Preview: Brisbane Roar v Central Coast
Date: Saturday, October 8
Kick-off: 8.45pm AEDT, 7.45pm Local
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
Played 23: Wins: Brisbane 12, Central Coast 3, Draws: 8
Brisbane Roar 2, Central Coast 2 (Roar won 4-2on penalties), A-League Grand Final, March 13, 2011
Brisbane Roar enjoy a dominant record over the Mariners - winning 12 and losing just three of their 23 matches - but it's their most recent encounter that will live long in the memory. The game I speak of is of course last season's decider where the Roar, trailing 2-0 deep into extra-time, scored twice in three minutes before going on to win on penalties. It was a cruel end for the Mariners but after the brilliant season Ange Postecoglou's side had it was a fitting end for the home side who deservedly took out the double.
The grand final thriller was just one of a number of exciting clashes between the two clubs in 2010/11, with the roar winning four and drawing the other two in six meetings. The two draws were arguably the best games of the season, a 3-3 stalemate at Gosford on January 12 before the Roar came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in the second leg of the qualifying final a month later. If this season-opener is half as good as last campaign's battles, it promises to be a must-see 90 minutes.
Past five matches:
Brisbane Roar: WDWWW
Central Coast Mariners: LWDLW
Hard to get a gauge on each side's form after more than a six-month off-season. The Roar finished their pre-season fixtures with a solid 3-0 win over Brisbane Premier League club University of Queensland a fortnight ago. With a number of new players Postecoglou has stressed the pre-season results mean nothing, more intent on seeing his new players gel into to the squad. The Mariners have also been fairly impressive throughout the pre-season, recording several strong wins, including good performances against Hyundai A-League rivals Wellington and Perth.
The most exciting part of the opening round is seeing how both coaches will integrate their new signings into their respective sides. While the Mariners are fairly settled compared with the last season, the Roar have a host of changes to their squad. Defenders Mohamed Adnan, Matthew Jurman, Jack Hingert, midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran and attackers Kofi Danning and Besart Berisha will all be looking to make an immediate impact.
The Mariners have been dealt a blow with skipper Alex Wilkinson to miss the match after breaking his arm during the pre-season. Wilkinson is hopeful of being fit to return for the club's second round match against Gold Coast. Exciting midfielder Mustafa Amini will also miss the grand final replay through injury, meaning new midfield signings Adriano Pellegrino and Stuart Musialik will both be in contention for a starting berth.
Henrique - There's no doubt the Roar will be looking for more from the fleet-footed and skilful Brazilian this season. The man's whose penalty secured the championship last season will have to step up and fill the void left by the departures of Kosta Barbarouses and Jean Carlos Solorzano. Henrique only managed 14 appearances last campaign due to a mixture of injury and suspension but if he can stay on the field for long periods it will be a huge plus for the champions.
Michael McGlinchey - With Amini injured and Argentinian star Patricio Perez no longer in the squad, the onus will be on New Zealand international midfielder Michael McGlinchey to provide the attacking spark for Graham Arnold's side. The 24-year-old had an outstanding 2010/11 season, and showed why he had enough talent to come through the ranks at Celtic and debuted make his SPL debut as a teenager. McGlinchey not only chipped in with some vital goals last season but also created a few for the likes of Matt Simon and Daniel McBreen.
At the end of the day…
Both sides know each other's game plans very well after meeting on six occasions last season. The Roar will be full of confidence, not having lost any of their last 28 competitive matches as well as knowing the Mariners' inspirational skipper will be watching from the stands. But they are also without their main man from last season after Matt McKay's departure to Rangers in Scotland. The Socceroos midfielder was the heart beat of the Brisbane squad and how Postecoglou fills that void could go a long way to determining how their championship defence pans out.
At the other end you know exactly what you're going to get from Arnold's troops. They will be well-organised, disciplined and hard to break down. It was a trait of their fantastic campaign last season and will again be key to their hopes. If the likes of Pellegrino, McGlinchey, Simon and Adam Kwasnik can gel quickly they will give the Brisbane defence plenty of trouble.
It will be a fascinating battle between the two best sides of last season who will be desperate to prove they can again match it with the big boys like Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC. The Mariners, who historically start the season very well, haven't spoken about it publicly but they will be hell-bent on gaining some revenge from last season's dramatic decider and that emotion might be enough to earn them at least a share of the spoils.