The Sky Blues stormed home after the Asian Cup break last term, with 11 wins from 14 games before the Grand Final, where they stumbled at the final hurdle, going down 3-0 in a tough-to-swallow defeat to old foes Melbourne Victory.
Coach Graham Arnold has insisted he’s not using the Grand Final defeat as ammunition to inspire another title charge, but it’s hard to believe it’s not burning inside the squad.
And for a club who claims to be the biggest in the country, it’s surely unacceptable to have gone five years without silverware. Former A-League championship-winning coach Arnold needs to arrest that slump and win either the premiership or the Grand Final, or ideally both.
Phillip S, long-term Sydney FC member, along with his four-year-old son
As a long-term supporter, what are your expectations for the season ahead?
They were looking good with the re-signing of Milos Dimitrijevic but I was disappointed we couldn't get a like-for-like replacement for Marc Janko. I’m happy with the midfield signings but the defence and strikers is a worry.
What are the lessons to learn from last year?
I think it has to be the home record... hopefully we have learnt to play our best in front of our passionate fans.
Who’s the player most likely to emerge this season in the squad?
I'm hoping to see a strong season from Chris Naumoff. He had a good pre-season and has done well in the English Premier League games.
Other youngsters in pre-season didn't stand out and I was hoping for George Blackwood to fire.
Do you have complete faith in Graham Arnold?
I'm hoping he can bring out the best in players he has coached in past like Zac Anderson and Matt Simon.
He is a great talker and his man management stands out. Hopefully brings in some other strong players in defence and attack, just like he did when he brought in Jacques Faty and Mickael Tavares.
Why they’ll do well
Arnold has employed a method which the players have bought into and it seems to work. The key tenets are patience and interchanging play. The side’s success after the Asian Cup suggests, with a full campaign under Arnold they can genuinely contend.
The Sydney coach’s influence at Allianz Stadium has been immense, reforming the culture inside the club and giving the players belief in their ability to succeed. He’s exactly the kind of figure the Sky Blues needed after a revolving door of coaches. The fact Arnold has won the championship with far less resources at Central Coast bodes well for the club formerly known as Bling FC.
Sydney are extremely good on the road. In fact, the Sky Blues’ return of 34 points from 14 away trips with 33 goals scored was the best in the league last campaign by some margin. They managed to go the term unbeaten on the road and are clearly doing something right.
Why they’ll do badly
On the flipside of their tremendous away form, is their horrendous home form which ranked seventh on the A-League table, with four wins and four draws from 13 matches at Allianz Stadium. It’s hard to put a finger on their failures at home, whether it’s the crowd or the opposition’s tactics, but the alarming fact is they only netted 19 times at Allianz Stadium last season.
There are some concerns about Sydney’s back pairing of Faty and Mat Jurman, with the addition of ex-Mariners defender Anderson intended to add depth. They do appear a weakness, with Sydney’s early post-Asian Cup run including plenty of goals against.
The Sky Blues also have an ageing front line, with marquee signing Filip Holosko, captain Alex Brosque, Shane Smeltz and new recruit Simon all entering veteran status. With Bernie Ibini leaving in the off-season, there appears a lack of pace in attack.
The big questions
Can Holosko replace Janko?
Slovakia international Holosko has very, very big shoes to fill, in both symbolic and literal terms. The exit of Golden Boot winner and marquee man Marc Janko won’t be easy to recover from, after 16 strikes, including goals in seven consecutive matches. Janko’s height and technique led to a specific style of play and Arnold is hoping Holosko’s versatility might suit more, but more than anything the new recruit needs to score goals.
Can Vedran Janjetovic maintain his form?
The Sky Blues number one kept the most clean sheets in the A-League last campaign and had more than a few people calling for him to be included in the Socceroos squad. The 2014-15 season was a breakout year for the 28-year-old, but can he re-produce that form, to provide the foundation for more success?
How much does Grand Final redemption burn?
Arnold and the Sky Blues have played it down, but losing a Grand Final never sits well with a coach or his players, in particular when they feel they didn’t perform at their best when it counted. Sydney must harness that pain to go one better.
As important as Holosko and fellow new signing Milos Ninkovic will be, down the other end of the park is where the concerns are. Senegalese centre half Faty will be a central figure in Sydney’s defensive success, marshaling the troops with his experience and quality.
What they'll be saying come April
Arnie does it again, leading his side to another Grand Final, his fourth as a coach. I’m not going to say if they’ll win it.
Sydney have the squad to make the Grand Final.
Andrew Hoole (Newcastle Jets)
Brandon O'Neill (Perth Glory)
Riley Woodcock (Perth Glory)
Zachary Anderson (Central Coast Mariners)
Milos Ninkovic (Evian)
Filip Holosko (Besiktas)
Matt Simon (Central Coast Mariners)
Alex Mullen (Mars Hill University)
Marc Janko (FC Basel)
Sasa Ognenovski (released)
Peter Triantis (released)
Nick Carle (released)
Corey Gameiro (Melbourne City)
Hagi Gligor (Perth Glory)
Bernie Ibini (Shanghai SIPG)
Nikola Petkovic (Westerlo)
Terry Antonis (PAOK)comments