Monday, 3 October 2011

Central Coast Mariners 2011-12 Season Preview

The perennial bridesmaids to the capital clubs brides, the Mariners have been Grand Final losers to Newcastle, Sydney and now Brisbane. Long cast as the plucky little club that could, nothing will suit Graham Arnold and his men more than to once again resume the title of scrappy underdogs, despite coming closest to defeating a rampant Brisbane.

Last season, Arnold was queried as to why he preferred to set his team out in a 4-4-2 diamond. His answer, that he choose a diamond midfield because Central Coast lacked wingers but had plenty of strikers and central midfielders, was perceptive, insightful and straightfoward.

Josh Rose
Central Coast will have benefitted immensely from having one of the most stable off-seasons in the A-League. The only notable departure was of enigmatic Argentine Patricio Perez. Luckily, the Mariners have groomed a straight replacement in Mustafa Amini, who is now on loan after being transferred to Bundesliga champions Borrusia Dortmund. Arnold has also gone about strengthening his midfield, bringing in Hearfield, able to play as a holder, and Pellegrino, who could conceivably replace Amini once he departs for Germany. The absense of wide forwards and wingers confirms Arnold will continue with his successful formula, using a 4-3-1-2 dependent on the fullbacks Rose and Bojic to provide width. Rose has grown to become one of the foremost attacking threats in the A-League.

Last season, Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold locked horns no more than 5 times; a frequency matched by most title contending sides over several years. The Mariners have pushed the Roar to the brink at times, leading by 2 goals in the semi-final and grand final, only to fall at the final hurdle. However, it’s hard to forecast how effective continuing with their counter-acting style will be, especially against a Brisbane side that they have never beaten.

Central Coast are of course able to call upon one of the best defensive units in Australia. Matt Ryan, along with the experienced partnership of Zwaanswijk and Wilkinson, kept 14 clean sheets last season. Maintaining such a stellar record will be key to a successful season.

Danger Men: The key players will of course be Josh Rose, who registered 7 goals and as many assists last season, and Mustafa Amini, who will be handed the role of playmaker. Matt Ryan was outstanding last year, keeping 14 clean sheets (most in the league), aided in no small part by the premier defensive partnership in Australia, Wilkinson and Zwaanswijk. Arnold will be able to call upon a trio of hardworking front-men in Simon, Kwasnik and McBreen, which should ensure Arnold never suffers for lack of cutting-edge.

LATER ADDITION: Amini has sustained an injury which will keep him out of action until at least Round 5. Pellegrino or McBreen should assume the playmaker role.

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