Football Federation Australia, both parties will be hoping to find some resolution by the end of the year.

With the competition initially intended to kick off by 2022, expect plenty of chatter and news coming through about whether this will – finally – become a reality.

There you have it.

With less than a month left until the first ball is kicked, there is plenty to look forward to heading into the new season. One which promises, like 2020, to be one like no other.

Image credit: Steve Christo

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