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Talking points preview: City vs Western United

It doesn't matter how many times we go through it, the A-League Men's off-season always feels like an eternity - but we're finally back! With the 22/23 season comes a new set of challenges, opportunities, and exciting new players.

The aim is clear; become Premiers for an unprecedented third time in a row. Though, as we're all aware, the Champions are those truly remembered, and although City has made three Grand Final appearances, we only have one Championship trophy to show for it.

Despite the gaffer's successes with the team, there are undeniably questions circulating through the fanbase around his abilities, and how exactly we should line up. The game on Friday against Western United serves as a perfect opener for us to set the standard and answer the questions we all have about the team this season.

The City Faithful Wait With Baited Breath For A New Season - Source: Andrew Wiseman (@wisemansports)

A new hope

The ocean of time that is the offseason gives die-hard and passing fans alike plenty of opportunities for speculation and debate, not least of which is the discussion around our starting eleven. While Kisnorbo hinted at Monday's active members' event that they'd been working on a secret alternative formation to help throw off our opponents, he also didn't rate the chances of debuting said formation this Friday. We'll at least have some answers about our line-up come kick-off.

We're all well aware of our form when it comes to international signings. Hamstrung by a salary cap, the A-League faces a rare challenge for player acquisitions, but many have lamented our foreign signing record due to the high expectations that come with the supposed strength of our global network.

There's an air of optimism this season, however, surrounding our new visa trio; Richard van der Venne touched down in Melbourne relatively early in the off-season, and despite frustrating injury niggles during pre-season, he appears to be a much-needed steadying presence in the middle of the park. Meanwhile, Thomas Lam (who made a somewhat shy appearance at the above-mentioned Terrace event) provides some defensive back-up and competition with Curtis Good and Nuno Reis for a spot - good luck to him in unseating either of those two.

Perhaps most exciting of all has been the recent acquisition of Valon Berisha. He's the highest pedigree signing in recent memory; his resume boasts experience in the Bundesliga, Serie A, and most recently, with Stade Reims in Ligue 1. Deploying him as an eight in the centre of midfield as a replacement for Metcalfe, we can expect a hard tackling, technically savvy, creative force from box-to-box. There's an air about him that gives the impression he's the real deal, with the right attitude and character to boot. Let's hope he's the missing puzzle piece that has seen us struggle to play our way up the field at times in recent seasons.

There's a clear thread here - shore up defensively and add some vigour to the middle of the park to aid our progression of the ball. Let's hope they can live up to our needs.

Balancing youth with experience isn't a new challenge for us, but it's one we bear with great pride - especially in a World Cup year where our influence on the national team has been overwhelming. Soon we will know whether Tilio is finally breaking into the starting eleven with regularity - and consequently who will be making way for him and where. Meanwhile, we have Atkinson's replacement Talbot at right-back, who has flown under the radar by virtue of being signed early on in the piece, but should fit in seamlessly.

And then of course there's Jordy Bos. He's another that's been on the cusp of a starting position - brimming with raw talent, pace, and power. What he lacks in polish he makes up for with aggression and drive, reminiscent of a left-sided Atkinson. His challenge is unseating a true veteran in captain Jamo, a difficult proposition in a system that many have speculated is highly hierarchical. For good reason though, we won't be expecting Jamieson to be benched this game.

Could this be Jordan Bos' Year? - Source: Andrew Wiseman (@wisemansports)

The right stuff

Our vociferous leader Scott Jamieson is set to reach a massive milestone of 300 A-League games when he steps onto the field this Friday. He'll be joining an exclusive club, with only five other players having managed to surpass that mark in the short history of our league.

Underestimated and dismissed by some around the league, we've come to love the fiery defender who has played an integral role in developing the club's mentality, and has personified the steely whatever-it-takes attitude we've come to associate with the red, white and blue. His mantra of "Anyone, anywhere, anytime" has truly driven us to success in recent years.

He might be entering his mid-30s, on the last year of his contract, and having youngster Bos biting at his heels, but it's hard to imagine a City side without him captaining it. Hopefully his legacy - when the time eventually comes - is a lasting legacy within the team. Though a statue out the front of AAMI park wouldn't go astray either.

The Celebration of a Club legend Approaches - Source: Andrew Wiseman (@wisemansports)

Once upon a time against the West

The skipper has played down the significance of his milestone, stating (as you would expect from a professional) that his only focus is on Friday's game, and ensuring we secure the three points on the line. At the members' event on Monday, Scotty also played down the notion that the boys in blue would be out for revenge against last year's champions - insisting that while the win is crucial it won't bring back the trophy we missed out on last season. While it's hard to argue that point, it'll sure make us fans in the stands feel a little better.

City started out strong against the new boys on the block (though which block that exactly changes week-to-week) winning our first five encounters against the WU - but we couldn't defeat them in four match-ups last season. So what's changed this season?

Paddy likely won't adjust the tactics come Friday, but while we might question his placement of belief above all else, we can't question the man's belief itself, nor the belief he inspires in his players. While we've freshened up our squad with some players who will hopefully help to put our issues to bed, there's not been much change for the green and black side from {ENTER HOME STADIUM HERE}. John Aloisi has continued his trend of assembling squads with one foot in the retirement home and a hand on their A-frame walker - and while it's a safe bet that an experienced squad will have success in the A-League, his lack of refreshment to the roster in the off-season means his players are getting older and slower. Let's hope he's got the balance wrong this season, and they break a hip on their way to the top of the ladder.

Either way, we can expect the opposition to place eleven men behind the ball during the season opener, and hide in the 18-yard box when we are in possession - which will be most of the game. Our combination of spritely youth, surprise package VISA players, and Socceroo attackers will just have to combine to find a way to unlock that tricky puzzle.

The Opportunity to Strike Back Awaits - Source: Andrew Wiseman (@wisemansports)

Friday night's game against Western United is a chance for us all to put the disappointment of last season behind us, and focus on the season ahead - showing to all that we are still the team to beat, and that we will taste glory again this season.

Score Prediction: City 1 - 0 WU (time to turn that score line back on them)

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