7 Oct 2017

Will the Phoenix finally rise?

11:45 am on 7 October 2017

The Wellington Phoenix kick off their A-League football season on Sunday when they host Adelaide United at Westpac Stadium.

But does a new coaching regime mean a new Phoenix has arisen in the off-season?

It will be different this time. Not necessarily better or any more successful but there are new coaches, new tactics and new players.

The change will be driven by the man at the helm, Darije Kalezic, who has had more clubs than Lydia Ko. His chequered coaching career has frequently ended abruptly with his sacking.

We should expect volcanics some time soon, although seasoned assistant Rado Vidosic will be a settling influence. Together they are re-wiring the team's tactics and appear to be developing a European-style based around sophisticated defensive formations and controlling possession and space. Have they got the players to do that, though?

New Head coach of the Phoenix Darije Kalezic.

New Head coach of the Phoenix Darije Kalezic. Photo: Photosport

To be fair, the defence looks largely up to the job. Skipper Andrew Durante was recently named the best defender in A-League history. While his finest years are well behind him, he probably have another solid season alongside the accomplished Marco Rossi at the heart of the defence.

The Phoenix have also strengthened their stocks at fullback, an area of almost terminal weakness for the club, with the arrival of Scott Galloway and Daniel Mullen. Goalkeeping, however, looks a problem with the team yet to settle on who is best to replace the departed Glen Moss.

The midfield has had to be completely overhauled thanks to the departure of Vince Lia, Alex Rodriguez and Roly Bonevacia.

That is probably a good thing as the Phoenix have struggled in the past couple of years to dominate the middle of the park and generate attacking opportunities. In comes Goran Paracki, Ali Abbas and Dario Vidosic.

All are experienced and more or less in their prime. It would be good to see Michael McGlinchey have a commanding season, although on past form he is likely to disappoint. Watch for the midfield to emphasise defensive screening and keeping its shape in a disciplined game plan.

Gui Finkler will need to provide the critical creative spark.

And wouldn't it be great to see one of the Phoenix's young Kiwi midfielders given a chance to break into the side. Step up Sarpeet Singh.

Gui Finkler will need to provide the Phoenix wihch more creativity.

Gui Finkler will need to provide the Phoenix wihch more creativity. Photo: Photosport

It is not clear where the goals will come from, particular if a defensive style is favoured.

Last season's golden boot Roy Krishna is good for 10 goals a year and the arrival of Andrija Kaluderovic is potentially exciting. The Serb is a proven striker with a good pedigree, including scoring five times in 10 appearances for the Brisbane Roar in 2015. Others will have to contribute.

Perhaps the best path forward for Phoenix is to rebuild the fortress at Westpac Stadium and to again become extremely difficult to beat at home. In that case, scraps for the strikers might be enough to win enough games.

The Phoenix are again up against it. The A-League doesn't appear to really want them in the competition. Unlike the nine other sides, the Phoenix's pre-season has been patchy with a shortage of games against top flight opposition.

They are likely to be slow starters again and that lack of preparation and the impact of travel and the international windows will take their toll throughout the season. In any event, we probably won't see what they are capable of until near Christmas.

There is a possibility that the side will gel under head coach Kalezic and successfully implement a tactically astute game plan that will help them scrape into the play-offs.

But it is more likely to be another tough year of transition and inconsistency in what is a steadily improving league.

My prediction: they will finish 9th and with a new coach.