Hyundai A-League season preview: Sydney FC

The Sky Blues left everyone flailing in their wake last season, winning the Hyundai A-League Premiership / Championship double in record-breaking fashion.

The core of the squad has been retained and coach Graham Arnold has challenged his side to reach even greater heights this season. Will there again be a sky-blue hue to season 13 of the Hyundai A-League?

INS AND OUTS

Ins: Paulo Retre, Alex Cisak, Luke Wilkshire, Chris Zuvela, Adrian Mierzejewski, Anthony Kalik

Outs: Riley Woodcock, Bernie Ibini, Filip Holosko, George Blackwood, Bai Antoniou, George Timotheou, Danny Vukovic, Milos Dimitrijevic

Sydney FC star Adrian Mierzejewski gets a shot away against the Mariners.

 

THE BURNING QUESTIONS

Can Sydney FC improve on near-perfection?

How much of a loss will Danny Vukovic be?

Will Rhyan Grant's season-long injury absence prove problematic?

LESSONS LEARNT FROM LAST YEAR

Lead from the front. The Sky Blues started the Hyundai A-League 2016/17 season with emphatic 4-0 wins over Western Sydney and Central Coast and were never toppled from the summit of the table, eventually claiming the Premier's Plate by an astonishing 17 points.

As the season progressed, the Sky Blues seemed practically invincible as the chasing pack fell further and further behind and lost any true belief they could make up ground on the runaway leaders.

From very early on, opposition teams met Sydney FC with hope rather than expectation of getting anything from the game.

Sydney FC striker Bobo is third in the rating when it comes to strikers in the Hyundai A-League for FIFA 18.

 

ROAD AHEAD

Sydney FC's title defence begins with a Grand Final rematch on Saturday night as they visit Melbourne Victory for a blockbuster Big Blue.

The Sky Blues then welcome Wellington to Allianz Stadium before the season's first Sydney derby at the same venue a week later.

The first month of the campaign is completed with another home game against Perth Glory.

EXPECTED STRENGTHS

Sydney FC were brilliant at both ends of the park last season, scoring more and conceding fewer goals than anyone else, but it's in the middle third where they look to be particularly strong again.

Reigning Johnny Warren Medallist Milos Ninkovic is joined by Polish international Adrian Mierzejewski who already looks to be a superb acquisition.

With Josh Brillante and Brandon O'Neill lending their drive and commitment, the Sky Blues engine-room is the best in the competition.

Milos Ninkovic (Sydney FC)

 

POTENTIAL WEAKNESS

Two of the regular back-five from last season have gone with goalkeeper Danny Vukovic departing for Genk and right-back Rhyan Grant out for the season with injury.

Andrew Redmayne and the freshly arrived Alex Cisak will vie for the 'keepers spot while the experienced Luke Wilkshire looks likely to slot in for Grant.

Whether they can bring the same extremely high standard of performance as their predecessors remains to be seen.

TACTICAL APPROACH

Sydney FC's success last season was built on a rock solid defence which conceded just 13 goals in 29 matches and Graham Arnold will again ask his backline to lay the foundations, with those further forward also playing their part when the side is out of possession.

With Mierzejewski joining Ninkovic, the Sky Blues now have two creative options in midfield which will cause even bigger headaches for opposition sides who had a hard enough time containing just the Serbian last year.

Up top, the departure of Filip Holosko will mean some minor tweaking to tactics and formation, but Brazilian striker Bobo will again lead the line with inspirational skipper Alex Brosque continuing to provide support and goals.

Luke Wilkshire may not get forward as often as Rhyan Grant did last season, so more of Sydney FC's back-to-front attack could originate down the left with Michael Zullo.

Sydney FC fullback Michael Zullo and Melbourne Victory winger Marco Rojas.

 

BREAKOUT STAR

Charles Lokolingoy. The towering striker is yet to debut in the Hyundai A-League but has fine goalscoring pedigree, guiding the Sky Blues to consecutive Foxtel National Youth League finals and earning a Young Socceroos call-up.

He is highly rated by Graham Arnold and with Filip Holosko departing, there will be opportunities for the Congo-born striker to show what he can do in 2017/18.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

The Sky Blues get even better and go back-to-back to win an unprecedented consecutive Premiership / Championship double.

Ninkovic and Mierzejewski become the most potent midfield combination in the history of the Hyundai A-League, the defence remains solid and Bobo wins the Golden Boot.