There’s a sense of the excitement surrounding the Newcastle Jets heading into the new season, with Arthur Papas hoping to get his side pushing for finals in his second year in charge.
Not much was expected of the Jets heading into the 2021/22 campaign with the side lingering around the bottom of the ladder the year prior.
Though the Papas era has gotten off to a brighter start than most would have anticipated from Ange Postecoglou’s protege, as he made big strides in his first season as coach.
Tipped to take out the 2021/22 wooden spoon, the Jets quickly showed they weren’t going to be easy beats, going undefeated in five of their opening 10 fixtures.
Having been a side which has been set up to be defensive under the helm of Carl Robinson who liked to play deep, Papas totally changed the dynamic of the side. He adopted a possession-based and high pressing style of play, which excited fans and pundits alike.
Newcastle was one of the most watchable sides in the league last season, dubbed as ‘box office’ despite not even making finals. And while the club fell short of the top six, it showed encouraging signs of being on the right track.
The Jets would finish the home and away season with the third most potent attack in the league, recording 45 goals in 26 games, behind only Premiers Melbourne and rivals Central Coast.
Their signings were key to the side’s success last season. Georgian striker Beka Mikeltadze excelled under Papas, finishing the season as one of the league’s top scorers, while Brazilian Daniel Penha was instrumental as an attacking midfielder. Angus Thurgate also continued to emerge as an elite midfielder.
In with a chance of making finals at the midway point of the season, the Jets would record just one more win for the season. They were not embarrassed though, and finished 10 points short of the finals.
In a a major coup for the Jets, they’d secure the services of one of the best wingers in the A-League Men competition, beating interests from Victory and clubs abroad to sign Reno Piscopo.
Having spent stints in Italy in the the Inter Milan and Torino academies and recently coming off a brilliant three years with the Wellington Phoenix, the exciting Aussie winger returns back to playing in his home nation.
With 16 goal contributions in 57 appearances for the Nix, Piscopo has been a revelation in recent seasons. The 2021/22 campaign was his most prolific, making seven goal contributions with a career high in both goals and assists.
In addition to being pacey, he’s also clinical while in possession, making him a tricky winger to defend against.
Though primarily used in left midfield or higher up the pitch as a left winger, Piscopo has demonstrated his versatility. He’s also able on the opposite side of the pitch as a right winger/right-sided midfielder, in attacking midfield, and up top as a centre forward.
Only David Ball and Walter Sandoval created more chances last season for the Phoenix, while being ranked second for shots on goal per game. Additionally, he was ranked near the top of the league for expected goals and assists per game.
Still just 24 years of age, Piscopo has had a bright start to life in the A-League Men competition. With the departure of Penha, Valentino Yuel and Oliver Boumal, he will be a vital piece to success for the Jets under Papas this season.
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One of the most exciting players in the league to watch last season, the Jets will be sorely missing their Brazilian magician Daniel Penha, who starred on loan from Brazilian Serie A outfit Atletico Mineiro.
The 23-year-old had an unbelievable campaign, finishing the season with 11 assists and four goals, with his 15 goal contributions the second highest at the club. No player would create more chances throughout the season for the Jets than Penha.
Primarily used as an attacking midfielder, Penha was instrumental to everything the Jets did last season, with their attacking play being funnelled through him. No player created more shots per game and won possession in the final third for the Jets last season than him.
Having been a fan favourite, making the A-League Men team of the season last year as one of the top midfielders in the league, Newcastle tried to sign him permanently, though ultimately was unable to secure his services.
What to expect:
With the Papas era already off to a bright start, the Jets will be continue to play an exciting and high pressing style of play.
One of the few sides in the league with a clearly defined game model and tactical structure, 2022/23 will be the campaign where he refines his game plan and develops his side into an attacking machine.
Having utilised a 4-2-3-1 formation last season, pre-season and Cup fixtures indicate it’ll be the way which Papas prefers to structure his side in the upcoming campaign, conducive to playing his trademark possession-based game.
While they’ve lost several key players to their attack with Boumal, Penha and Yuel departing, the Jets looked to have brought in adequate replacements with the aforementioned Piscopo coming across from the Nix alongside attacker Jaushua Sotirio.
With the duo having complemented each other at the Nix, Papas will be eager for them to have the same connection at the Jets, while supporting Mikeltadze.
Trent Buhagiar comes in from Sydney FC, and now in a first team, he’ll be looking to break out after having struggled for minutes with the Sky Blues.
Like last season, Mikeltadze will be the focal point of their attack, with Sotirio will now supporting him as a penetrative number 10 alongside Piscopo. The later will replace Yuel on the left wing, and Buhagiar will replace Boumal on the right.
Defensively the side will be structured similarly with the back line of four to defend as a compact unit. The full-backs tuck in, and will defend against wide players in one-on-one situations.
The Jets’ back four will look mostly the same with Jason Hoffman, Matthew Jurman and Jordan Elsey expected to start, while Carl Jenkinson, who joined after spending last season on loan at Melbourne City from Nottingham Forest, slots in at right back.
Following a busy off-season, the pieces look to be slowly coming together for the Jets, as they look to once again become a finals regular.
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