Back-to-back champions Sydney FC enter the 2020-21 A-League season chasing history as a much-changed chasing pack attempts to close the gap.
No team in the competition’s history has won three consecutive grand finals but after taking last year’s title in dominant fashion, the Sky Blues will once more be the team to beat.
English striker Adam Le Fondre has left as part of an A-League exodus to India’s Super League but the majority of Steve Corica’s championship-winning squad from the past two years remains.
The opportunity to achieve something that has never been done before is all the motivation Sydney captain Alex Wilkinson believes they need leading in to the season kicking off next week.
“There’s obviously been a lot of changes throughout the league in terms of coaches and type of players,” Wilkinson told AAP.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it goes but for us it’s all about trying to win it all again.
“No team has won three in a row and that’s our goal this year, to continue where we left off and make history at the end of the season by winning three in a row.”
While Sydney are a bastion of stability, their challengers have opted to shake things up in a bid to bring the Sky Blues’ dominance to an end.
Beaten grand finalists Melbourne City have a new head coach in Patrick Kisnorbo.
The ex-Socceroos defender is one of several home-grown coaches set for their first full seasons at the helm, including Adelaide’s Carl Veart, Brisbane’s Warren Moon and Perth’s Richard Garcia.
Melbourne Victory have also turned to a rookie coach in Grant Brebner as they aim to get back to the top after a horror 2019-20 campaign.
The Sky Blues’ cross-town rivals Western Sydney Wanderers have been recruiting strongly after luring former Wales international Carl Robinson from Newcastle to be their head coach.
Newcomers Macarthur FC join the league with ex-Matildas coach Ante Milicic at the helm and with a squad stacked with experienced former Socceroos talent in Mark Milligan, Adam Federici, Tommy Oar and Ivan Franjic.
Last year’s expansion outfit Western United have retained most of their squad including Johnny Warren Medallist Alessandro Diamanti, while Ufuk Talay’s Wellington Phoenix will be eager to replicate last year’s third-place finish despite being based in Wollongong due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
After last season’s suspension due to coronavirus raised doubts over the future of the competition itself, the recent outbreak on Sydney’s northern beaches forced organisers to reshuffle fixtures for the opening month.
Wilkinson is one of the players acutely aware the league needs to rebound in 2021, especially with Newcastle and Central Coast on the hunt for new owners and the long-running broadcast deal with Fox Sports coming to an end.
“It’s crucial this year that the game and, not just football, all sports bounce back and have a positive year,” he said.
“It’s important that the season is a success and that we can attract potential buyers and potential broadcasters to help fund the game going forward.
“So, in that respect, it is important, sure, but no more so from a playing point of view than what it is every year.”