A-League opening round preview: Can Rudan recreate his magic at Western United?
All you need to know about this week's A-League action, all in one place.
JUMP TO: Can Rudan recreate his Phoenix magic? | Corica's got to make the pieces work | New season, same issues for Perth? | Forget the derby, watch the Roar | Death, taxes and #SokkahTwitter | All eyes on Brillante | Tasty stats to sink your teeth into | ESPN's bold, fearless predictions
The weekend's big questions
Can Mark Rudan transfer his approach to another environment?
It would be fair to say, considering resources and personnel available, Mark Rudan was the best coach in the A-League last season.
It wasn't just the fact Wellington Phoenix made the finals, but the manner in which he coached. There were many instances in which his adjustments affected the course of games, and dictated the tactics of the opposition coach -- including in the Phoenix's elimination final loss to Melbourne Victory.
Different players require a tactical adjustment and now, with Western United, will players have to fit him? Or, in his second season, will Rudan show it can be the other way around?
How will the pieces fit for Sydney?
Sydney FC not only strengthened, relative to how the team played under Steve Corica and Graham Arnold before him, but managed to put one over their two fiercest A-League rivals ... and Melbourne City. Theoretically, ex-City midfielder Luke Brattan will circulate the ball next to Brandon O'Neill, and Kosta Barbarouses has left the Victory to be the new man running off Adam Le Fondre. Then there's former Wanderer Alexander Baumjohann, who will be expected to do what Milos Ninkovic does, just on the right-hand side.
In theory, it all could work, and well. But it might not be smooth sailing either.
Can Corica convince the Sky Blues' new signings to shun some of their natural individualism for the sake of collective functionality?
What of Perth?
Perth Glory's first season under Tony Popovic was ultimately a positive one, despite the penalty-shootout loss to Sydney in the Grand Final. However, the Glory played and approached teams in a certain way, and certain individuals who are no longer there were key in that implementation.
Meanwhile, those who have come in this offseason are not like-for-like, on the surface. The relationship between defence and attack is always important. There is a possibility Perth can be weighed a little too much towards one, at the expense of the other. Can they improve?
The game you're not planning to watch... but should
Perth Glory vs. Brisbane Roar: It's the opening round, but Sunday night fixtures in the A-League are the philosophical opposite of the Sunday night partidazo in Spain. Most of the weekend's attention will be fixed on the Melbourne derby on Saturday and Rudan's return to Wellington with Western United. Which is fair.
However, Perth vs. Brisbane looks to be a worthwhile watch. The reigning minor premiers, with Chris Ikonomidis available to play after being omitted from the Socceroos, have some new faces to integrate and they host a transformed Brisbane side looking to put last year well behind them. Tasty.
One thing that will definitely happen
VAR outrage on #SokkahTwitter: Ever since football's Pandora's Box was opened late in the 2016-17 season, the Video Assistant Referee has provided another vehicle for the funniest and craziest echo chamber in Australian sport to have a hearty moan. Granted, the quality of referees in the A-League has long been an issue. Giving them VAR, by extension, was like Major Kong riding the hydrogen bomb in Dr. Strangelove.
The inevitable nonsense -- which was borne of the nonsensical intent to eliminate human error in a game that exists via human interpretation -- will be inevitably followed by good and bad tweets this weekend. And it will be wonderful. To varying degrees of logic, but wonderful all the same.
Man to watch
Josh Brillante: No joke. It will be truly fascinating to see how this Socceroos candidate fares in this season opener, what is one of Melbourne City's biggest games of the season. Preseason matches were a window into what we could see this term, but it is preseason, so how much can one really take out of it?
Saturday night can provide harder evidence. How Brillante adjusts to a different environment and a tweak in early phases of possession from Erick Mombaerts, compared to the Arnie-ball formula, will be illuminative.
Stats of the weekend
- Sydney FC have kept seven clean sheets on the way to winning their past nine fixtures against Adelaide United in the A-League, while also winning their past six games on the opening weekend.
- Melbourne City have only lost once in the past five matches against Melbourne Victory, but haven't finished with a clean sheet either.
- Wellington scored 12 goals from outside of the penalty area, the most in the competition last season.
- Out of their last 24 away games played, Central Coast have registered only one victory -- a 3-2 win over Newcastle in March this year -- with five draws and 18 losses.
ESPN's bold, reckless predictions
Anything really can happen in round 1 but here goes...
Adelaide United 0-1 Sydney FC: And the goal will probably come through a VAR-assisted penalty. Vintage.
Western Sydney Wanderers 4-0 Central Coast Mariners: One of Markus Babbel's men could even christen Bankwest Stadium with a ripper from 30 metres.
Melbourne Victory-Melbourne City, over 2.5 goals: Chaos will happen. #JustALeagueThings
Wellington Phoenix-Western United: You can guarantee someone's getting sent off.
Perth Glory 0-2 Brisbane Roar: Would really go the draw-no-bet for Brisbane, but it says bold and reckless on the tin!