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A-League Season Preview 2020-21: Predicted XIs, new signings, key players, ones to watch

After an offseason of twists and turns, the A-League is finally set to return on Dec. 27 when expansion-side Macarthur FC and Western Sydney Wanderers clash at Bankwest Stadium.

Perhaps befitting of the chaotic landscape it finds itself in, this season has been positioned as one of change and rebirth. The league is (nominally) going independent this season, is in the final year of its re-negotiated broadcasting deal with Fox Sports, welcomes its 12th team to the competition and will likely see a host of young players take the field in the coming months as a result of salary cap contraction, border restrictions and a packed schedule.

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Despite fears of an almost total player exodus this coming campaign, the league's stronger clubs have been largely able to retain the core of their squads for the coming season, while others have been able to take advantage of the shifting global landscape and Australia's relatively strong handling of the coronavirus pandemic to attract some strong, international talent to these shores. The more cash-poor clubs have experienced somewhat more turnover but with a Domestic Transfer System seemingly on the horizon and expectations lowered around the league, the ability to put youngsters in the shop window may provide a silver lining.

Of course, nothing is ever easy in Australian football, and just when it had appeared that the competition had escaped the grim spectre that was COVID-19 and would be able to stage a season largely (with apologies to Wellington Phoenix) from border closures and crowd limits, the sudden surge of coronavirus cases in Sydney's northern beaches once again threatens the season. It now feels inevitable that, at the very least, the fixture will need to be re-jigged to compensate for a rapidly evolving COVID landscape.

But for now, at least, we've still got football on the horizon.

JUMP TO: Adelaide United | Brisbane Roar | Central Coast Mariners | Macarthur FC | Melbourne City | Melbourne Victory | Newcastle Jets | Perth Glory | Sydney FC | Wellington Phoenix | Western Sydney Wanderers | Western United

Adelaide United

Manager: Carl Veart

Key Ins: Tomi Juric, George Timotheou, James Delianov

Key Outs: Riley McGree, George Blackwood, Kristian Opseth, Paul Izzo, Lachlan Brook, Nikola Mileusnic, James Troisi

Predicted Starting XI: James Delianov, Noah Smith, Michael Jakobsen, Javi Lopez, Ryan Strain, Louis D'Arrigo, Stefan Mauk, Pacifique Niyongabire, Ben Halloran, Al Hassan Toure, Tomi Juric

Key player: Ben Halloran

He may have been overshadowed in the mainstream by Riley McGree last season, but 28-year-old Ben Halloran remains not just one of the best players on the Reds' books, but in the league as a whole. Possessing an innate ability to understand the game's flow and what his teammates need from him -- recognising that at times last season that his side sometimes needed to put their foot on the ball and control the flow rather than going 100mph all the time -- Halloran will be key to his side's efforts moving forward this season. Halloran told ESPN back in November that he was looking forward to taking on more of a leadership role at the club this season.

One to watch: James Delianov

Al Hassan Toure, 20, is an obvious candidate to watch from the Reds this season -- the striker looking to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was his 2019-20 -- but should he win the starter's job, goalkeeper James Delianov is primed to have a breakout year. In a league where opportunities for young keepers to start have been few are far between, the 21-year-old Young Socceroo has the chance to be challenging incumbent Tom Glover for the No. 1 Olyroos shirt by season's end.

What does success look like this season?

We already know what the Reds see as success internally: Director of football Bruce Djite tweeting in October that the club has set final's football as the expectation for this season -- a realistic goal for the club in what will be Carl Veart's first year in charge. However, with the Reds this past offseason being the most aggressive of all A-League clubs when it came to selling players on the international market (and reaping that financial reward), developing the next cohort of young, preferably South Australian players for senior football and eventual sale will also undoubtedly be a goal of the club. A seemingly annual assault on the FFA Cup (or whatever it is called at that point) will also no doubt loom large -- especially with the carrot of Asian Champions League qualification on offer.

Brisbane Roar

Manager: Warren Moon

Key Ins: Joseph Champness, Danny Kim, Riku Danzaki, Masato Kudo

Key Outs: Aiden O'Neill, Mirza Muratovic, Scott Neville, Brad Inman, Aaron Amadi-Holloway

Predicted Starting XI: Jamie Young, Corey Brown, Tom Aldred, Macaulay Gillesphey, Jack Hingert, Danny Kim, Jesse Daley, Scott McDonald, Jay O'Shea, Joseph Champness, Masato Kudo

Key player: Scott McDonald

There are a number of possible explanations for Brisbane's turnaround from a slow start to the campaign in 2019-20, but very few would argue that it didn't have something to do with Scott McDonald's midseason arrival from Western United. Able to conjure moments of creativity and spark, both on and off the ball, McDonald helped mask a laborious and slow "Fowlerball" attack almost as soon as he pulled on the orange and, despite his veteran status, should once again provide one of the league's most effective and intelligent attacking options this coming season.

One to watch: Danny Kim

Brought into the squad for the hub-based run home of the 2019/20 season, NPL QLD standout Danny Kim made the most of his chance at A-League level: looking comfortable starting three of the Roar's four remaining regular-season games as well as their qualifying final against Western United. That Kim was able to slot so easily into coach Warren Moon's system probably shouldn't have come as that big of a surprise given that he coached him at Queensland Lions, the chance to get a preseason in with teammates and further integrate himself into the setup bodes well for a successful encore campaign. Having done the hard yards in NPL Victoria and NPL Queensland before getting his shot after initially failing to make it in the Roar's academy, it's hard not to hope Kim succeeds.

What does success look like this season?

A return to finals football will be the most obvious goal of the Roar this coming season, as will ensuring that the defensive improvements made by former boss Robbie Fowler -- albeit repairs that, as mentioned, came at the expense of much attacking verve -- don't revert back to the lows of 2018-19. Set to compete in this season's Asian Champions League, no doubt a factor in the club's recruitment of Riku Danzaki and Masato Kudo, progression to the group stages proper (or at least avoiding the embarrassment of their previous ACL playoff against Ceres Negros) would also be a plus.

Central Coast Mariners

Manager: Alen Stajcic

Key Ins: Oliver Bozanic, Daniel Bouman, Michal Janota, Stefan Jankovic, Marco Urena

Key Outs: Samuel Silvera, Milan Duric, Tommy Oar, Jordan Murray, Chris Harold, Dylan Ruiz-Diaz, Ziggy Gordon

Predicted Starting XI: Mark Birighitti, Jack Clisby, Ruon Tongyik, Kye Rowles, Stefan Nigro, Gianni Stensness, Oli Bozanic, Josh Nisbet, Danny de Silva, Michal Janota, Marco Urena

Key player: Matt Simon

Many things have and will continue to be written about Matt Simon as an on-field presence, but he still remains one of the Mariners' most committed and influential leaders and, as a born-and-bred Coastie, a champion of the club's role in Gosford. In a year in which the Mariners are expected to struggle, the dressing room will be quite young, and questions still remain over the club's ownership, his ability to serve as a locker room leader -- a role that is set to grow in 2020-21 -- is going to be critically important in keeping the Mariners' dressing room together and prevent an outright mental collapse. Sometimes, that will involve knocking together a few heads, while in others it will be a quiet word away from the others making sure a player is in the right headspace. At other times, it may involve serving as a punching bag for fans and the media, or telling a player to take their lumps themselves. Whatever it is, the PFA Delegate needs to find the right balance.

One to watch: Dan Hall

Indeed, it is looking like it's going to be another tough season in Gosford, but in trying times fans can often find some sort of solace in the hope carried by their young players such as excitement machine Alou Kuol and Josh Nisbet. And in Dan Hall the Mariners might just have another good one. A Queenslander by birth, Hall earned a senior deal with the Mariners this offseason after serving as a standout with the club's academy sides in recent years -- captaining them to an NPL2 NSW crown in 2020 -- and is highly rated by the club's brass.

What does success look like this season?

Much like a number of sides throughout the competition, Central Coast's definition of success in 2020-21 features both on- and off-field dimensions. Call it the soft bigotry of low expectations, but simply avoiding their fourth wooden spoon in a row would constitute a step in the right direction for the Gosford-based side. To do so, though, a number of the club's youngsters will have to step up. Off the field, the club remains up for sale and a resolution of that situation sooner rather than later would definitely be for the best, to put it mildly.

Macathur FC

Manager: Ante Milicic

Key Ins: Expansion side, so all of them

Key Outs: Expansion side, so none of them

Predicted Starting XI: Adam Federici, Ivan Franjic, Aleksandar Jovanovic, Aleksandar Susnjar, James Meredith, Mark Milligan, Benat Etxebarria, Denis Genreau, Markel Susaeta, Tommy Oar, Matt Derbyshire

Key player: Mark Milligan

Mark Milligan is not the same player that he once was but, in the unique world that is an expansion club, his leadership and veteran nouse will be incredibly important to the Bulls dressing room heading into their first season. Luckily, this is something that can be delivered on or off the field. As seen by the raft of departures that occurred at Western United in their first season, the challenges of establishing a club's identity on and off the field can lead to clashes and tension behind the scenes, and that's even before the challenges of staging a season in the shadow of COVID-19 are taken into account. Already holding a close relationship with former Socceroos assistant Ante Milicic, the undisputed Bulls captain will need to strike a fine balance between pushing his side, keeping the mood high and, on occasion, using his status to go in to bat for them to keep things humming of the pitch.

One to watch: Denis Genreau

Given the strong recruitment drive that the Bulls have undertaken ahead of their first season, Denis Genreau might find himself in and out of Milicic's starting XI in the early months of the campaign -- or relegated to the bench behind French import Loic Puyo. Nonetheless, the 21-year-old Olyroo has what it takes to thrive if given a sustained run of games in the expansion clubs midfield (spoiler alert, he does). And with an Olympics on the horizon, he will also be eager to demonstrate his creativity and ability to run games to secure a ticket to Tokyo. Keep an eye on young attacker Moudi Najjar as well.

What does success look like this season?

Traditionally, A-League clubs have performed well in their first season in the competition as of late; Western, Western Sydney Wanderers and Gold Coast United all playing finals. And on paper, the Bulls definitely have a squad that should be expected to, at a minimum, match that accomplishment. But it's also worth noting that the squad that starts the season for Macarthur might not be the same one that ends it: five players from the Western United XI that took on Wellington in round one of the 2019-20 season not with the club by the end of the season. Ultimately, the Bulls' squad could even potentially challenge for the title, but whether that potential can be realised over the course of the season and whether Ante Milicic is able to thrive at club level, remains to be seen.

Melbourne City

Manager: Patrick Kisnorbo

Key Ins: Andrew Nabbout, Ben Garuccio, Marco Tilio, Aiden O'Neill

Key Outs: Harrison Delbridge, Josh Brillante, Denis Genreau, Richard Windbichler

Predicted Starting XI: Tom Glover, Scott Jamieson, Curtis Good, Rostyn Griffiths, Ben Garuccio, Aiden O'Neill, Connor Metcalfe, Adrian Luna, Craig Noone, Andrew Nabbout, Jamie Maclaren

Key player: Jamie Maclaren

Make no bones about it, Melbourne City is going to blow a lot of teams out of the water in 2020-21; their addition of Andrew Nabbout set to take their status as one of the competition's premier Pace'n'Power teams and turn it up to 11. But for such an approach to be successful, they'll need Jamie Maclaren to continue to fire. Comfortable playing off the shoulder of defenders in a manner that his small size would obscure, Maclaren's ability to seize upon half chances -- and create a few of his own through his tireless pressing -- to get City goals they otherwise may struggle to create in more sustained periods of possession is vital.

One to watch: Curtis Good

Those at Melbourne City say that defender Curtis Good needed to be almost completely rebuilt, from both a physical and mental perspective, upon his arrival back in Australia after a tough time in Europe. But now, entering his third season back at AAMI Park, they expect him to become one of, if not the premier A-League defenders in 2020-21. At 27-years-old, Good is ostensibly entering what should be the prime performance years of his career and, with the Socceroos likely to face a significant crunch of games this year, the chance is there for him to add to his loan national team cap.

What does success look like this season?

In short, a title ... that's it (much to captain Scott Jamieson's delight). City has done an admirable job of retaining the core of its squad that lost to Sydney FC in the Grand Final a season ago and, with the club declaring that Patrick Kisnorbo represents a continuation of the Erick Mombaerts formula and the rest of the league comparatively weaker than a season ago, the club is out of excuses as to why it's men's trophy case remains so sparsely populated. Combined with domestic success, the club will finally get its long-sought-after chance to play ACL football in 2020-21 and expectations will be high, both in Melbourne and Manchester, that the club will be able to leave some sort of mark in the competition. Should early season form put either of these goals at risk, especially the former, expect the seat under the City brass to begin to heat up quickly.

Melbourne Victory

Manager: Grant Brebner

Key Ins: Rudy Gestede, Ben Folami, Jacob Butterfield, Callum McManaman, Jake Brimmer, Ryan Shotton

Key Outs: Lawrence Thomas, James Donachie, Tim Hoogland, Ola Toivonen, Migjen Basha

Predicted Starting XI: Matt Acton, Adama Traore, Ryan Shotton, Dylan Ryan, Storm Roux, Jake Brimmer, Jacob Butterfield, Robbie Kruse, Marco Rojas, Callum McManaman, Rudy Gestede

Key player: Robbie Kruse

That injuries continue to waylay Robbie Kruse is most unfortunate, because when he's fit and firing he remains capable of showing why he's one of the best players Australia has produced post-Golden Generation. Victory has assembled a collection of talented individuals up-front this season, but a player like Kruse has the ability to bring this group together and put them into the kind of positions they need to be in to succeed. One only needs to ask Ola Toivonen -- as ESPN's Ante Jukic did -- about how much he enjoyed playing with Kruse to realise just what he brings to this side when healthy. Rudy Gestede, no doubt, will be keen to experience this himself.

One to watch: Ben Folami

For a player that's made all of nine appearances at senior level, Ben Folami certainly generated a lot of hype when his arrival on-loan from Ipswich Town was announced by Victory. The Olyroo, by virtue of Victory's strong offseason recruitment on the offensive end, is going to have to scratch and claw for every opportunity that comes his way this coming season but, if he's going to justify the excitement surrounding his future, he's going to need to find a way to break through and play consistent minutes. His flashy goal against Chiangrai United in the recently completed Asian Champions League was a good start.

What does success look like this season?

Based upon their 2019-20 season and the talent that has left the club, a neutral club in Victory's position would likely consider simply challenging for finals football as a platform to build upon. Victory, though, doesn't consider themselves to be "just" another A-League club. Thus, pressure will be on Grant Brebner to quickly turn the club's fortunes around and prevent noisy neighbours City and Western United from placing them in the shade for the second season in a row. While the attacking talent brought in, combined with holdovers Marco Rojas and Kruse, will likely be enough to ensure the club can score goals by virtue of talent alone, a tightening of the defence and fluidity in the midifield will be crucial in returning the club to anything close to something resembling its former glory.

Newcastle Jets

Manager: Craig Deans (Interim)

Key Ins: Ramy Najjarine, Valentino Yuel, James Donachie, Jack Duncan

Key Outs: Bernie Ibini, Dimitri Petratos, Glen Moss, Matt Millar, Abdiel Arroyo, Nick Fitzgerald, Joey Champness ... and James Donachie

Predicted Starting XI: Jack Duncan, Connor O'Toole, Nigel Boogard, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Jason Hoffman, Steven Ugarković, Ben Kantarovski, Ramy Najjarine, Thurgate, Valentino Yuel, Roy O'Donovan

Key player: Steven Ugarkovic

Regular readers of ESPN's A-League coverage will have no doubts as to the rare quality -- especially in an A-League context -- that Steven Ugarkovic brings to the field. The 26-year-old's ability to see the game unfolding, know where he needs to be at all times and facilitate the work of his teammates are invaluable attributes for a midfielder to possess and his efforts in 2020-21 will be vital if the Jets are to take anything from this season -- which makes his flirtation with the exit a very alarming one for the Jets. Though how much of it was down to the influence of now-exited coach Carl Robinson, his midfield partnership with Angus Thurgate was one of the highlights of the league's hub-based conclusion to the 2019-20 season, and will be worth keeping an eye on in the season to come to see if the magic has lingered.

One to watch: Ramy Najjarine

Swapping the light blue of Melbourne City for the dark blue of the Jets, on-loan winger Ramy Najjarine has the potential to provide a bright light in what has been an otherwise dark time for the Jets. Needing a change of scenery after a few, frustrating years on the periphery at AAMI Park, the reduced pressure to be found in the Hunter could be just what the talented 20-year-old needs to unlock the creativity, flair and eye for goal that saw childhood friend Daniel Arzani declare him as a better player than himself.

What does success look like this season?

Unfortunately, the Jets are the quintessential example of a club that's on-field goals this year that has been largely overshadowed by the maladies that have befallen them off it. Bereft of any financial support from absent owner Martin Lee in over 12 months, the club is attempting to find new ownership heading into the season, meaning that the club has been unable to source a full-time replacement for departed coach Carl Robinson and will likely have to be bankrolled by other A-League clubs for at least the short-term. In such an environment of chaos and upheaval, it's difficult to nail down fair expectations for the Hunter-based club this season, although avoiding the wooden spoon and finishing above F3 Derby rivals Central Coast would be a boost.

Perth Glory

Manager: Richard Garcia

Key Ins: Andy Keogh, Nick Sullivan, Brandon Wilson, Darryl Lachman, Kosuke Ota, Jonathan Aspropotamitis

Key Outs: Tomislav Mrcela, Jacob Tratt, Jake Brimmer, Ivan Franjic, Joel Chianese

Predicted Starting XI: Liam Reddy, Kosuke Ota, Jonathan Aspropotamitis, Darryl Lachman, Dane Ingham, Neil Kilkenny, Brandon Wilson, Diego Castro, Chris Ikonomidis, Bruno Fornaroli, Andy Keogh

Key player: Diego Castro

That Diego Castro has returned to the Glory for 2020-21 is a bit of a surprise, given that he opted out of playing in the hub at the end of 2019-20 and that some of the barbs that were directed his way in the aftermath weren't exactly subtle. Nonetheless, that the veteran Spaniard has made his way to HBF Park for another season is a massive boost for the club; whose almost paralysis in creativity going forward without him in hub life was palpable. Age, of course, is liable to catch up with the 38-year-old at any second, and already has dulled some of his edges, but new coach Richard Garcia will be hoping there is life in the old workhorse yet as he and Bruno Fornaroli seek to bring some spice to the Glory's attack.

One to watch: Chris Ikonomidis

When Chris Ikonomidis went down with an ACL injury that ruled him out for the rest of the 2019-20 campaign as well as a fair chunk of this one, it wasn't just Perth fans that suffered a blow -- but everyone that enjoys watching good players do what they do best. The former Lazio man, when he's fit and firing, is one of the A-League's best attackers and was well worth the place in the Socceroos hierarchy he had begun to eke out prior to his injury. Here's hoping that when he does make his eventual return he picks up exactly where he left off.

What does success look like this season?

Having looked at one stage this offseason like they may struggle to even field a team, things are looking slightly better for the West Australians on the eve of the new campaign: Fornaroli, Castro and Ikonomidis (eventually) all set to return and Andy Keogh, Darryl Lachman, and Kosuke Ota have been added. Nonetheless, the departure of Tony Popovic for Greece means that expectations must be tempered for the Glory heading into 2020-21. Seeking to replace one of the most well-credentialed coaches in league history, who took Glory to a Grand Final and semifinal in his two years out west, new boss Richard Garcia's primary responsibility should be to ensure that the club doesn't take too large of a step back in his first season at the club -- finals football and a decent FFA Cup run a good result.

Sydney FC

Manager: Steve Corica

Key Ins: None

Key Outs: Adam Le Fondre, Marco Tilio, Ryan Teague

Predicted Starting XI: Andrew Redmayne, Joel King, Alex Wilkinson, Ryan McGowan, Rhyan Grant, Luke Brattan, Anthony Caceres, Milos Ninkovic, Alex Baumjohann, Kosta Barbarouses, Trent Buhagiar

Key player: Milos Ninkovic

I shouldn't have to explain it... but alright. Despite Milos Ninkovic's rapidly advancing age, Sydney's scintillating Serbian supremo continues to be a creative force for his side, able to obscure the limits his 35-year-old frame has placed on him with a razor-sharp mind and innate understanding of how the game operates. As was demonstrated as recently as their Asian Champions League campaign, so much of what Sydney does going forward is dependent on the work that Ninkovic does on and off the ball, and his ability to serve as a creative safety valve is also of critical importance.

One to watch: Trent Buhagiar

With the Harboursiders, at time of writing, choosing not to sign extra striking cover, Trent Buhagiar looms as the heir apparent for former Golden Boot winner Adam Le Fondre at the tip of the five-time A-League champions' spear. Blessed with pace to burn and highly rated by many, including former Sydney talisman Alex Brosque, the 22-year-olds ability to present a threat against A-League defences that haven't spent the past 75 minutes running around before his substitute introduction is one of the biggest questions hanging over Steve Corica's side.

What does success look like this season?

The defending A-, Y-, and E-League champions as well as W-League runners up, the current iteration of Sydney FC has reached the point where success can only be measured by one criterion: trophies. Such has been the dominance of the Harboursiders in recent years that anything less than a title will feel like a bit of a letdown for their fans in 2020-21, especially if the blow isn't cushioned by a premiership or FFA Cup. Of course, for all Sydney's dominance in recent years, it's been delivered using a relatively settled "Arnieball" formula and some level of innovation and evolution by Corica, especially if it bears greater fruit in the Champions League, would be nice to see.

Wellington Phoenix

Manager: Ufuk Talay

Key Ins: Mirza Muratovic, Joshua Laws, Clayton Lewis, James McGarry, Tomer Hemed

Key Outs: Steven Taylor, Gary Hooper, Liberato Cacace, Matti Steinmann

Predicted Starting XI: Stefan Marinovic, James McGarry, Luke Devere, Joshua Laws, Louis Fenton, Cam Devlin, Alex Rufer, Reno Piscopo, Ulises Davila, David Ball, Tomer Hemed

Key player: Ulises Davila

When the 'Nix lost reigning Johnny Warren Medalist Roy Krishna to India and a host of others, including their coach, to Western United, the Kiwi clubs ability to continue the magic that was their 2018-19 revival looked grim. Coach Ufuk Talay and his side, though, shocked many by absorbing the blows and kept right on rolling, and a large part of that was due to the play of Mexican attacker Ulises Davila. At one point the odds-on favourite for Johnny himself in 2019-20, Davila raised some eyebrows when he bucked the trend of foreigners leaving the A-League this offseason by returning to the (Wollongong) Phoenix, and his influence in the attacking third will again be vital.

One to watch: Cameron Devlin

Cameron Devlin's gritty determination and enthusiasm for the game instantly won the diminutive midfielder a legion of fans in 2019-20, but those attributes shouldn't obscure what was an excellent and highly synergistic partnership between himself and midfielder partner Matti Steinmann. With the German now having departed for Indian Super League, how Devlin will back up his breakout 2019-20 without his partner in crime -- especially with an Olympic Games on the horizon -- will prove fascinating watching.

What does success look like this season?

While the club may have lost a sizable chunk of quality this recent offseason, the return of Talay means that, for the first time since 2016-17, the Nix won't be breaking in a new coach this coming campaign. That continuity in approach will be important for the Kiwi side who, as well as welcoming a number of fresh faces, will also be based out of Wollongong until a possible bubble between their homeland and Australia can be established. The loss of Steven Taylor and his shithousery, Liberato Cacace and Steinmann loom large, but Talay's side played some of the best football in the A-League last season and, with the club hardly alone in losing players this offseason, a return to finals football should be the least of the club's expectations.

Western Sydney Wanderers

Manager: Carl Robinson

Key Ins: James Troisi, Bernie Ibini, Ziggy Gordon, Daniel Margush, Graham Dorrans

Key Outs: Matthew Jurman, Mitch Duke, Pirmin Schwegler, Radi Majewski

Predicted Starting XI: Daniel Marguš, Tate Russell, Dylan McGowan, Tass Mourdoukoutas, Patrick Ziegler, Daniel Georgievski, Graham Dorrans, Keanu Baccus, James Troisi, Bernie Ibini, Simon Cox

Key player: James Troisi

After registering 14 goals and two assists while captaining the club, Mitch Duke's departure for the riches of the Middle East this offseason has left a gaping hole of production in the Wanderers' attack that new coach Carl Robinson will need to fill. To do so, James Troisi -- getting set to pull on his 10th different shirt in 10 years -- was brought in from Adelaide United just weeks out from the season, angering the South Australian club, and, given that Robinson has long been a fan of the attacker, it's logical to think that the he was brought in with distinct plans of production in mind. With the 32-year-old an inconsistent performer in recent years and sometimes just as liable to put a ball into row Z rather than the net, it's a plan that represents a gamble on the Wanderers' part, one on which their 2020-21 season may rest upon.

One to watch: Tass Mourdoukoutas

Tass Mourdoukoutas, 21, has been largely relegated to the periphery of the Wanderers set up in the past two seasons, but this campaign shapes as perhaps his best chance of getting consistent game time. Already a Wanderers fan favourite despite his dearth of minutes, the former Sydney Olympic youngster has been enjoying the style of game that Robinson has been looking to institute this offseason and, though he's not the most physically dominant of defenders the A-League has seen, will be hoping that he can turn a strong and consistent run of games into a place in Graham Arnold's side at the Tokyo Olympics.

What does success look like this season?

We might as well change their name to Western Sydney Billie Eilish's, because the Wanderers have well and truly been cast as the bad guys of 2020-21. First demonstrated through their poaching of Robinson from Newcastle and then the capture of Troisi, Ziggy Gordon and Bernie Ibini, the Wanderers have been ruthless in exploiting the loopholes, weaknesses and exploits in A-League regulations in recent weeks as they seek to return to finals football for the first time since 2016-17. The club is insistent that they are one of the biggest in Australia -- despite not doing much in recent years to provide any evidence towards that theory -- so anything less than that mark will be a let-down, even if issues in defence and midfield mean that it may prove a bit of a slog.

Western United

Manager: Mark Rudan

Key Ins: Lachlan Wales, Victor Sanchez

Key Outs: Oskar Dillon, Jonathan Aspropotamitis, James Delianov

Predicted Starting XI: Filip Kurto, Connor Pain, Aaron Calver, Andrew Durante, Tomoki Imai, Josh Rison, Steven Lustica, Victor Sanchez, Alessandro Diamanti, Lachlan Wales, Besart Berisha

Key player: Alessandro Diamanti

To say Alessandro Diamanti's transition to life in the A-League has been anything other than highly successful is to engage in willing dishonesty. The reigning Johnny Warren Medalist possesses all the tricks and creative flourishes that make him a joy to watch on the field, while his affable and infectious personality off it has made him a favourite around the league. Sometimes, indeed, Western United's identity as a club seems to be less a team of Victoria's West and more the side that employs Diamanti. Of course, the Italian's dare does occasionally come at a price, as he will keep trying things when they're not working and does require pretty constant defensive coverage -- forcing coach Mark Rudan to balance his attacker's influence with the team's structure. Nonetheless, given his skill, it's a good problem to have.

One to watch: Dylan Pierias

In truth, the most pressing future prospect for United isn't a player at all -- some form of concrete information on their proposed stadium's completion or even break ground date desperately needed in coming months. On the field, though, the progress of second-year wing-back Dylan Pierias is worth watching. Far, far more suited to a back five than a four, to the extent that Rudan opted for Seb Pasquali at right-back when he employed the latter against Melbourne City, Pierias' bread and butter is bombing up the touchline, using his pace to give defenders fits and looking to cut in and score -- as he has done a number of times this preseason. All the physical tools are there for the youngster -- who born-and-bred in Melbourne's West has been pushed hard by the club's promotion -- to contribute at A-League level, he just needs to put it together upstairs.

What does success look like this season?

United performed admirably in their first year in the A-League, making a semifinal in which they looked the better value for much of the contest before running out of legs. Having retained much of the squad that finished that game -- a contrast to the upheaval that occurred in the club during the season itself -- Western United should, at least, play finals football in 2020-21 and, with Rudan one of the more tactically adept coaches in the competition should be considered as dark horses for silverware. A successful re-induction of Max Burgess, which United officials remain hopeful of facilitating, would go a long way in helping achieve this goal.