A-League 2013/14: Round Eight Preview

Friday 29th November: Central Coast Mariners vs Melbourne Victory (Bluetongue Stadium)

In what could be described as the Battle of Once -Were-Assistants Phil Moss faces Kevin Muscat with both clubs winning last week. The Victory are arguably in better form, thanks to some very good work from the likes of Troisi, Thompson, Nichols and Coe, and their win last round against Adelaide was quite an achievement. Having said that their defence is not as strong as could be hoped, with Contreras particularly a volatile weakness. They are also missing Broxham and Leijer with the later suspended for a red card from last week’s game. The Mariners have an excellent record at home and whilst no one is really setting the world on fire all are contributing. Flores is the obvious game-changer for the home team, though Duke, McBreen and Montgomery will be key. as I write this I am unsure if Reddy or Pasfield will be in goal, however neither should be a liability. Defensively the Mariners have plenty of quality, and it’ll be fascinating to see whether the Victory can break them down.

My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Saturday 30th November: Brisbane Roar vs Perth Glory (Suncorp Stadium)

The Roar are deserved table toppers at the moment and with no major changes to their squad coming into this game it would be a brave person to punt against them at home. Berisha, Mackay, Franjic, Broich and Yeboah are all players who will test the capabilities of the visiting team. Kwame yeboah is probably the most exciting young prospect in the A-League right now and it will be interesting to see if Mike Mulvey continues to use him as a late sub. Berisha should also be better for his run last week, however the tempo of this game can’t be the same as that last week against the Wanderers, as the Roar will struggle with intensity and fitness. Perth are going to be without Scott Jamieson who has been lost for the remainder of the season, and marquee William Gallas who is out for a week. Their playing style has not been one to win many admirers nor many matches however they do have some capability to score goals thanks to Jamie MacLaren and Shane Smeltz. Smeltz may be the unknown factor in this game as he is finally free of injury and All-White commitments. Sidnei is also a potent member of the Glory squad, however away from home against a very strong Roar it’s well nigh impossible to see them winning

My Prediction: 2-0 Roar win

Saturday 30th November: Sydney FC vs Newcastle Jets (Allianz Stadium)

Back in Round One the Jets looked ineffectual whilst Sydney FC served competent if uninspiring football. Since then both Frank Farina and Gary Van Egmond have had intense scrutiny of the failings of their playing style and squad thrust on them, which has then transitioned to some very decent winning football. Both teams will be looking for their third win on the trot, and whilst neither is looking to threaten the likes of the Roar or Wanderers just yet if they keep racking up victories they could well challenge. Sydney FC have got issues with that old bogeyman of theirs, i.e. the red card monster, and are missing Bojic and Tiago due to on-field indiscretions. As always when fit del Piero will be crucial to the fortunes of the home team, however Richard Garcia and Seb Ryall should not be forgotten. SFC’s Serb connection also looks decent with Despotovic and Petkovic helping out in front and back respectively. However there is something exciting about how the Jets has transitioned with their young players in recent weeks, and whilst they may not play joga bonita football Adam Taggart is going to be enemy no.1 for the home team. Gallaway, Holle, Brillante and Goodwin are part of this cadre of youthful quality, and with Heskey, Nathan Burns and Zadkovich also there to add experience there is much to like about the visitors.

My Prediction: 2-1 Jets win

Sunday 1st December: Wellington Phoenix Vs Western Sydney Wanderers

Back at the ‘Cake Tin’ for the first time since Round One, and with some bad luck and international commitments causing disruption to their season, the Phoenix are possibly in the best position they have been for some time. To be honest though they will need to get the best out of Moss, Ifill, Husysegems, Hernandez and Brockie to challenge a weakened but angry Wanderers who will be looking to smack back after last week’s loss. Still without Hersi and Juric, but also missing Ono, it could be said that much of the offensive threat of the visitors has been de-fanged. However Santalab and Bridge are going to still be of concern for Ernie Merrick and if there is a time for Aaron Mooy to step up this could be it. Matt Spiranovic should be starting again however it will be intriguing to see what happens with Topor-Stanley, Beauchamp and D’Apuzzo. The flukey Wellington winds and potential for a good crowd may influence the game but it’s hard to see past a visitor win.

My Prediction: 2-0 Wanderers win

Sunday 1st December: Melbourne Heart Vs Adelaide United (AAMI Park)

In what may be jokingly called ‘Sack Race: Part II’, John Aloisi and Josep Gombau will both be looking for their charges to stop the rot and both score goals and more importantly win a game. Like everyone else I was very partial to the tiki-taka possession style of the Reds however after some initial promise it has taken the visiting team nowhere. For the Heart their inability to score goals, defend with passion and intelligence, and the overall gutless performances particularly as shown against Sydney FC last week makes them look like certain wooden spooners if they continue in such a vein. However in what could be seen as a vital change in their dynamic, Harry Kewell is finally back and will need to play the whole 90 minutes of a standard and belief that will compel his team mates forward. David Williams may assist, and Kisnorbo’s return will strengthen the backline. Adelaide must stop the slow and steady two steps backwards, one step sideways, maybe half-a-step forwards football and press for more direct movement. Bruce Djite is a welcome addition to the (potential) starting line-up, and whilst Cassio will be missed it’s the other Latino players such as Ferreira, Jeronimo, Carrusca, Isais and Cirio that need to turn Gombau’s system into a winning one. Zullo and Elrich need to help stop the goal leakage too. By game’s end we could be seeing one coach shown the door.

My prediction 2-2 draw

A-League 2013/14: Round Seven Review

Brisbane Roar Vs Western Sydney Wanderers (3-1 win Roar)

The immovable object that was the Western Sydney Wanderers met the irresistible force that is the Brisbane Roar and after only 20 minutes it was the visiting team that had buckled, going two goals down to the persistence of returning Roar striker Besart Berisha, and the quality control of Ivan Franjic. This was not the expected start for the Wanderers, who then countered for almost every remaining minute of the game, attempting to wrest back control. Brendon Santalab had at least three decent chances of which he was only able to convert one. At 2-1 the game was nominally anyone’s as the Roar sat back and the Wanderers again and again came forward. Cole had his moments however the absence of Hersi and Juric didn’t help the Wanderers cause, then with Ono pulled due to a groin niggle Popovic was forced to rely on Mooy, Bridge and Haliti to try and rescue the game. The Roar did all they had to do in defence whilst not exactly covering themselves in glory, then when the Wanderers were at their last gasp to get the draw exciting new tyro Kwame Yeboah thundered the ball into Covic’s goal after getting away from Jerome Polenz. The result did not exactly mirror the tenor of the game however the Roar were worthy winners.

Sydney FC vs Wellington Phoenix (2-1 win Sydney FC win)

Richard Garcia’s goal was a stunning opening for the home team in their attempt to win three games on the trot, however whilst Sydney FC played well the Phoenix never let go of hopes of at least drawing level. Wellington goal keeper Glen Moss was at his best, particularly when saving an attempt of goal from del Piero that was typical of the ex-Juventus maestro, plus a long range shot from Bojic. Bojic soured his efforts by incurring a second yellow, followed by the appropriate send off in the second half, raising the spectre of Sydney FC’s problems with discipline again. Wellington finally pulled one goal back thanks to Coasta Rican Kenny Cunningham late in the match, and if his preceding efforts had been justly rewarded they could have actually won. However deep into injury time new overseas strike Ranko Despotovic secured the win for Farina’s squad, thanks to a clever raid from Seb Ryall. For Sydney FC the future is looking a lot rosier, whilst Ernie Merrick and the Phoenix are yet to secure a win this season.

Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United (3-0 Victory win)

The reshaping of Adelaide into a possession-based team that plays a tickey-taka Barcelona style under Josep Gombau is now under extreme scrutiny, thanks to the remarkable efforts of Kevin Muscat’s Victory at home, and the lapses in defense from the Reds. Nominally a team that has great potential the inability of the Reds to stop leaking goals must be a concern for everyone associated with the club, plus now with only one win from seven starts  they are rapidly becoming rivals to the Heart for wooden spoon honours. The most disappointing aspect of this result for Adelaide is that they were playing a team that went one man down before half time, with Adrian Leijer being sent off and had James Troisi subbed for a defensive player as a result. Then, to make things worse when Contreras committed yet another indiscretion in the box the resultant penalty could not be converted. Archie Thompson and Mitch Nichols added to the Reds misery and to Kostas Barbarouses’s early goal again due to defensive lapses. Michael Zullo had one positive moment and on paper Adelaide should be playing better, but contrasted to the Victory who are looking good in almost all positions Gombau’s squad is simply not doing what it needs to win.

Perth Glory Vs Central Coast Mariners (2-1 Mariners win)

With a much cooler start later in the evening contrasted with their last home game, Perth Glory went out to a 1-0 lead thanks to an excellently taken goal by Jamie Maclean and with French marquee William Gallas looking to impress with some neat footwork things were looking good for the home team. However the Mariners under new head coach Phil Moss didn’t have to wait to look to reply with Michael McGlinchey leveling things up thanks to some nice lead-up work from Flores and Simon. This retort from the visitors came hard on the heels of Gallas leaving the pitch with a calf injury, reducing the defensive capabilities of Perth. Things got worse for Ally Edwards’ team in the second half when key player Scott Jamieson also went down with a leg injury and had to be stretchered off. Showing the same amount of steel and determination that has marked out the Mariners for many a season the win was secured at the 93rd minute of the game when Mitchell Duke shot the ball past a sedentary Danny Vukovic. The resulting 2-1 victory for the Mariners may have been cruel for the Glory, however as per previous games this season Perth are still to attain a performance class similar to the likes of the Mariners, Wanderers or Roar.

Newcastle Jets vs Melbourne Heart (3-1 Jets win)

At the beginning of this season the Jets were playing pretty ordinary football whilst the Heart were looking more attractive if not getting the wins. After seven rounds the Jets have turned things around in a big way, particularly with Adam Taggart driving them up the ladder with efforts like that this round where he scored a wonderful hat trick, whilst the Heart are meandering and fumbling their way in the cellar of the league. Gary Van Egmond is not necessarily giving his team more direction and better instructions, however with 3 wins on the trot now the Newcastle team is looking very attractive as a dark horse for finals glory. Mark Birighitti again demonstrated his worth in this game, and Zadkovich had arguably his best game of the season for the home team. David Williams was possibly the most threatening player for the Heart, however defensively they again failed (Aziz Behich must be a concern for John Aloisi, among many others) and though they finally ended their goal drought Mifsud was still unable to bury the ball in the net when presented with the opportunity. It is getting even more painful to watch this club, coach and their players fail and no one (with most emphasis on the staff and players) seem to have an answer to their woes. If Harry Kewell is available again sooner rather than later things may improve, but when looking forward to the next game between the Heart and the Reds it is tempting to say that only one coach will have a job after that game.

Best Game: Melbourne Victory Vs Adelaide United (Admittedly the Reds may not have been brilliant however the passion in the rivalry between these two teams plus the many incidents involving the Victory and coach Muscat kept everyone enthralled.

Best Goal: Ivan Franjic’s goal against the Wanderers (sublime control and power in his shot…with honourable mentions to Besart Berisha also for the Roar, and Garcia for Sydney FC plus any one of Adam Taggart’s three goals).

Best Team: Brisbane Roar (whilst not entirely excellent over the entire game, the manner in which they ‘owned’ the Wanderers for the first 20 minutes of their game then made sure the result went their way was highly praiseworthy)

Worst Team: Melbourne Heart (staggering like a punch-drunk boxer, with no aim, no skill and no confidence)

A-League 2013/14: Round Seven Preview

Friday 22nd November: Brisbane Roar Vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Suncorp Stadium)

A very tasty prospect this one, with the two teams that have been most impressive this season and with the home team losing top of the table bragging rights to the visitors after their loss last week. The Wanderers have been dogged and arguably unattractive in grinding our an undefeated run this season, whilst the Roar have been probably the most stylish team of the A-League. Still missing Youssouf Hersi and Tomi Juric, the Wanderers will go into this game as underdogs even though their record against the Roar is impeccable. Berisha is back from injury and McKay and Franjic return from national duty (with Franjic being in excellent nick during the mid-week Socceroos friendly against Costa Rica). The key match up will nominally be off the ground, with how Tony Popovic uses his bench and if he continues to use Spiranovic instead of Beauchamp, versus Mulvey’s ability to continue to manage the excellent tactics of his charges.

My Prediction: 1-1 draw

Saturday 23rd November: Sydney FC vs Wellington Phoenix (Allianz Stadium)

Less than three weeks ago Sydney FC were a club in crisis with players in disarray, a coach looking to be sacked, and a fan base that was gnashing their teeth and demanding answers from the management. Now, after two consecutive wins the Sky Blues are looking far more happy and competent. The visitors on the other hand are going to find the going tough with so many of their best players returning from international duty with the All-Whites. Ifill, Brockie and Huysegems are key players for the Nix, whilst ADP will again be the go to man for the home team. It will be intriguing to see how McFlynn helps a Sydney FC defensive line find stability whilst Despotovic might get some game time up front. The Phoenix could spring a surprise but the chances are slim.

My Prediction: 2-1 win Sydney FC

Saturday 23rd November: Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United (Etihad Stadium)

One of the biggest grudge matches in the A-League, this should both be a crowd pleaser and a chance for redemption for both coaches. Kevin Muscat had his team playing quality football last week, following along Ange’s template. However the result didn’t come their way and with 2 losses in a row the home team is in a little crisis. Mark Milligan’s return from the Socceroos should help, whilst Archie Thompson and James Troisi will be keen to remind everyone they are contenders for a role in next year’s Socceroo’s World Cup squad. The Reds are welcoming back Michael Zullo from the Socceroos, however what needs to come back most of all is defensive intensity. The ‘Barcelaide’ style of play propagated by Josep Gombau has its flaws right now and they are all at the back. Eugene Galekovic is arguably the best goalie going around in the A-League however he is constantly exposed by his team. Up front Adelaide has some class but in Traore particularly the home team has a better than decent defender (Contreras though is another matter). The Victory should do the job making life in Adelaide a little less easy than it was after the last meeting between these clubs.

My Prediction: 2-0 win Melbourne Victory

Saturday 23rd November: Perth Glory Vs Central Coast Mariners (nib Stadium)

Thanks to the enforced lay-off as their game against the Phoenix was put back, the Mariners are traveling to Perth with less physical demands than most visitors experience, plus the game will be played in the evening at nib Stadium. However it will still be a big ask for Phil Moss to work a win out of this game, as he is taking over from Graham Arnold in a unheralded change, plus more importantly the Glory are racking up quite the record at home. Flores and McBreen will be vital in getting through a Glory defence that should see French marquee William Gallas get more game time, whilst at the back Sainsbury and Roux will be looking to blunt All-White/Glory striker Shane Smeltz. This should be a hard fought match with possibly just one stuff up or one moment of brilliance deciding the result, with the Glory more likely to commit the former and the Mariners provide the later.

My Prediction: 0-0 Draw

Sunday 24th November: Newcastle Jets vs Melbourne Heart (Hunter Stadium)

Much like Frank Farina and Sydney FC, Gary Van Egmond and the Newcastle Jets have come back from the brink of oblivion, or at least intimations thereof, thanks to some timely wins. With the young stars in red and blue starting to have their potential meet reality (especially Andrew Hoole and Adam Taggart) and with a solid goalie shielded by some decent backs (i.e. Mark Birighetti and Scott Neville) the Jets are probably unbackable favourites to knock off the visitors, However this favouritism isn’t all about how good the Jets are; in fact it’s more a reflection of how poor the Heart are. Still without possible saviour Harry Kewell and featuring a roster of players who seem unable to score goals or keep the opposition out, this could be the straw that breaks the back for those who still believe John Aloisi has a career at the club. Heart’s woeful travel record doesn’t help, and in David Williams the visitors do have one more than adequate player. But when you stack these two teams up against each other one has emerged out of the shitter and one seems stuck down in the bowl.

My Prediction: 3-1 Jets Win

 

A-League 2013/14: Round Six Review

Melbourne Heart Vs Sydney FC (2-0 Sydney FC win)

The race for the most dysfunctional club in the current season of the A-League was quite recently a three horse race, between Farina’s Sydney FC, Van Egmond’s Newcastle Jets and Aloisi’s Melbourne Heart. After this game the race has been narrowed to one, with the Heart standing head and shoulders above every other club in the A-League in the race for the wooden spoon. This game was another example of Sydney FC being able to play at a level that was enough to defeat a hapless and shambolic opposition (much like that shown against the Jets in round one). Having said that the work of Naumoff and Chianese was very good, and as always Alessandro del Piero was good value. On the other side the Heart have nothing to be happy with or proud of, and whilst the supporters and staff can point to injury issues the players who were on the pitch were simply apathetically bad. Maltese striker Mifsud had a chance early in the first half but generally speaking he was MIA, and his value as an overseas marquee is certainly questionable. Behich had a horrid game where he was directly responsible for the second goal scored by Sydney FC, and even the likes of Ramsay and Williams were not up to scratch. John Aloisi’s coaching is not the root cause of the Heart’s problems however he is certainly closer tot the chop than any other A-League coach.

Perth Glory Vs Adelaide United (1-1 Draw)

In what was a very hot afternoon at nib Stadium the milestones and the big moments came thick and fast. Perth Glory goalie marked his 186th A-League game and new French marquee for the home team, William gallas played his first. Osama Malik for the visiting Reds had a very interesting 50th A-League game with his first ever goal, followed by an assist for the opposition when he let Chris Ford free to roam in the box for a corner, which led to the equaliser. Adelaide are still struggling to put together wins under Josep Gombau, and whilst the draw has eased some pressures and when played in the style required the Reds do look good, questions still need to be posed about how long can the results not go in Gombau’s favour. Ally Edwards’ charges are grinding our a series of draws and wins that have put them into fourth place, and in Sidnei they have one of the best imports in the A-League. The question is however can they find the strike power to score more goals against quality opposition like the Wanderers and Roar?

Western Sydney Wanderers Vs Melbourne Victory (1-0 Wanderers win)

Coming into this game the Victory had a rather poor away record and their effort against Sydney FC was a mixture of brain fades, solid skills and an unimaginative offensive effort. The Wanderers on the other hand have turned Wanderland (a.k.a. Pirtek Stadium) into a fortress where they have not been beaten since January 6th 2013, and had won with a restructured team against Heart away last round. the first twenty minutes or so was definitely in the visitor’s favour however crucially they failed to take their chances, with Thompson most to blame at missing what was an ideal chance that came from a Nichols cross. The home team again were missing Hersi but were also without new found striker hero Tomi Juric, and so Santalab was put into the central forward role. In miserably wet conditions the game was an arm wrestle with neither side being able to exert continuous and effective supremacy. However as play went on the Wanderers sopped up all the pressure thrown at them by the visitors and on the counter had several chances. The most egregiously missed opportunity came in the second half when Santalab only had Coe to beat, however he had neither the vision nor the confidence to take the shot. In the midfield Ono and Mooy were quality whilst Broxham for the Victory was in good form. Traore was also good value for the Victory in defence, whilst Polenz had some quality moments at right back and Spiranovic . As has happened so many times before, the Wanderers grabbed the points with a goal that came from consistent pressure, thanks to a lovely pass from substitute Labinot Haliti which was slotted home by Mark Bridge. Kevin Muscat’s team couldn’t find a response in the remaining ten minutes, leaving the way open for Tony Popvic’s charges to claim top of the ladder (conditional on the result of the Jets versus Roar game).

Newcastle United vs Brisbane Roar (2-1 Jets win)

In a wet and miserable Hunter Stadium the Roar had most of the early running, and this reflect the pre-game form of the two clubs. However without some of the better players (i.e. Berisha, McKay and Franjic) the visitors could only accumulate a 1 goal lead, which in most cicrumstances should’ve been enough. However Van Egmond’s young charges (plus a cameo from Emile Heskey) showed that the Jets are full of potential. Adam Taggart is rapidly becoming one of the most important players for any team in the A-League, and his equaliser was excellent. However Nathan Burns spurned a chance to improve the Jets’ position when he failed to knock in a penalty resulting from a Jade North handball. This let off for the Roar didn’t last long, as in a big mistake Donachie gifted the ball to Taggart, who used some silky control in the mud to get past the defenders and slot the ball into Theo’s net. From this late stage of the game the Roar had no riposte, and although Jaliens was marched by the ref with a red, the home team’s come from behind win was a great result.

Best Game: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Melbourne Victory (only one goal but considering the conditions this close battle was tense match was high value)

Best Goal: Adam Taggart (Jets vs Roar…a nice interception followed  by wonderful footwork in the wet to get past the Roar defenders, finished with aplomb)

Best Team: Western Sydney Wanderers (whilst not perfect they played up to their usual dogged standards even without two of their best players and strangled the Victory to win at home in shit-house conditions)

Worst Team: Melbourne Heart (apathetic, no structure, no flair, no vision and a coach who is not getting his underperforming squad to fire)

A-League 2013/14: Round Six Preview

Friday 15th November: Melbourne Heart vs Sydney FC (AAMI Park)

In what might have been described ‘the sack race’, last week’s win over Melbourne Victory has probably given Frank Farina at least another week to either foul up or keep the winning form going. John Aloisi is on thinner ice, however if the Heart go down to yet another loss the question would be who would want to take them on. Both teams have defensive structures that can be best described as flimsy and their ability to push forward and score heavily is limited. Alessandro del Piero is obviously a class above any other player who will be on the park but there is nothing to detract from the likes of David Williams, Golgol Mebrahtu and Iain Ramsay as potential home team threats. The suspensions for Warren and Tiago may not be as damaging to the Sydney FC defence as expected, with Bojic and Petkovic better options at the back anyway. With no Kewell the Heart will have problems but surely some luck must come their way this round.

My Prediction: 1-1 draw

Saturday 16th November: Perth Glory vs Adelaide United (nib Stadium)

Perth are yet to demonstrate truly convincing form this season however they are traveling in a better position on the ladder than the visitors who are certainly struggling. To be honest the better team should be Adelaide however the inability of the Reds to convert possession into goals is becoming a bane for Gombau and the players. Djite will be a key part of their attack and without Zullo on the left side the Glory could take advantage of gaps there. On the other hand Perth are missing Shane Smeltz is out for the Glory on duty with the NZ All Whites, after showing some promise since his return from injury. Playing at 2.30pm on a warm Perth afternoon will be a challenge for the visitors who have demonstrated some vulnerability when it comes to stamina. Two clubs that seem to be struggling to really hit their straps so far in 2013/14 could be hard to split by the final whistle.

My Prediction: 1-0 Glory

Saturday 16th November: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Melbourne Victory (Pirtek Stadium)

The game of the round and one that will be very interesting in terms of how will the Victory rebound from last week’s less than impressive performance, and how will the Wanderers cope without Tomi Juric and Youssouf Hersi. Brendon Santalab or Labinot Haliti will have to provide the strike power that Juric has delivered in spades for the home team so far this season, with Mark Bridge also needing to lift when shooting at goal. Defensively however the Wanderers should be exceedingly solid, with every expectation that Michael Beauchamp will be back on board. The visitors will be without Mark Milligan at the back, and Kosta Barbarouses is also out with both on international duty. Kevin Muscat’s team has leaked 5 goals and scored 5 goals since he took over so if anything they will be an entertaining opponent for the Wanderers. If Pain and Thompson can repeat what they did in scoring against Sydney FC last week, with James Troisi also in form, well the red and black may be in some strife. However the character and home town advantage is still with the Wanderers.

My Prediction: 2-1 Wanderers

Sunday 17th November: Newcastle Jets vs Brisbane Roar (Hunter Stadium)

Last round the Jets probably scored the surprise win whilst the Roar were generally excellent, living up to those expectations their great start to the season has created. With almost a full squad and new found confidence in their younger players, this could be another upset in the works. Brisbane are missing several players through injury, including key striker Besart Berisha, and also due to next Tuesday’s Socceroos game (Ivan Franjic and Mike McKay), so they may be at risk away from home. Thomas Broich will be crucial if the Roar are to live up to favourite status, whilst for Newcastle it will be intriguing to see how Heskey, Burns, Taggart and Hoole are combined on the field by Gary Van Egmond.

My Prediction: 2-2 Draw