2014/2015 Round Nine Preview: December 5th-7th

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Central Coast Mariners vs Melbourne Victory (Friday, 5th November 2014, North Sydney Oval)

This match has been overshadowed by the issues facing the Mariners future as well as the controversy of taking another game away from Gosford to North Sydney Oval. Whilst there are intriguing and arguably positive reasons for Mike Charlesworth to take the Mariners into broader markets that are not that far away from their central coast base, there has already been a negative reaction from many of the more rusted on fans. Then there is the hostility shown to the venue from Melbourne Victory’s coach Kevin Muscat, who has already voiced his concern over the potential for injuries to his players on the hard surface.

All this controversy and media huffing and puffing means that assessing the actual possible result is almost a secondary concern. Melbourne will be undoubted favourites even if they do not play their full and best team. The absence of Finkler may cause some problems for Berisha, but in Ben Khalfallah Muscat has a great alternate. Again there may be defensive concerns with the continuing absence of Delpierre however this iteration of the Mariners do not look good enough to take advantage of that issue. Whilst they may be able to maintain a high possession rate against the visitors, going forward and convincingly attacking their opponents with the resulting goals doesn’t seem to be happening for Moss’s team.

Final Verdict: Victory may be discomforted by the venue and the Mariners will want to maintain the same stolid work that has seen them only lose one of their last four games this season. However the visitors should be able to win well. My Prediction: 0-2 Melbourne Victory win

Newcastle Jets vs Wellington Phoenix (Saturday 6th December 2014, Hunter Stadium)

Two of the least fashionable clubs of the A-League meet in this match and it will be most interesting to see what kind of crowd come along to see the home team who are struggling this season, or the visitors who are playing well but are poor purveyors of traveling fans. The Jets have been finding it hard this season, and whilst they have found some degree of stability in the last two rounds with draws against the Wanderers and Mariners there is still no definitive expectation that they can run rampant against any opposition. Flores and Carney are playing well and the switch of Birighitti with Ben Kennedy in goal seems to have corrected some of the defensive woes Phil Stubbins’ team has had.

As for the visitors, even with the departure of goal scoring ace Jeremy Brockie to South Africa there is lots to like up front. McGlinchey, Burns, Bonevacia and Krishna have helped give the Phoenix their best ever start to an A-League season. It would be a foolish person to consider them less than an even chance for reaching the top six in April next year, and Ernie Merrick is getting the best out of a team that is hardly filled with stars.

Final Verdict: Wellington Phoenix may not be the best team away from home in the past, however this season they are looking much better. This should be a win for the visitors, even though the Jets won’t die wondering. My Prediction: 0-1 Wellington Pheonix win

Adelaide United vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Saturday 6th December 2014, Coopers Stadium)

The Reds are at home and have plenty of reason to shine against the last placed Wanderers after their defeat away to their nemesis the Victory last round. Plus, like every club who will be playing the Wanderers this season the added incentive of knocking off the AFC Champions’ League winners must give Gombau’s players another motivation. Adelaide are looking very good this season thanks to the growing depth and cohesion of their team on the field. Up front Djite and Cirio have been scoring goals, Carrusca has been arguably the best playmaker in any club and at the back Elrich and Mabil have been able to switch defence into attack regularly, The Reds will be missing the multi-talented Osama Malik however that shouldn’t be fatal for their chances.

As for the Wanderers, well almost everything that can go wrong with their 2014/15 A-League campaign has indeed gone wrong. They had been improving in their performances against the Mariners, Jets and Sydney FC at home, and whilst the goals weren’t coming in great floods the combination of Rukavytsya, Bridge, Juric and Castelen looked very potent. However on Wednesday night their effort against a Broich-less Brisbane Roar was simply not good enough. There are issues all over the park, particularly in relation to the sub-par returns from two key imports (Saba and Adeleke), and if it wasn’t for the likes of Covic, Topor-Stanley and Hamill the RBB and other fans would be starting to doubt the wisdom of Tony Popovic. Throw in the impending trip to Morocco for the Club World Cup and it is almost as if their success has laid the foundations for their current faults.

Final Verdict: I would love to believe that the Wanderers can come back, confound teh critics and win this week. However I don’t believe they are going to be able to bring away all three points. They may well jag a draw though. My Prediction: 2-1 Adelaide United

Melbourne City vs Brisbane Roar (Sunday 7th December 2014, AAMI Park)

Brisbane played well enough to keep a stuttering Wanderers out of their goal on Wednesday night, however they hardly set the world on fire with their own offensive efforts. Therefore coming down to Melbourne and facing a Melbourne City that was thumped by the Phoenix last round gives them an intriguing challenge, especially as Thomas Broich will again be absent. Defensively City do have problems, and with a core of Heart players in the backs and midfield John Van t’Schip must be hoping the likes of Paartelu and Mooy replicate their efforts from the first match between these two teams this season. In fact the area where the game will be won or lost will be in the midfield; Matt McKay played very well against the Wanderers and Mooy has been possibly the best City player all season so far. If the Roar midfield can get service to Henrique then he will cause problems for the home team. Conversely Williams can punish the City opposition so it could be one of those games that swings on one magic moment from the centre of the pitch. It will be interesting to see if and how Adam Sarota plays for Brisbane; he could be a quality addition to a Brisbane squad that still has some big gaps.

Final Verdict: I don’t think either team is really of a sufficient quality to get a huge win, but of the two Roar look better in defence and have been arguably better across the board even though they have lost more matches than won. My prediction 0-1 Brisbane Roar win

(N.B. as I missed the chance to post before the Sydney FC vs Perth Glory match I will only give a review for that game)

2014/2015 Round Five Review: 7th – 9th November

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Wellington Phoenix vs Western Sydney Wanderers (1-0 Wellington Phoenix win)

The Wanderers were coming out of their amazing achievement in winning the ACL titles the preceding weekend, and as has happened in the past with Tony Popovic’s policy when faced with such a complex scenario, he rang in the changes, giving first starts to several new or young signings such as Adeleke and Rukavytsya, Fofanah and Sotirio, plus allowing more game time for the likes of Trifiro, Juric, Castelen and Spiranovic. The home team was far more settled in personnel, and thus it was a little surprising to see the Wanderers play so fluently with some solid chances in the first 30 minutes or so. Fofanah and Juric undoubtedly could’ve scored, but neither of their misses were as bad as that from Louis Fenton for the Phoenix, who should’ve converted a well placed free kick cross from Michael McGlinchey as the first half came to an end.

The second half saw fatigue and unfamiliar combinations degrade the effectiveness of the Wanderers, though they had a good chance to score in the 52nd minute when there was some penalty box pinball at the Phoenix end. Veteran Kiwi keeper Glen Moss kept the ball out, and then at the other end it was down to a wonderful Matthew Spiranovic intervention at the 69 minute mark to stop Roy Krishna from scoring. The Fijian was to have some satisfaction ten minutes later when his nicely placed pass was met by Nathan Burns who had left Seyi Adeleke behind to put the ball past Ante Covic. Adeleke was again in trouble just before game’s end when he was judged to have fouled McGlinchey, however with the resultant spot kick Ante Covic repeated his ACL heroics and saved the ex-Mariner’s shot. The Phoenix had done enough to win whilst the Wanderers showed signs of being more than capable of lifting off the bottom of the A-League table when their season is restored to some normalcy.

Adelaide United vs Sydney FC (0-0 draw)

A fascinating clash between two of the leading teams this season, with the end result perhaps not a fair indication of the football played by both the Reds and Sydney FC. The first half was nominally in the favour of the home team, with Carrusca, Mabil and Cirio all having some excellent opportunities to put the ball in the Sydney goal. A combination of woodwork and Vedran Janjetovic kept the game tied up in the earlier stages. Ibini could’ve scored for the visitors however his was probably the only and best chance for Sydney FC before half time.

The second half was filled with chances and some controversy, again demonstrating that each team are providing a significant challenge this A-League season. It was all happening in the last third of the match as first Janko nearly scored, only to be denied by the Reds’ Boogard, followed by Janjetovic stopping Mabil’s header in similar spectacular terms. A free kick from Petkovic that hit the back of Galekovic’s net in the 67th minute was controversially called back as the ref claimed he had not signaled for the game to continue, then from the retake Janko was only denied a goal by the right side of the goal frame. Then, well into injury time Carrusca should’ve nailed the winner for the home team however his shot on an almost utterly open goal was scuffed badly. Neither side deserved to lose, but a 0-0 score line is perhaps a fair indication of the performance of both sides as not being able to bury the gold plated chances they had.

Newcastle Jets vs Melbourne Victory (2-2 Draw)

The Jets came into this home match with the underdog tag and for the first 35 minutes they played totally against that role,  going 2-0 up against the strength of the visiting Victory. Their first goal scored by captain Kew Jaliens was a classic of swooping on a well placed corner at the far post. The second was somewhat controversial, in that the penalty awarded by referee Strebre Delovski very soft indeed. It was well taken by local fave Joel Griffiths, and there must have been members of the Squadron and other Jets fans who thought a win was on the cards.

However Victory responded with a combination of goals first from Ben Khalfallah and then from Besart Berisha. The first was a header placed past Birighitti by the Tunisian international after the Jets defence were put into sixes and sevens and Finkler put a spoiled shot from Berisha into Khalfallah’s path. The second, scored after the break, was the result of a simply magical first touch pass from Khalfallah that was gathered by a rampant Berisha who calmly put the ball into the Jets’ net. There were some minor chances thereafter from both teams, however the score remained unaltered. For Phil Stubbins and for his players and the fans it must’ve been a frustrating result, whilst Kevin Muscat would’ve been pleased with the Victory comeback.

Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne City (1-3 Melbourne City win)

The agony of the Roar’s start to the 2014/15 season continued at home with a surprisingly big loss to Melbourne City, who now free of the hype and possible distraction of David Villa put the home team to the sword. The game was put almost out of Roar’s reach only after ten minutes, with first Williams and then Dugandzic scoring for City. The second goal was a nice one indeed, and showed that the Roar defence was at sixes and sevens. There was plenty of possession for the Roar however when on the attack Andrew Redmayne was up to the mark, and when the sides came in for the half time break the score remained unchanged. In the second half the game was played with all the fluidity expected from two teams who have had issues at the back this season, and when a reply from the Roar finally came with a McKay goal it was more the result of good fortune (i.e. a huge deflection off Borrello) that great play. What was very polished however was the winning goal, with Aaron Mooy escaping the attention of his opposite number in the midfield, then sending a well directed pass out to James Brown, who in turn squared his pass back to Marc Marino who scored easily. The Roar could not come back from there, leaving them with their fourth loss on the trot. For City fans, players and staff the win will be considered most important in building more impetus to challenge this season.

Central Coast Mariners Vs Perth Glory (0-1 Perth Glory win)

The longest hoodoo in A-League history was ended in the 0-1 win for Perth as they finally knocked off Central Coast at home, the first time during the ten years of the competition. As a spectacle for the neutral, or indeed as a home game for the Mariners’ fans there was little to be enthused about. The statistics were very much in favour of Phil Moss’s team, however all their possession led to no goals and arguably only one gold plated chance for a goal. Mitchell Duke should’ve scored in the 34th minute however Vukovic made sure the Glory didn’t go a goal down. Then, four minutes before the end of the first half’s regulation time a messy challenge from behind by John Hutchinson brought Nicholls down not that far outside the Mariner’s box. The resultant free kick taken by Serb Nebojsa Marinkovic was an A-Grade pearler, thundering into Reddy’s goal with pace and a killer curve. It was a classic goal that frankly was the only real highlight from a match that kept the Glory at the pinnacle of the table whilst Central Coast lumber to another ordinary result.

Best Team of the Round: Melbourne City deserve this accolade insofar as they played well enough to beat the 2013/14 champions at home after losing David Villa to his return to New York City. Wellington and Melbourne also deserve recognition for their efforts.

Worst Team of the Round: Brisbane might be considered the least adequate team again this round, though to be honest they did have good passages of play. The Wanderers were disjointed due to their massive changes after winning the AFC Champions League so it would be unfair to be harsh on their performance.

Best Goal of the Road: Aaron Mooy’s efforts in setting up a great goal from Marc Marino were good, but this honour must go to the combination of Ben Khalfallah and that man again Besart Berisha for the Victory against the Jets. Not only was Khalfallah’s first touch sublime Berisha was clinical in his finishing. Marinkovic’s goal was also excellent and some would reasonably argue it being the better.

2014/2015 Round Seven Preview: November 21st – 23rd

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Melbourne Victory vs Brisbane Roar (21st November 2014, Etihad Stadium)

The Battle of Berisha’s Clubs kicks off the seventh road of the 2014/15 season, and there is plenty to consider for partisans of either club as well as neutrals. The Roar bounced back from their terrible run of form to thump the Jets last Friday 0-4, and there is some degree of renewed hope available now for their supporters. Matt McKay returns to duty for the visitors after his Socceroos hit-out against Japan, and Henriques was in blistering form with his hat-trick in Newcastle. Mitigating against this is the continuing absence of Michael Theo in goal; other more learned and famous pundits have seen his injury-related MIA status just as problematic for Mulvey as is the leaving of Berisha and Franjic.

As for the home team, their form has been very good all season with the depth of Muscat’s squad continuing to get the results when some important players have been out due to injury or national duties. Last week’s game against Sydney FC was not their best but they did more than enough with a weakened starting XI to get a draw away from home. Bolstered by the return of Milligan, Barbarouses and Pain, the focus will undoubtedly be on Besart Berisha. No doubt he will want to perform as well as he can against his ex-team mates, and there is a fluidity and strength to the home team’s attack that all clubs would love to have. It could be at the back where Victory could have issues, with Delpierre and Geria not part of the game squad. Having said that Victory are in a rich seam of form and the lift they should get from a home crowd will undoubtedly influence their effort at Etihad.

Final Verdict: The Roar’s form is nominally on the return however the win in Newcastle against a turgid Jets team to me is a bit of a red herring. The Victory with their squad depth and quality, fun of good form and playing at home should be too strong. My Prediction: 3-1 Melbourne Victory.

Perth Glory vs Wellington Phoenix (Friday 21st November 2014, nib Stadium)

Many have been sceptical about the possibility of the Glory doing well this season, so it is with some chewing of humble pie that the naysayers are now considering Perth at the top of the table and playing very decent football. Whilst Kenny Lowe’s side is not the most flamboyant or attractive side tactically and stylistically, they have that most important feature, wins and the attendant points. Their defeat of the Wanderers last Saturday was efficient and featured a very sweet dead ball goal from Scott Jamieson and some notable saves from Danny Vukovic. Andy Keogh, Youssouf Hersi, Mitch Nichols and Jamie Maclaren have formed a good combination of youth and experience, local and imported talent. Throw in Marinkovic’s spot kick skills and the aforementioned Vukovic in goal there are plenty of positives around Perth.

Wellington will have to make their longest away trip of the season so far and they will be welcoming back several of their international and injured players, with McGlinchey and Brockie the key returnees. Their last minute loss last week when understrength against Adelaide was a disappointing result, however there is still plenty of potential with Merrick’s squad. Louis Fenton’s dislocated collar bone means there is a gap in the Phoenix’s structure but they will still be a challenge for the table topping Glory.

Final Verdict: Perth are on a roll and at home, and will be favoured to pick up the win. The all-round strength of the Glory gives them another leg up over a Nix who are very attractive in attack but not as cohesive in defensive. My Prediction: 2-1 Perth Glory

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Newcastle United (Saturday 22nd November, Pirtek Stadium)

The Wanderers have to play their third game in seven days and their second at home in four days, and hopefully they will continue the improvement indicated in their match against the Mariners. The combination of their newer recruits such as Adeleke, Rukavytsya, Castelen and Saba with longer serving Wanderers such as Covic, Poljak, Juric, La Rocca and Bridge showed some stuttering promise in their first match at Wanderland this season, and crucially they will have Nikolai Topor-Stanley returning from Socceroos duties. Tony Popovic is working hard to manage his squad with a very burdensome schedule whilst they adapt to an alternate style and it has not been that successful so far. It won;t be a season-ending match if the Wanderers lose but there will be almost no expectation of a top four finish if no win comes.

Newcastle are on the downward curve and there seems little to redeem their trajectory. Their 0-4 loss at home last Friday was one of the worst results for any club in recent A-League history, and what is most disappointing is there is no tactical or stylistic imagination. In almost every game this season they have been unable to maintain pressure on their opponents for lengthy time periods, keep their opponents out and obviously score a win. As much as they are in a better position pn the table than the Wanderers it is very hard to see where their improvement can come from.

Final Verdict: The Wanderers should be favourites to win, and they do have some real quality. If they can get over the physical demands of their crowded schedule and improve their cohesiveness then they should take care of the visiting Jets. My Prediction: 2-0 Western Sydney Wanderers win.

Melbourne City vs Sydney FC (Saturday 22nd November 2014, AAMI Park)

Sydney travel to Melbourne to meet City again, after previously playing back at Allianz in round one of the current season. The biggest problem that the away side has is the season ending anterior cruciate tear for their high scoring forward Corey Gameiro, and whilst they are not critically damaged up front there is still reason for concern. Mark Janko, Alex Brosque and Shane Smeltz are still an intimidating set of forwards, however its at the back and midfield that is the real strength of Sydney FC. The difference between this iteration and the past two seasons’ teams is remarkable.

Melbourne City would feel a little aggrieved in letting last week’s match against Central Coast slip away from them, however since David Villa has left there has been an improvement in their ability to find outlets and goals across the team. Aaron Mooy is back from his short sojourn in Japan with the Socceroos however there are still some significant absences. Murdocca, Germano and Slovenian marquee Koren are not fit and not part of the squad. John van t’Schip may still be looking for answers to all the issues facing City, but he must feel better now than after the derby against Victory.

Final Verdict: FC have a lot of reasons to be considered the likely winner and maintain their unbeaten record this season. City will challenge but should not be able to match the intensity and capability of their fellow Melburnian club. My Prediction: 0-2 Sydney FC win.

Central Coast Mariners vs Adelaide United

Yes, the Mariners have been able to snare two draws away from home in the last rounds, however truth be told they were playing two teams who have been finding it hard this season so far to score goals in large quantities and regularly, and to some extent the Mariners were able to get out of jail against both Melbourne City and the Wanderers. They are almost at full strength and with the likes of Rose, Duke and Hutchinson there is a core of players on Phil Moss’ books that know what should be done particularly back at home at Gosford. They will also welcome the return of Storm Roux who has been an important part of their backs, now that his absence due to international duties with the All whites are over for now.

The Reds come to Gosford without Bruce Djite, however all over the park there are options for goals as well as plenty of potential to dull the home team’s attack. Carrusca and Cirio will no doubt form a huge part of Gombau’s offensive plans, whilst at the back Elrich is doing quite well. Awer Mabil is growing in stature and is another positive part of the Adelaide squad. Assuming that the Barca-inspired passing and possession game can break down the Mariners then look for more than one or two goals from the visitors.

Final Verdict: The Reds are a class above their hosts and one of the top four teams going around this season so far. My Prediction: 0-2 Adelaide United win

2014/2015 Round Six Preview: November 14th – 16th

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Newcastle United vs Brisbane Roar (Hunter Stadium, Friday November 14th 2014)

Considering neither club is sitting on a shitload of points at the moment this match at the Jet’s home ground is another crucial one for both squads and their respective coaches. Brisbane have been a tad unlucky in their four losses so far this season however there are deficiencies and problems that are all too apparent (e.g. the lack of a replacement for Berisha, Young’s struggles in goal, verbal stoushes on the pitch). Throw in the travel away from home, the absence of Matt McKay, and the continuing non-appearance of Adam Sarota and Michael Theo then this is not the best qualified Roar squad aiming to win on the road.

Having said that Newcastle are only a few increments above the Roar in terms of points and player quality. There 2-2 draw against Melbourne Victory was a good match and showed that now they are off the road Phil Stubbins can possibly jag some results. There are some players who should be doing much better, including Flores and arguably Neumann. Griffiths and Jaliens have been well performed and David Carney has started to find his feet. It will be interesting to see if Madaschi and Celeski get much game time as they are welcome additions to a relatively threadbare line up.

Final Verdict: Brisbane are still a team to be respected if not feared, and it will be important for Mike Mulvey that the likes of Broich, Stefanutto, North and Brattan start achieving more. The Jets are at home and do have a better recent form run, but it will be hard for them to defeat last season’s champions. My Prediction: 2-2 Draw

Adelaide United vs Wellington Phoenix (Coopers Stadium, 15th November 2014)

Whilst Adelaide may be a little fatigued due to their midweek FFA Cup exertions they have the luxury of having played at home and a squad that is almost at its best. Unfortunately they are missing Bruce Djite, and in his absence it’ll be important for Cirio, Carrusca and Isaias to add potency in front of goal. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect for coach Gombau is the form of Young Socceroo Awer Mabil and recently re-signed journeyman Tarek Elrich. Both of these players at the opposite ends of their careers are coming into some really good performances for the Reds.

This season’s iteration of the Phoenix is no easy beat, and their position on the ladder and their preceding form  of wins at home and away indicates they are a very strong prospect for a final’s challenge. Burns and Bonevacia have been impressive however other key players such as Louis Fenton, Michael McGlinchey and Jeremy Brockie will be absent due to injury and/or international duties. Travelling away from Wellington is an additional challenge for Ernie Merrick’s team, and whilst they are probably more rested they are still stretched in terms of quality personnel.

Final Verdict: I can’t see anything but an Adelaide win, even without their key striker Bruce Djite. The mixture of style and substance from the Reds has them higher on the table than their visitors and alongside Perth Glory, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC they are well ensconced in the pundits’ visions of top four finishers in 2014/15. My Prediction: 2-0 Adelaide United

Sydney FC vs Melbourne Victory (Allianz Stadium, 15th November 2014)

What should be one of the biggest of the so-called ‘Big Blue’ derbies has been diminished by a combination of international representation and injuries impacting both on FC and Victory. The visitors are arguably more impacted by these issues, including Pain, Milligan, Barbarouses, possibly Thompson, and Georgievski all not able to play. Antonis, Gameiro, Janko and Jurman are missing from the home team’s line up, with Antonis’ omission being somewhat controversial after receiving an injury that precluded him from playing for the Socceroos. Importantly for the home team their well-credentialed defensive structure has not been impacted by such problems, and Allianz Stadium is becoming a fortress for Graham Arnold’s squad.

Kevin Muscat still has plenty of quality to breach the walls of the Sky Blues, with Finkler, Khalfallah and Berisha to  give Sydney FC some pause to think whilst Delpierre and Valeri should bolster the midfield and defence for the visitors. The Victory have already shown this season that they can be more than competitive with holes in their side, but it will be a big result if they can nullify the likes of Brosque, Ibini and Dimitrijevic.

Final Verdict: Almost too close to call and I suspect that this is a match that could become a real slug fest. A draw seems the most appropriate result for two teams that are so evenly matched. My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Perth Glory vs Western Sydney Wanderers (nib Stadium, 15th November 2014)

Perth and Western Sydney are at opposite ends of the table so far in 2014/15, and unlike the last two seasons it’s the old NSL powerhouse who has rediscovered an ability to win and the junior A-League club which is struggling to find the points. Perth have formed a so far successful approach to this season by combining some quality juniors (most notably Jamie Maclaren and Daniel de Silva) with some good acquisitions (Andy Keough, Mitch Nichols, Youssouf Hersi). Throw in some veterans from 2013/14 who have found a new lease of life, especially Nebojsa Marinkovic, and this is a formidable opponent for the Wanderers.

However Perth will be missing Nichols, Maclaren and Woodcock, and they have played a midweek FFA Cup match away from home. The Wanderers are also still dealing with issues from being on the road, and then there is the obvious burden of coming out of their tumultuous AFC Champions’ League matches. They have lost to Socceroos duty Nikolai Topor-Stanley and there are stories that Covic, Spiranovic, Castelen, Juric and Adeleke will not be going to Perth. Obviously being without a win there is a lot of pressure on Popovic’s squad, and it will be interesting to see how Rukavytsya and Saba particularly deal with the burden of being key creative players in the opposition half. It’s in defence however that the Wanderers will need to lift, and if Mullen, Golec, Hamill and Cole are at the back they have to be better than past efforts.

Final Verdict: I refuse to tip against the Wanderers but this will be another hard task for a team that is feeling all the effects of putting so much effort and getting so much success out of the ACL. Perth at home with the personnel still available are going to be favourites. My Predictions: 1-1 Draw

Melbourne City vs Central Coast Mariners (AAMI Park, 16th November 2014)

The Mariners will be looking for some redemption for not just the loss to Adelaide in the midweek FFA Cup semi, but also to try and reverse the run of disappointing results they have had since their first round win over the Jets. Not as badly hurt by the problems of international duties or injury (though Matt Simon and Storm Roux will be missed) as City, they are still underdogs on the road against a team that clobbered the Roar last week.

Melbourne City have perhaps got out from under the shadow of the David Villa cameo, and even with some serious absences (Mooy, Koren, Germano, Chapman) there is a potential match winning line up under van t’Schip’s guidance ready to take on the visiting Mariners. Paartalu is finally showing value as an acquisition, Williams’ radar is finding guidance and Damien Duff is still one of the better overseas signings for any club this season. There may not be the support from the home fans at AAMI Park as seen in earlier matches, however there will be an advantage being back in Melbourne and not having to deal with a midweek match like the visitors have to.

Final Verdict: The Mariners are not quite at sixes and sevens, however they are looking vulnerable. City are also far from perfect yet they have more points than Central Coast and look more capable of winning in any match let alone this one. My Prediction: 2-1 Melbourne City win

2014/2015 Round Four Preview: 31st October- 3rd November

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Friday 31st October: Melbourne City vs Adelaide United (AAMI Park)

Whilst the wheels have not fallen off the Sheik Mansour-owned Melbourne City just yet, they looked wobbly last week and are in danger of coming loose from the axle if John van t’Schip can’t get more value from his players. Of course much of the attention will be on David Villa up front, especially considering he has had his ten game guest player stint reduced to four. However the Spanish superstar’s final match should not be about him for City to win and put things back on track. Solid performers Duff and Mooy need to lift, but more importantly the likes of Kisnorbo, Ramsay, Partaalu, Hoffman and Germano need to deliver. aside from Partaalu the others were part of the old Heart squad and so far they are showing the same up and down form that consigned City’s previous entity to the bottom of the table in 2013/14. It may be helpful if David Williams returns and brings with him the goal scoring boots he had last season as well, but it’s the midfield and back where City need to do better.

As for the Reds their lot is a far happier one, thanks to some quality performances on the pitch since the 2014/15 season began, and the stability of the squad in terms of delivering effective football based on Gombau’s technical direction. Bruce Djite makes a welcome return from injury, however it is the Latino/Iberian quartet of Carrusca, Isais, Cirio and Sanchez that forms a vital engine for Adelaide’s progression. It’s also good to see how well Awer Mabil and Tarek Elrich, one a relative youngster, the other a season veteran, are playing. This is a quality squad playing away from home and they’re deserving of favouritism.

Final Verdict: There will be plenty of people to see Villa say farewell to the A-League, and again on paper City look decent. However the Reds are a boss machine right now and I can’t see them losing. My Prediction: 1-3 Adelaide United.

Saturday 1st November: Perth Glory vs Newcastle United (nib Stadium)

These two teams conceded six goals inn total against their opposition last round which indicates they both may have defensive issues, yet in all honesty it’s not as ugly as the raw stats predict. In fact Perth have a nil balance on their for and against record as it stands after three rounds, and Newcastle’s shocking effort last round against the Phoenix has warped what was a reasonable start to the season. Perhaps the biggest disparity is that the Glory have discovered a goal scorer in Andy Keogh, whilst for the Jets no one has really put their hand up to replace Fulham’s Adam Taggart in 2014/15.

Another issue that will be sure to bedevil the Jets is they are still on the road and not yet to come home to Hunter International Stadium, whereas the Glory are back from a jaunt cross the Nullabor to Adelaide, and are at home. There may be some tired legs in the purple and white thanks to their extra-time win midweek over Melbourne Victory in the FFA Cup, however there should be no excuses in a side brimming with youth and experience. The combination of Maclaren and perhaps de Silva from the younger ranks with Garcia, Nicholls, Hersi and Keogh should be a winning one. As for Newcastle this is the ideal opportunity for someone like David Carney or Marcos Flores to remind fans and neutrals alike why they were once icons of the A-League is seasons past.

Final Verdict: Perth should do the job on a struggling Jets, who are nowhere near as blessed when it comes to potential and talent both in front of their own goal nor the opposition’s. My Prediction: 2-0 Perth Glory

Sunday 2nd November: Sydney FC vs Central Coast Mariners (Allianz Stadium)

A tantalizing clash between two clubs that have plenty of history, plus the added piquancy of the relationship between FC coach Graham Arnold, the Mariners and their coach Phil Moss, this will be a match that could finally establish the home team as a favourite for title honours this season. With a near full squad and at home Arnold must feel very confident of snaring all three points, even though the Mariners will be no push overs. The defensive effort against the Roar has probably silenced many who saw chinks in Sydney FC’s backs, whereas the undoubted quality of the likes of Janko, Ibini, Gameiro, Brosque, Antonis and possibly Smeltz means that Sydney can go all out. as for the visitors, their squad is not exactly equal in terms of depth or on paper quality. However as shown in past seasons any game involving Central Coast is not one resolved at a desk; they will give all, and in the likes of Montgomery, Duke, Bosnar, Roux, Caceres and Simon they too have some players to be reckoned with.

Final Verdict: The week’s break for the visitors won’t be that beneficial, and the Mariners have hardly set the world on fire with their form before the enforced lay-off. Sydney FC look the goods for another win. My Prediction: 3-1 Sydney FC

Monday 3rd November: Melbourne Victory vs Wellington Phoenix (AAMI Park)

Arguably the match of the round, it is nicely set up thanks to the preceding weeks’ form from both the home team and the visitors, plus perhaps more importantly the after effects of the Victory’s loss against Perth in their midweek FFA Cup match against Perth Glory. The suspensions to Leijer and Giorgevski will undoubtedly unsettle the Victory, and Delpierre, Berisha and perhaps Thompson could all be in doubt due to injury. Up front this shouldn’t be too big a problem for Muscat as he can still call upon Finkler, Barbarouses and Tunisian international Ben Khalfallah to deliver goals, However at the back there may be some concerns, especially considering in each A-League game played this season Victory have conceded at least one goal, and arguably if there is a squad with plenty of goals in them that they are yet to meet so far in 2014/15 it’s Wellington.

The Phoenix will undoubtedly find their cross-Tasman journey a challenge however they are certainly up for it thanks especially to the front trio of Brockie, McGlinchey and Burns. Burns is probably the pick of the three and some in the media are already talking up his chances for a return to the Socceroos. Bonavecia is going to cause headaches for the Victory midfield, but the question is how well can Wellington’s backs contain a possibly undermanned Victory? Ernie Merrick is a cagey coach with a wealth of experience if not of funds for his squad, and he will give his protege and friend Kevin Muscat plenty to think about.

Final Prediction: this match will be determined by fitness issues for either Berisha and/or Delpierre. If one of those two  can play then the momentum may well be with Melbourne. If neither plays then watch out for a possible upset in favour of Wellington. My Prediction: 2-1 Melbourne Victory