The Wellington Phoenix will unleash a fresh formation and a raft of new attacking options as they look to cement their position in the A-League's top four this season.
An unsettling change of ownership and underwhelming recruitment meant the club was widely written off last season but they showed wonderful spirit to qualify for their third successive finals campaign and eventually finish fourth.
The Phoenix open the season against Sydney FC on Saturday and the presence of Alessandro Del Piero is expected to draw a bumper crowd to Westpac Stadium.
With all eyes on the Italian legend, it is an ideal platform for the Phoenix to reprise their party pooper role and assistant coach Chris Greenacre says fans can also expect a few new tricks.
The Phoenix are expected to kick off with a 4-1-3-2 formation and new faces Stein Huysegems, Jeremy Brockie, Benjamin Totori and Louis Fenton are likely to make their full club debuts.
As Paul Ifill continues to recover from a knee injury, Huysegems and Brockie have been paired together up front during the pre-season, with Totori and Fenton on the left and right wings respectively.
American Alex Smith, used as a holding midfielder last season, will be given licence to push further forward, with Manny Muscat screening the back four of Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Tony Lochhead and Leo Bertos.
Mark Paston appears to have the edge to start ahead of Glen Moss in goal.
"With myself and Tim Brown retiring it was important that we improved the squad and I think we've done that," Greenacre said.
"It will give us a bit of a different dimension, obviously with the pace that we've got now, and players that are more direct when they're actually on the ball. So it's quite an exciting formation for us and quite an exciting front five.
"Hopefully that's going to make an impact this season."
Pacy Panamanian Ricardo Clarke, on loan as injury cover for Dani Sanchez, and teenage striker Tyler Boyd give the Phoenix further attacking depth.
Huysegems, capped 15 times for Belgium, is still regaining match fitness after a long layoff but had impressed Greenacre with his touch and movement. "So if he can add one or two goals to that, he'll be a great acquisition."
But the bookmakers remain unconvinced, rating the Phoenix equal sixth favourites with Adelaide United.
Brisbane Roar, chasing a three-peat without super-coach Ange Postecoglou, are the favourites, ahead of Postecoglou's new club, Melbourne Victory.
Third-favourites Sydney are grabbing most of the headlines, thanks to their capture of Del Piero, while Newcastle Jets followed suit with the acquisition of former England striker Emile Heskey.
"It's great that we're getting these top players coming over and playing in the league," said Greenacre, who started his own career with Manchester City.
"Hopefully that's spreading the word around the world to show what a good league it is and the standard is decent. But we'd rather let everyone else get all the razzamatazz that goes on, with the media and stuff.
"We've shown we've deserved to be in that top-four.
"The boys play on that underdog tag a little bit.
"It is a big part of what the Phoenix is about, that us-against-them mentality."
- © Fairfax NZ News