Isuzu UTE A-League R1 Preview: Coach’s ‘dangerous’ warning puts league on notice

Take a look at some of the huge match-ups across the weekend as Isuzu UTE A-League football returns for a brand new season.

Round One of the Isuzu UTE A-League is upon us! Ahead of the action getting underway, previews all six of the contests.



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Friday, 7:45pm AEDT: Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners

Adelaide United head coach Carl Veart has fired an early warning shot to the rest of the competition after warning that teenage sensation Nestory Irankunda will pose even more of a threat in 2023-24.

Irankunda is yet to start a match in the A-League Men, yet the 17-year-old talent has already scored eight goals before his 18th birthday – a record in the competition.

Named among The Guardian’s Next Generation 2023, a prestigious annual list of 60 of the best young talents in world football, he has also been linked with a move to German powerhouse Bayern Munich.

Ahead of Friday night’s opener against defending champions Central Coast Mariners, Veart acknowledged the Reds are weighing up whether to start Irankunda as they adapt to life without Craig Goodwin after his move to Al Wehda in Saudi Arabia.

“Nestor has worked extremely hard in the preseason,” said Veart, who is sticking to his philosophy of giving young players opportunities. “I think this has been his third pre-season with the elite squad so in that time, he’s developed more physically.

“You’ll see that this year, he will be a lot more dangerous this year than what he was last year released.

“He’ll definitely be in the mix to start (games). It’s a question whether we go that way, or we ease him back in and playing off the bench.”

With captain and reigning Johnny Warren Medallist Goodwin no longer at Coopers Stadium, this will be a new-look Adelaide, both on paper and how they play on the field.

“The key things that we’ve spoken about since day one of pre-season is the changes that we’ve made to our playing style,” Veart said. “I’m sure you’ll pick them out (on Friday).

“You know, we’re very reliant on playing through Craig (Goodwin) last year, and from preseason, we started trying to find other solutions for that. And, just as well, because Craig moved on. So we’re excited with the way that we’re going to play.

“We’ve been working on our defence for a long time, because you know, there’s no secret that we conceded far too many goals (last season). And so we’ve been trying to make it more collectively as a team to defend a lot better and I think we’ve succeeded on that so far pre-season.”

There is a new manager at the helm of the Mariners – Englishman Mark Jackson after title-winning boss Nick Montgomery’s move to Scottish Premiership side Hibernian.

Having lost the likes of Sam Silvera, Nectarios Triantis and Jason Cummings in the off-season, Jackson has taken over a squad which looks remarkably different to that which won last season’s Championship.

However the Englishman believes the additions of Alou Kuol, Angel Torres and others made by the club will undoubtedly suit the way he likes to work.

“I think we’ll be one of the youngest teams in the league so that’s good for me. As a manager I like that, that’s kind of my experience and my background working with young players,” he said.

“I’m excited. It’s a young team, we know that, we know there will be mistakes with young players but what I’ve seen so far is the willingness to learn from the group has been at a really high level.”

Opta stat: Central Coast Mariners have won their last four consecutive A-League Men games against Adelaide United by a combined score of 12-2, including a 2-0 win in their most recent encounter (20 May 2023).


Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners
Friday, October 20 2023
Coopers Stadium
Kick-off: 7:45pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+

Saturday, 3:30pm AEDT: Macarthur FC v Brisbane Roar

Brisbane Roar have the chance to achieve a seven-year first when they visit Macarthur FC on Saturday afternoon.

The Roar have impressed in pre-season under new coach Ross Aloisi, who has implemented a more attacking style of play, while giving opportunities to local young talent.

It coincided with a run to the Australia Cup final but as they enter the new league campaign, Brisbane have not started a season with a win since a 3-1 victory over Western Sydney Wanderers in 2015-16. The Roar are winless in their seven such fixtures since then (D4 L3) and have not scored a goal across the first halves in that span.

In contrast, Macarthur have not lost their first match in each of their previous three seasons (W1 D2). This will be the first time the Bulls begin a campaign at Campbelltown Stadium.

They will be hoping it results in a win as Mile Sterjovski’s Macarthur aim to bounce back from their bottom-placed finish in 2022-23.

Opta stat: Macarthur FC are unbeaten in their last three A-League Men games against Brisbane Roar (W2 D1), including wins in each of their last two games against the Roar at Campbelltown Stadium.


Macarthur FC v Brisbane Roar
Saturday, October 21 2023
Campbelltown Stadium
Kick-off: 3:30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+

Saturday, 5:30pm AEDT: Melbourne City v Western United

This is not only a battle between two Victorian rivals, but a battle between two new-look teams.

Three-time reigning premiers Melbourne City have overhauled their squad with 12 new signings after losing last season’s Grand Final 6-1, while Western United have also been busy in the off-season.

John Aloisi’s side has gone through a revamp, having missed out on the top six in 2022-23. They are younger and quicker thanks to a mix of youth and experience.

Matthew Grimaldi and Oliver Lavale have been promoted to the senior squad, while Kane Vidmar and Angus Thurgate have also arrived after Aleksandar Prijovic, Leo Lacroix and Jamie Young left. Then throw Brazilian star Daniel Penha into the mix, with 21-time Socceroos forward Nikita Rukavytsya to complement Olyroos sensation Noah Botic, and Japanese attacker Riku Danzaki.

Aloisi said Western will be a different prospect in 2023-24.

“We have more legs and we will use that,” he told reporters. “Sometimes you get given players because you have signed for a club and they’re already there, and you have to adjust to what your playing style will be.

“Now that we have players with legs, we will be very dynamic. We’re exciting going forward, we can press for longer periods and put the opposition under pressure.

“We have really good quality going forward. We have a number of new players who give us energy in the team.”

Opta stat: Melbourne City have not begun an A-League Men season with a loss since a 3-2 defeat against Newcastle Jets in the 2011-12 campaign; they are undefeated in their 11 such fixtures since then (W7 D4) and have won each of their last three season opening games in that span.


Melbourne City v Western United
Saturday, October 21 2023
Kick-off: 5:30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+

Saturday, 7:45pm AEDT: Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory

Sydney FC have already “ticked off” a couple of boxes in pre-season but they know the A-League is a different ball game ahead of their season-opening ‘Big Blue’ against rivals Melbourne Victory.

The Sky Blues captured their second Australia Cup trophy after overpowering Brisbane Roar in the decider a fortnight ago.

Sydney are now assured of an AFC Cup berth, but Steve Corica and the five-time A-Leagues champions are focused on domestic matters and ending a drought dating back to 2020.

“It’s fantastic that we’ve won a cup competition. It gets us into Asia,” he told reporters. “There’s a couple of boxes we’ve ticked off already in pre-season.

“Once the A-League starts, it’s a different ball game. We have to come back down to earth and start focusing on that.

“We know how difficult the A-League is and we have to be consistent over 27 rounds this season.”

Sydney reached the Semi Finals last season, while Victory finished second from bottom in a difficult campaign in Melbourne.

Tony Popovic’s new-look Victory – boasting the likes of Daniel Arzani and Ryan Teague are on a mission to make amends in 2023-24 and Corica is relishing the big fixture at Allianz Stadium.

“It’s massive. For me as well. When I was a player, it was the big derby,” said Corica.

“This was the game you looked forward to and most of the time, it was the first game of the season too.

“I remember the very first year we played against Melbourne Victory in the first game of the season when Yorkey scored.

“It started that day the rivalry. Two big clubs and that hasn’t changed for me. It’s the Big Blue. It’s an amazing game to play in and be involved in.

“We want everyone to turn up and support the boys because they’re doing really well.”

Opta stat: Sydney FC have won 10 of their last 13 A-League Men games against Melbourne Victory (D1 L2) including each of their two games thus far in 2023; although, they’ve lost two of their last three meetings with Victory in Sydney (W1), conceding three-plus goals in both of those losses.


Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
Saturday, October 21 2023
Allianz Stadium
Kick-off: 7:45pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 BOLD & Paramount+

Sunday, 3:00pm AEDT: Western Sydney Wanderers v Wellington Phoenix

Giancarlo ‘Chiefy’ Italiano is ushering in a new era at Wellington Phoenix after the departure of Ufuk Talay and he has high hopes for the ‘Nix.

In three of Talay’s four seasons, Wellington qualified for the finals and played an attractive brand of football.

Italiano is looking to build on that with his own twist, starting away to Western Sydney Wanderers.

“I have a certain expectation of how I want the team to play,” he told KEEPUP. “I’m excited for the fans because once we get it fully working, it’s going to excite everyone I think.

“As much as it’s been really good for the last four years, I want to have my own twist on how we play. The setup is going to be completely different, the ideas completely different. I want the fans excited coming to the game.”

“I just want everyone, when they watch a Phoenix game, to be really happy watching, whether they are a Phoenix fan or not. I want people just to watch to see what happens with us,” he added.

“I’m not interested in turning over results and shutting up shop. For me, football is about enriching people’s lives. We have a great opportunity, we want all Kiwis to be proud.”

There have been a lot of personnel changes at Wanderland, where Western Sydney played finals football for the first time since 2016-17.

With Morgan Schneiderlin, Romain Amalfitano, Kusini Yengi, Calem Nieuwenhof, Amor Layouni, Yeni Ngbakoto and Tomislav Mrcela among the key departures, Olyroos star Lachlan Brook, ex-Victory skipper Joshua Brillante, former Wolves youngster Dylan Scicluna and ex-Leeds United forward Marcus Antonsson have come in.

“We have a very good group of boys this year, I think it’s the same, if not better (than last season) to be honest,” Alex Bonetig told the club’s official website.

“All the boys are getting along really well, we’ve got the old guys mixing in with the younger boys, there’s no egos, everyone’s having a laugh in a change room, and then it’s all business out on the pitch.”

Opta stat: Western Sydney Wanderers defeated Wellington Phoenix 4-0 in their most recent A-League Men clash (April 2023), equalling their biggest win in the history of this fixture; they’ll now be hunting for back-to-back wins against the Phoenix for the first time since November 2018.


Western Sydney Wanderers v Wellington Phoenix
Sunday, October 22 2023
CommBank Stadium
Kick-off: 3:00pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 BOLD & Paramount+

Sunday, 7:45pm AEDT: Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets

There will be new coaches in each dugout for Sunday night’s showdown in Western Australia.

Perth Glory have turned to Alen Stajcic after he made history with the Philippines women’s national team at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, while former Sydney FC youth coach and assistant Rob Stanton is at the helm of Newcastle Jets.

Both clubs are eyeing an end to their respective finals droughts in 2023-24.

The Glory have not qualified for the finals since a Semi Final berth in 2019-20, having finished ninth last season but their recruitment shows they mean business.

Not since 2017-18, when they lost to Melbourne Victory in the Grand Final, have Newcastle finished in the top six.

Newcastle could make history if they win on Sunday. The Jets – 2-1 winners over the Glory in Round 1 last term – have not started consecutive seasons with a win in the history of the competition.

Opta stat: Newcastle Jets are undefeated in their last seven A-League Men games against Perth Glory (W2 D5) including 2-all draws in each of their last two encounters; the last time these teams met at HBF Park ended in a nil-all draw (March 2022).


Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets
Sunday, October 22 2023
HBF Park
Kick-off: 7:45pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+