Cornthwaite’s Corner: Round 1

Robbie Cornthwaite and Carl Veart at Coopers Stadium.

With Adelaide United’s opening fixture of the Isuzu UTE A-League 2022/23 season on the horizon, Robbie Cornthwaite gives us his thoughts ahead of the Reds’ trip to New Zealand to face Wellington Phoenix.

It’s been a while since the Reds have felt the bite of a trip down to Windy Wellington – 1,416 days since a Ken Ilsø brace helped Adelaide storm to a 3-1 win in November 2018.

It’s the longest time away from New Zealand for any of the foundation A-League clubs and only four players remain from that team: Craig Goodwin, Ryan Kitto, Isaías, and Ben Halloran – not a bad quartet!

Any trip away from home is never an easy task, let alone to face the Nix. The lunchtime kick-off can leave you feeling a little flat, but history suggests United shouldn’t fear the long trip east.

Remarkably, they haven’t lost in the past five trips to NZ, a seven-year unbeaten run. The last time they suffered defeat was back in November 2015, Jonas Salley was part of the home side that day.

The Reds celebrate during Round 5 of the 2018/19 season against the Nix.

You never quite know what to expect at the start of a new season, but I’m not sure that’s something you can say about Adelaide United. They are a team that hasn’t really changed much at all. The formation, the way that they play and, particularly this season, the personnel are all very settled.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Goodwin and Halloran are two of the biggest off-season signings in the entire league. Every club would have contacted their agents, and Adelaide’s ability to bring both players back is a testament to the team culture and camaraderie Carl Veart and his staff have fostered.

There’s no hiding from the fact that it hasn’t been the ideal off-season for Goodwin. He hasn’t seen any game time of any meaning and with the World Cup just around the corner, he needs to make an immediate impact if he wants a ticket to Qatar. The club has been patient with his rehab and lets hope, for everyone’s sake, he’s good to go.

The biggest question for me this year is where is the improvement going to come from?

In a very settled squad with no high-profile fresh faces, it has to come from competition from within and the continued development of the younger players like Alexandar Popović, Bernardo, or the exciting Jonny Yull.

Jonny Yull focused at the VALO Training Centre.

Players who have too often been on the fringes need to make a claim for a spot in the eleven. Can players like Josh Cavallo, Ben Warland, or Harry Van der Saag take that next step and force their way in to calculations? Louis D’Arrigo is still so young but has played a lot of football. Last year he didn’t see as much game time as he would like, maybe he’s primed for a big season?

With Bernardo ruled out until the new year, will Nestroy Irankunda become Adelaide’s answer to Garang Kuol and become a consistent threat off the bench? Kuol, who has just signed for Newcastle United in the English Premier League, has only scored one goal more than Irankunda in virtually the same number of minutes. He could be Adelaide’s next export but won’t be available this weekend due to international duty (AFC U17 Asian Cup 2023™ Qualifiers).

Adelaide United memberships on-sale now.

I’ve said it many times this offseason, but Zach Clough is one name I continue to hear mentioned from within the club. I spoke to him last month and after admitting Reds fans never saw the best of him last season, he’s come back fitter than ever. He was even training in Dubai with Matty Cash and Declan Rice while on his holiday. He’s added goals to his game this off-season and could be a key cog this year.

Joe Gauci, though, is a player I am so excited to watch this season. His rise has been so rapid that he has already been involved as a train-on with the Socceroos, but with James Delianov breathing down his neck, he can’t afford to switch off for a second. For me, at this point in time, he has the most upside of any player in the squad. It’s up to him how far he goes.

Joe Gauci and James Delianov in training at the VALO Training Centre.

On the field, things have been very encouraging as pre-season comes to a close. Getting knocked out by Brisbane Roar in the Australia Cup was obviously not part of the plan, but putting five goals past Melbourne City in a modified friendly would give the squad plenty of confidence.

In terms of style, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking Adelaide plays a fast-paced, quick-transition style of game. In part and at times, that is very much the case. We know where this team’s strengths are – the wide areas. But last season they were ranked fourth for the highest average possession per-game and in big games were able to deny the opposition the ball, most notably in the Semi Final first leg against Melbourne City.

Adelaide isn’t a one-trick pony. The experience of Isaías and Javi López in keeping the ball under pressure is invaluable and Hiroshi Ibuski has been outstanding since his arrival. Ibusuki gives the side a different dimension and his ability to hold the ball up can bring midfielders into play and can create an opportunity for a third man runner.

The Coopers Stadium redevelopments mean United start with three consecutive away games (Wellington, Macarthur, and Sydney FC) and with just six games until the league breaks for the World Cup in Qatar, a good start to the season can do wonders for confidence. As a player, the last thing you want is to go into that break under pressure. A good start can go a long way.

Experience in abundance – Isaías and Hiroshi Ibusuki.

Wellington wrapped up their pre-season with a 3-0 loss to Sydney FC. From all reports, Bozhidar Kraev looks like a player to watch. He’s had the longest of their foreign contingent to settle in and a lot is expected of him. Brazilian winger, Yan Sasse, comes in as a like-for-like replacement for Reno Piscopo. A fast, tricky winger who has seemingly impressed those within the club so far.

Oskar Zawada will be the focal point up top. What he lacks in work rate, he makes up for in scoring ability. At 192 cm, Lachlan Barr and Popović could be in for a physical encounter in at the Cake Tin. Whenever United’s centre backs are on the ball, they should be looking to work the big striker over. Don’t be afraid to play the ball between each other and make him run. This creates two options; the reverse pass into midfield when the striker can’t get across to cover, or an opportunity for one of the centre halves to carry the ball into midfield, creating an extra number.

Ufuk Talay will stick to his favourite formation, a 4-2-2-2, with new recruit Steven Ugarkovic running the show in the middle, while Ben Waine and Kosta Barbarouses will add plenty in attack. The Nix have greater depth this season, and people in the know feel this is a stronger team than last season.

Having spent the last few seasons living and playing in Australia, the return home can’t be underestimated. Back in familiar surroundings and playing at home every second week should give Wellington an enormous boost. They finished sixth last season and were definitely my second team. They are fun to watch, which can also make them hard to play against. If they start the season well, Wellington back at home could be a different beast this season. Adelaide, beware.

Enjoy round one. Football is back!

Follow Robbie on Twitter and Instagram.