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Victory aim to see off A-League challengers again

Thursday, October 8, 2015 7:04:40 AM America/Los_Angeles

Glamour club Melbourne Victory are the hot favourites to retain their title when the 11th season of the Australian A-League kicks off on Thursday.

Victory were a class above the rest as they swept to the 2014/15 title, beating arch-rivals Sydney FC 3-0 in the grand final after finishing the regular season on top of the table to claim the Premier's Plate.

In contrast to most other A-League clubs, the Victory have had a stable off-season, with their only significant loss that of captain Mark Milligan, who moved to Baniyas in the United Arab Emirates.

Crucially, the Victory have also retained a host of key players who helped them dominate the competition last season, including Albanian striker Besart Berisha and fellow attacking options Gui Finkler, Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Kosta Barbarouses. They begin their campaign away to Adelaide United on Friday.

Sydney FC look certain to be Victory's main rivals once again. Sydney coach Graham Arnold has brought in Slovakian forward Filip Holosko to replace Mark Janko, while in midfield he has the services of Serbian star Milos Dimitrijevic and fellow countryman Milos Ninkovic.

Pushing the top three clubs will be three-time champions Brisbane Roar, Adelaide United, Western Sydney Wanderers and the Wellington Phoenix.

Adelaide are perennial challengers, but are in a state of uncertainty after losing charismatic coach Josep Gombau due to family reasons. Western Sydney Wanderers, who finished runners-up in their first two seasons before crashing to second last in 2014/15, have had a massive clear-out, making 17 changes to their roster.

The season begins on Thursday night with Western Sydney hosting Brisbane. Adelaide take on Melbourne Victory on Friday.

On Saturday, Central Coast are at home to Perth and Sydney play Melbourne City, with the round finishing on Sunday when Newcastle travel to Wellington.

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