A-League Rev-Up: Awkward reunions and a super Melbourne derby
After another ridiculously long off-season, the A-League is finally back and it's bringing with it a few surprisingly spicy matches first up.
While the Melbourne derby has stolen the focus, three other games in Round 1 have an intriguing dimension to them with A-League coaches set take on their former teams.
With points to prove and disgruntled fans to further put offside, the season is set to start with a very intriguing bang.
Coaching merry-go rounds come full circle
Like running into an ex, three A-League coaches will return to face their former clubs this weekend and don't expect any of them to duck for cover.
First up will see Ernie Merrick take his high-flying Newcastle Jets to Wellington - a club he resigned from in 2016 when the Phoenix were rooted to the bottom of the table.
The decision did nothing to elevate the Nix, who have continued to struggle over the past two seasons, but has seen Merrick rise again with the Jets.
In his first season at Newcastle, Merrick took the club from wooden spooners to second place and an A-League grand final. He also faced his former club three times claiming two wins and suffering one loss.
Up against Mark Rudan on Sunday, Merrick will be keen to make the most of his far superior experience and get the Jets' season off to a flyer at the expense of a club he couldn't get soaring.
Despite winning the A-League double with Brisbane Roar back in 2013/14, Mike Mulvey found himself without a job just two months into the next season after a poor run of results.
Having spent the past three years in Malaysia and Thailand, the 55-year-old has returned to the A-League with Central Coast Mariners and will immediately have a point to prove against the Roar on Sunday.
While he's been busy overhauling last season's wooden spooners and overseeing Usain Bolt's highly publicised trial, Mulvey clearly hasn't had anytime to hold any grudges and is looking forward to returning to Brisbane.
"Football’s a moving beast, and this is four years later, so this is a new chapter in my life, so we move on," Mulvey told The Courier Mail.
"It’s just great to be coming back to Brisbane. They’re wonderful people, coaches, players, fans, and we were successful together."
Regardless of that history, Mulvey will no doubt be keen to spoil the reunion as he tries to steer the Mariners to some much-needed success of their own.
This time last season, Tony Popovic spectacularly walked out on Western Sydney Wanderers for a job in Turkey - something the red and black never fully recovered from as they failed to make the finals for just the second time.
Fast forward one year and Popovic will once again be overseeing a Western Sydney side, only this time it will be as an opposition coach with Perth Glory.
Having run into trouble in Turkey, the former Socceroos defender has returned to the A-League and set his sights on instilling some resolve in a Glory side that is yet to claim silverware in the A-League era.
After a typically intense pre-season and strong recruitment that's seen former Wanderers Brendon Santalab and Matthew Spiranovic brought on board, Perth look like they mean business this season and will be keen to start the season on the right note.
That will mean to putting a red and black team still recovering from the loss of Popovic to the sword, and don't expect their former coach to show any mercy.
A Marvel-ous and mysterious Melbourne derby
The headline game of the weekend will see the Melbourne derby add another chapter at the newly named Marvel Stadium.
Much like the superhero branding of the venue, both teams boast strong squads but have hidden behind their masks to some extent during pre-season.
Reigning A-League champions Melbourne Victory have brought in superstars Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen, yet lost to APIA Leichhardt in the FFA Cup and also fell to a recent pre-season defeat at the hands of Wellington Phoenix.
Melbourne City were also knocked out of the FFA Cup, albeit at the hands of the Wanderers, before comfortably beating Western Sydney 4-1 in a friendly last week.
Warren Joyce may have lost young star Daniel Arzani over the off-season, but he's been able to recruit some very solid, if not superstar, talent. From former Socceroo Curtis Good to Aston Villa defender Richie De Laet, City boast a squad as deep as any other in the competition.
A derby will be the perfect platform for both sides to put pre-season concerns to bed and show their squads are ready to shine this A-League season.
Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas playing the role of villain by providing some quality pre-match banter, declaring the game is more important to City due to their lack of finals experience.
"It's sort of a grand final for them," Thomas said.
"If they beat us they tend to celebrate like they've won the league, whereas our goals are well beyond this game.
"Obviously we pay full respect to them and go in wanting to win the game.
"It's important for the club and the fans for us to start well because we haven't in the past two years. But our picture is much bigger than this one game."