Adelaide United's expected improvement under coach Josep Gombau sees them shaping as one of the title favourites for the Hyundai A-League in 2014-15.
In the Spaniard's first season in charge, the Reds impressed with their possession style and finished sixth as they made the finals.
Expectations will undoubtedly be higher in Gombau's second season and, with a relatively settled squad, Adelaide are one of the teams to beat.
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THE BURNING QUESTIONS
Can Gombau turn style into substance?
The coach has called for time to implement his style and, while that is acceptable and understandable, results must follow to justify confidence in his systems. Adelaide are in the FFA Cup quarter-finals and have enjoyed a good pre-season. Finals are an absolute must and silverware would be even better for an improving side.
Could 2014-15 be Awer Mabil's breakout season?
The speedy teenager has impressed in his limited opportunities, which have come mostly off the bench. Mabil must first break into the starting team and, if he does, use his pace and directness to have an impact.
LESSONS LEARNT FROM LAST SEASON
Good things come to those who wait. Adelaide won just one of their opening nine league matches, putting Gombau under serious pressure. However, they turned things around and played some of the most entertaining football in the A-League. The Reds were also the most ill-disciplined team in the competition last season, picking up four red cards. That improved as the season went on, but it can get better.
Adelaide remain in the hunt for the FFA Cup and face Sydney FC in a quarter-final on October 21, days after their round two clash against Melbourne Victory. In a tough start, the Reds travel to Brisbane for their season opener. Adelaide play four of their opening six games at home and they must take advantage and make a good start.
The Reds' contingent of imports gives them a strong midfield and attack. Marcelo Carrusca, Fabio Ferreira, Cirio and Isaias are joined by Pablo Sanchez this season, making them supremely dangerous.
With so much of their focus on attacking and keeping the ball, Adelaide are prone to leaving their beatable defence open.
Adelaide look set to play their usual 4-3-3, but Gombau has also been experimenting with a 3-4-3 in pre-season. It could be a very rare three-man defence in the A-League and could provide the Reds with more protecting in defence, given it is likely to be five at the back when not in possession. Either way, Gombau is willing to take chances and that adds to Adelaide's unpredictability.
Craig Goodwin needed a change and a move to his home state has come at the right time. The left winger, who can play at full-back, struggled to live up to his huge talent while at the Newcastle Jets. Perhaps a switch to Adelaide can lead to an improvement in form and fortunes.
"Gomb-wow! Spanish armada abandons Adelaide"
Adelaide United star Marcelo Carrusca joined Banfield on loan in July 2010 to replace Porto-bound James Rodriguez, the Colombia attacking midfielder who starred at the 2014 World Cup.
Michael Huguenin (Goal Australia editor)
When Josep Gombau joined Adelaide United he made it clear his philosophy would take three years to properly bed down. As the Reds struggled early last term, the Spaniard urged patience and by the end of the season, Gombau's plan seemed to be working out.
Everyone will expect Adelaide to take another step in 2014-15, however, which means qualifying for the finals and probably winning at least one. If United could win the FFA Cup - they are in the quarter-finals - that could take some pressure off Gombau in the league. But having had another pre-season with his squad, the charismatic coach mustn't let the Reds go backwards.
There is a real positive attitude about South Australian football at the moment and it seems justified. Don't be surprised if Adelaide finishes in the top four and go deep into the finals.
John Kosmina (former Socceroo): Reds to finish 7th
Adam Peacock (Fox Sports): Reds to finish 2nd
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