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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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A-League Season 2011-12 Preview

The most highly-anticipated A-League season to date will commence this Saturday and ESPNsoccernet has taken a look at each club's chances as they vie for Australian club football's ultimate prize.

Adelaide United:

Last season: 3rd

Ins: Zenon Caravella (Gold Coast United), Spase Dilevski (Universitatea Craiova), Bruce Djite (Gold Coast United), Osama Malik (North Queensland Fury), Jon McKain (Al-Nasr), Dario Vidosic (Nurnberg), Evgeniy Levchenko (Willem II)

Outs: Robert Cornthwaite (Chunnam), Iain Fyfe (Busan I'Park), Travis Dodd (Perth Glory), Lucas Pantelis (Wellington), Adam Hughes (Perth Glory), Matthew Leckie (Borussia Monchengladbach), Marcos Flores (Henan Jianye)

Key player: Dario Vidosic. The Socceroo has been lured home from Nurnberg in a big coup for the South Australians. Vidosic will provide an excellent outlet in attack, and alongside Sergio van Dijk and Bruce Djite, the trio should yield plenty of goals.

Verdict: So often, plans to replace quality players in like-for-like fashion are doomed to fail. Reds boss Rini Coolen has opted for a new tack when dealing with the departure of reigning Player of the Season Marcos Flores. Coolen has looked to create a more versatile, mobile midfield with the addition of Vidosic and Zenon Caravella. Adelaide ended last season in a terrible run of form, but their strong recruitment in the off-season has no doubt steadied the ship and they seem bound for a top four finish.

Brisbane Roar:

Last season: 1st

Ins: Sayed Adnan (Al-Khor), Besart Berisha (Arminia Bielefeld), Issey Nakajima-Farran (AC Horsens), Kofi Danning (Sydney FC), Matthew Jurman (Sydney FC), Jack Hingert (Dandenong Thunder)

Outs: Matt McKay (Rangers), Jean Carlos Solorzano (Melbourne Victory), Kosta Barbarouses (FC Alania Vladikavkaz), Luke DeVere (Gyeongnam FC)

Key player: Thomas Broich. The loss of skipper Matt McKay to Scottish giants Rangers will place more responsibility on the German, but if his performances last season are an indication, he will relish the opportunity. A more central attacking role beckons for Broich, so he will need to make sure the goals keep ticking over in addition to his assists.

Verdict: In the A-League's six-year history, no champions have yet managed to successfully defend their title. It's a sobering thought, but one which Brisbane boss Ange Postecolglou will use to motivate his charges this campaign. The spine of the team will be key, with McKay, Luke DeVere, Kosta Barbarouses and Jean Carlos Solorzano all now gone. There is enough quality remaining, though, to see a return to the finals, but the ultimate success of the team could hinge on how quickly internationals Sayed Adnan, Besart Berisha and Issey Nakajima-Farran adapt to life in the A-League.

Central Coast Mariners:

Last season: 2nd

Ins: Michael Baird (Perth Glory), Troy Hearfield (Wellington Phoenix), Stuart Musialik (Sydney FC), Justin Pasfield (North Queensland Fury), Adriano Pellegrino (Perth Glory), Brad McDonald (North Queensland Fury)

Out: Jess Vanstrattan (released), Patricio Perez (Atletico All Boys)

Key player: Mustafa Amini. No doubt one of the most talented No. 10's Australia has produced for some time, Amini secured a move to Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund in the off-season, and has subsequently been loaned back to the Mariners. Patricio Perez's return to Argentina, in the meantime, will result in more game time and responsibility for the 18-year-old. The question will be, is his mind already on his new German home?

Verdict: The Mariners have steadily strengthened an already impressive squad, and boast fantastic depth ahead of the new season. Suspensions, injuries and players on Olympic qualifying duty for Australia will of course have some impact, but Graham Arnold has ensured the squad has cover in every position. An astute manager, Arnold certainly has the capability of guiding a squad this deep into the finals for another tilt at the championship.

Gold Coast United:

Last season: 4th

Ins: Paul Beekmans (Cambuur), Peter Jungschlager (De Graafschap), Dylan McGowan (Loan - Hearts), Ante Rozic (Arka Gdynia), Ambesager Yosief (Western Strikers), Samuel Tesfagabr (Western Strikers), Jake Barker-Daish (AIS), Chris Harold (Youth team), Chris Broadfoot (Youth team), Daniel Severino (Sydney Olympic), Zach Anderson (Youth team), Alex Smith (Sydney Olympic), Maceo Rigters (Willem II), Dylan MacAllister (Breidablik)

Outs: Steve Pantelidis (Bintang Medan), Daniel Piorkowski (Released), Dino Djulbic (Shaanxi Chanba), Zenon Caravella (Adelaide United), Jason Culina (Newcastle Jets), Bruce Djite (Adelaide United), Bas Van Den Brink (Perth Glory), Matt Osman (Parramatta FC), Andrew Barisic (Persebaya), Scott Higgins (Retired), Steve Fitzsimmons (Released), John Curtis (Released), Peter Perchtold (Released), Anderson (Released), Shane Smeltz (Perth Glory)

Key player: Michael Thwaite. In a club with such a high turnover of playing staff, skipper Thwaite will need to be a steadying influence on the squad. The 28-year-old will also be required to guide the club's young newcomers through the highs and lows of professional football.

Verdict: Stability has apparently been bypassed on the sunshine strip, with coach Miron Bleiberg releasing the vast majority of the club's recognised players in preference for a youthful squad. The overhaul in personnel has caused many to question the very future of the club beyond this season, a concern that will no doubt grow should the team not start well. A team full of hungry youngsters could surprise, and their Dutch recruits Paul Beekmans, Peter Jungschlager and Maceo Rigters will certainly provide interest, but the squad as a whole will have to overcome some serious upheaval in order to succeed.

Melbourne Heart:

Last season: 8th

Ins: Mate Dugandzic (Melbourne Victory), Curtis Good (AIS), David Williams (North Queensland Fury), Fred (DC United), Maycon (Nova Iguacu), Jonathan Germano (Estudiantes)

Outs: Michael Beauchamp (Sydney FC), Gerald Sibon (Released), John Aloisi (Retired), Josip Skoko (Retired), Dean Heffernan (Liaoning), Peter Zois (Oakleigh)

Key player: Fred. A surprise choice as captain, Fred has a reputation for being one of the A-League's finest imports after a stellar 2006-07 season with cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory. A brief stint in the MLS with Philadelphia Union and DC United followed, but fans around Australia will be hoping he can reproduce his Victory form in the red half of the Victorian capital.

Verdict: John van't Schip is under pressure to guide his team into the finals in his second year in charge of this fledgling club, and the Dutch tactician has seemingly recruited intelligently. In addition to Fred, the Heart will look to the likes of dynamic youngsters David Williams and Mate Dugandzic to provide impetus in attack - a move clearly designed to re-energise a side formerly led by veterans Gerald Sibon, John Aloisi and Josip Skoko.

Melbourne Victory:

Last season: 5th

Ins: Tando Velaphi (Perth Glory), Isaka Cernak (North Queensland Fury), Jean-Carlos Solorzano (loan Alajuelense via Brisbane Roar), Marco Rojas (Wellington Phoenix), Harry Kewell (Galatasaray), Fabio Alves Macedo (Volta Redonda), Lawrence Thomas (Sheffield United), Ante Covic (Elfsborg)

Outs: Ricardinho (Parana), Mate Dugandzic (Melbourne Heart), Surat Sukha (Buriram), Marvin Angulo (Herediano), Sebastian Mattei (Released), Geoff Kellaway (Released), Evan Berger (Perth Glory), Robbie Kruse (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Kevin Muscat (Retired), Michael Petkovic (Retired).

Key player: Harry Kewell. Does anything more need to be said? All eyes will be on Australian football's poster boy throughout the season, and the former Leeds and Liverpool front-man knows his every move will be under intense scrutiny. His ability to overcome a reputation for being injury prone and prove his worth in a competition which strictly imposes a salary cap, will go a long way towards determining the success of both the A-League and the Victory this season.

Verdict: Perhaps the greatest challenge for Melbourne boss Mehmet Durakovic will be keeping his fleet of attacking weapons content during the season. Kewell, Archie Thompson, Danny Allsopp, Carlos Hernandez, Jean Carlos Solorzano and Marco Rojas are not accustomed to spending extended time on the bench. If Durakovic does get the balance right, though, the Victory could simply have too much fire power for the rest of the league.

Newcastle Jets:

Last season: 7th

Ins: Tiago Calvano (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Byun Sung-Hwan (Sydney FC), Chris Payne (North Queensland Fury), Mario Simic (Youth team), Sam Gallaway (Youth team), James Virgili (Youth team), Jason Culina - decision pending (Gold Coast United)

Outs: Adam D'Apuzzo (APIA Leichhardt), Zhang Shuo (Shenzhen), Sasho Petrovski (South Coast Wolves), Sean Rooney (Released), Michael Bridges (Retired), Marcello Fiorentini (Released), Neil Young (Perth Glory), Brodie Mooy (Parramatta FC), Kaz Patafta (Released)

Key player: Nikolai Topor-Stanley. His partnership with new Brazilian central defender Tiago Calvano could have a large bearing on the Jets' season. Topor-Stanley's defensive awareness, athleticism and presence behind the likes of Kasey Wehrman, Jobe Wheelhouse and Ben Kantarovski will make Newcastle a difficult team to break down.

Verdict: The astonishing last-minute sacking of coach Branko Culina, along with the potential axing of his son, marquee signing Jason Culina, before a ball has been kicked is no doubt a huge blow to the Jets' aspirations. However, a strong team spirit in the dressing room, along with a solid defensive unit, means Newcastle will be no pushovers. Look for Ben Kantarovski in particular to now shine over the next 12 months.

Perth Glory:

Last season: 10th

Ins: Travis Dodd (Adelaide United), Shane Smeltz (Gold Coast United), Liam Miller (Hibernian), Bas Van Den Brink (Busan), Danny Vukovic (Wellington Phoenix), Evan Berger (Melbourne Victory), Adam Hughes (Adelaide United), Neil Young (Newcastle Jets), Andrezinho (Consadole Sapporo), Dean Heffernan (Melbourne Heart), Billy Mehmet (St Mirren), Josh Risdon (Youth team), Adam Taggart (Youth team), Jesse Makarounas (AIS)

Outs: Tando Velaphi (Melbourne Victory), Jamie Coyne (Sydney FC), Adriano Pellegrino (Central Coast Mariners), Robbie Fowler (Muangthong United), Andy Todd (Oldham), Andrija Jukic (Bogar Raya), Brent Griffiths (Stirling Lions), Branko Jelic (Released), Howard Fondyke (Released), Alex Pearson (Released), Naum Sekulovski (Released), Dean Heffernan (Liaoning)

Key player: Shane Smeltz. Perth have recruited some big names, but their success as a collective will likely revolve around their ability to give good service to one of the league's most consistent goalscorers. Smeltz can turn even the most ordinary performance into three points for his team, such is the level of his finishing.

Verdict: A team with huge potential and an even greater home advantage. The West Australians have arguably underperformed in every season since the inception of the A-League, but a potent blend of youth and experience could see the Glory finally pushing for honours. Former Manchester United midfielder Liam Miller playing alongside the likes of Smeltz and Travis Dodd is a tantalising prospect.

Sydney FC:

Last season: 9th

Ins: Jamie Coyne (Perth Glory), Pascal Bosschaart (ADO Den Haag), Michael Beauchamp (Melbourne Heart), Karol Kisel (Slavia Prague), Brett Emerton (Blackburn Rovers), Dimi Petratos (Youth team), Joel Chianese (Youth team), Nathan Sherlock (Youth team)

Outs: Stephan Keller (Released), Hayden Foxe (Retired), Brendan Gan (Released), Stuart Musialik (Central Coast Mariners), Kofi Danning (Brisbane Roar), Matt Jurman (Brisbane Roar), Byun Sung-Hwan (Newcastle Jets), Anthony Golec (Released)

Key player: Brett Emerton. It's not every day a player decides to quit the Premier League in order to pursue a contract in the A-League, particularly if that player is receiving regular game time. Which is why the signing of Emerton is such an important one for the club in terms of off-field presence in Australia's largest city. From a playing perspective, Sydney desperately lacked width and pace last season, a problem Emerton's athleticism and commitment will almost immediately solve.

Verdict: The Sydneysiders will be hoping to build a strong defensive platform with the addition of Michael Beauchamp and Dutchman Pascal Bosschaart. In Emerton and Nicky Carle they will also have plenty of attacking flair, and great delivery into the penalty box. The question for Sydney will be, where are the goals going to come from? Mark Bridge, Bruno Cazarine and Juho Makela will need to hit the target on a much more regular basis to turn the club into title contenders.

Wellington Phoenix:

Last season: 6th

Ins: Niko Tsattalios (Sutherland), Jimmy Downey (Sparta Rotterdam), Dani Sanchez (Inverness), Tony Warner (Tranmere), Lucas Pantelis (Adelaide United), Brent Griffiths (Stirling Lions)

Outs: Nick Ward (Released), Diego Walsh (Charleston Battery), Oscar Cornejo (Santa Rosa), James Musa (Released), Troy Hearfield (Central Coast Mariners), Jade North (FC Tokyo), Danny Vukovic (Perth Glory), Reece Crowther (Released), Dylan MacAllister (Gold Coast United), Marco Rojas (Melbourne Victory)

Key player: Paul Ifill. One of the A-League's best imports in its short history, the Barbados international has remained with the club during a turbulent off-season. The loss of Lucas Pantelis providing the big striker with service from the left is a bitter blow, but does provide Niko Tsattalios with an opportunity to fill that role.

Verdict: New owners and a subsequent sense of stability have given the Phoenix some cause for hope prior to the start of the season. In Ifill they have a quality striker, while Andrew Durante will no doubt offer strong leadership at the back. However, a paper-thin squad will need to be added to if they are to make their third consecutive finals appearance.

• Follow me on Twitter at @RobBrooksESPN

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