Friday January 31st: Melbourne Heart vs Sydney FC (AAMI Park)
With the news of the Manchester City FC buy-out now fully sun in to the staff and players at Heart, and some very decent football over the last couple of weeks (including that debut win for the season over the Jets), John van t’Schip must be feeling reasonably confident for getting all three points in this game. Even though the Heart still have a miss-firing striker in Michael Mifsud, they have been able to find the net five times over two games and it is almost certain that Mifsd will not be the focal point for their attack due to injury. Of course there will be the need for Kewell, Germano, Williams and Dugandzic to keep the forward momentum of the squad going, and it will be intriguing to see how the home fans will respond in terms of supporting numbers and passion for the game. However where the Heart will need to be at the best to win at home is in defence, as whilst they have scored 5 goals against the Jets and Reds in total since Round Fifteen, they have let in three. The manner in which the Reds snatched the win away from the Heart last round demonstrates certain weaknesses that a Sydney FC on song will exploit. I’m still not convinced by Kisnorbo, Behich and Wielaert in being able to support the work being done by the forwards and midfielders.
Then there is the salient fact that Sydney FC have traveled again to Melbourne and have the impetus of a 5-0 thumping of the Victory in their favour. Alessandro del Piero seems to have rediscovered his mojo and for the first time all season Farina’s coaching seems to have vision and purpose. The visitors will be hurt by the lack of Terry McFlynn, however Richard Garcia is back. The Serbian trio of Despotovic, Dimitrejevoc and Petkovic offers the Sky Blues good value across the entire field, and Gligor looks to be starting a half-decent career in the senior team. Assuming Sydney FC can use their strong talent in a cohesive fashion and break down a suspect Heart defence it could be another win on the road for Farina, and more soul searching for van t’Schip.
My Prediction: Sydney FC 1-2 win
Friday 31st January: Perth Glory vs Melbourne Victory (nib Stadium)
Both of these teams are in a mini crisis coming into this round, with the home team made to look very ordinary last week by the Wanderers out at Wanderland, whilst for the second week running Kevin Muscat’s team were hammered 5-0. So it may be argued that this will be a game where neither coach will want to play an attacking, open game, preferring to stay conservative and either pick up a draw or hope to snaffle a good win. Yet for Kevin Muscat his possible line of action would be to exploit all that excellence in his attacking forwards and midfielders. Rogic, Thompson, Finkler, Troisi, Barbarousos, Pain and Nabbout give him lots of options in being aggressive, yet as shown by their last two matches all this power can be undone if there is a problematic structure and a lack of support from their defensive capabilities. Contreras is back and frankly I think he is a major liability, and whilst Traore is quality and Geria important to Muscat it will be at the back that the game may go bung for Muscat.
Having said that Perth looked almost bereft of any creativity last round and whilst yes, Smeltz poached a nice goal it was only down to a Herculean effort from Vukovic that kept the score from blowing out into an embarrassment. The youth policy of previous gaffer Ally Edwards seems to have been given the arse by Lowe and his head office staff, as demonstrated by the recruitment of Serb journeyman Marinkovic and the return of Rostyn Griffith to his home town. It will be of benefit for the home team if Jamie Maclaren, Sidnei and Shane Smeltz can find form going forward, and Chris Harrold looks quite promising with his pace and determination. Playing at home will no doubt help the Glory, yet I have no great confidence in the squad’s goal scoring potential. It should be a fascinating game and if Muscat does draw out the more aggressive, talented capabilities of his attack Danny Vukovic could be in for a torrid time.
My Prediction: Melbourne Victory win 0-2
Saturday 1st February: Wellington Phoenix vs Adelaide United (Eden Park)
Nominally a home game for the Phoenix, the game is being played in Auckland which may see a small drop in the intensity of home support. That will not be of major concern to Ernie Merrick and his squad however, as the Phoenix have been in excellent form these last few rounds, and have every reason to be confident that can topple the Reds. The return of Costa Rican internationals Hernandez and Cunningham bolsters a line up that is looking more and more capable as the season progresses. Huysegems will be back for more goal scoring attempts, and Tyler Boyd should get more game time to demonstrate his potential. As for the visitors Adelaide have been unbeaten now for the last five rounds and nominally are the form team of the A-League. However there is still some degree of uncertainty over how capable Gombau’s team is when it comes to dominating matches and winning well. The adjustment in style from a tiki-taka format to more direct football has undoubtedly helped with their success rate, however as demonstrated last week against the Heart the Reds can drop off in intensity and their defence has moments of weakness. There is much to expect from the likes of Djite, Mabil, Malik, Jeronimo and Ferreira, whilst recent signing Ryan Griffiths should get plenty of opportunities to show his value. I have a sneaking suspicion this will be either a very free flowing game where goals may rain down, or more likely the result will pivot on a specific dead ball opportunity.
My Prediction: 1-1 Draw
Saturday 1st February: Newcastle United vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Hunter Stadium)
Fans of the Jets must feel rather sick to the stomach over the horrid run of form recently shown by the Jets, having secured a solitary point from five games and of course seen the dumping of Gary Van Egmond for Clayton Zane. However what would really be galling is the manner in which the Jets have lost so many games this season. There appears to be a bankruptcy of ideas behind their tactical structures, and the wasted talent from the likes of Hoole, Brillante, Virgili, Goodwin and even Taggart is an indictment on both former and current coach. It’s also apparent that the older and more experienced players such as Zadkovich and Heskey are simply not performing consistently, nor up to the appropriate standards for a quality A-League squad. They may get a lift from the return of Joel Griffiths to the club, yet it’s not necessarily up front where Newcastle are stuffed; it’s an endemic problem across the entire pitch.
As for the visitors the Wanderers look to have returned to a near replica of the team and playing style that won them the premiers’ plate last season. Their dismantling of a tepid Perth Glory at home last week was down to almost every player lifting their game above and beyond past weeks’ level. Certain players such as Mooy, Hersi and Bridge, who provided much of the Wanderer’s go forward last season have come back into form. It must also be said that the use of Spiranovic as a CDM by Tony Popovic added new depth to the squad’s playing style. Throw in the good work shown by two non-regular starters in Dean Heffernan and Shannon Cole, and you can see that the Wanderers have emerged nicely from their mini-slump. Unfortunately their right back rock Jerome Polenz is still MIA due to injury and his presence will be missed. Tomi Juric returns for striker’s duty and he and Brendon Santalab are becoming a solid pair of goal scorers.
My Prediction: Western Sydney Wanderers win 0-3
Saturday 2nd February: Brisbane Roar vs Central Coast Mariners (Suncorp Stadium)
Nominally the match of the round and one that should give either the Roar a chance to put one hand over the premier’s plate, or for the Mariners to secure second place on the table, this game has swung decisively in the home team’s favour due to changes in both teams’ personnel. For the Roar Besart Berisha returns to the line up after serving his match suspension last week, and whatever anyone thinks of his personality he is a proven goal scorer. As for the visitors the Mariners have lost McBreen and Sainsbury (who have both taken advantage of transfer opportunities to leave the club) and whilst he hasn’t been listed in the team’s line up defender Eddy Bosnar has just been acquired to help bolster their backs. On paper the Roar have major advantages thanks to the likes of Broich, McKay, Brattan and Hingert, whilst Devante Clut demonstrated last week against the Phoenix that there is plenty of talent being developed in the home team’s younger squad members. Yet of the two teams the form over recent weeks has been with the Mariners, and the Roar have not always found the going easy against their major rival during the era 2010/11 – 2011/12. Whilst last week the Mariners gave the Jets a 3 goal shellacking their performances this season have generally been less florid, grinding out results as needed. This could be the opportunity forgotten Socceroo striker Mitchell Duke needs to reassert not just his own personal talents but also to give the Roar lots of trouble at the back (where they have shown some fragility now and again).
My Prediction: 1-1 Draw