1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on Round 22 of the A-League which starts in Sydney on Friday night, ventures to Auckland on Saturday and finishes in Newcastle on Sunday.
Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory, Friday – Allianz Stadium
The A-League’s dominant sides meet and, should second-placed Melbourne win, the gap back to Perth in third will be an astonishing 14 points. Graham Arnold is reportedly considering a start for Bernie Ibini with the Sydney FC mentor now having the luxury of tweaking combinations ahead of the finals series with top spot seemingly wrapped up. Interestingly Ibini scored the winner when the Sky Blues came from behind to beat Kevin Muscat’s team 2-1 in Melbourne on Australia Day when the two sides last met.
Big game for: After a run of two months without conceding goals sides are starting to find the net, and early, against Sydney FC. Against both Melbourne sides in the last five weeks they’ve conceded inside the first half hour.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing Fahid Ben Khalfallah playing somewhere, maybe this weekend. A situation which reportedly sees the 34 year-old excluded from the Victory squad on match-day until this Thursday because it would trigger a new deal which the Victory don’t want to give him is bizarre. Melbourne shouldn’t add this as a clause if they didn’t want it but, more broadly, this is where loans might help down the track. With the Mariners missing two of their visa players during the year to injury at various stages (primarily Mickael Tavares with strange circumstances around his own injury treatment) having FBK available on loan to cover for this until the end of the year would add experience to their young side as they try to make the finals, and means it doesn’t trigger the clause for the Victory. A win-win. But something for the future.
Wellington Phoenix v Perth Glory, Saturday – QBE Stadium
For all the frequent flyer points in the A-League the Glory head to Auckland after a 2-0 win on Saturday night against the Wanderers. This will be the fifth ‘home’ venue in the season for the Phoenix and their second trip to Auckland after they drew 2-2 with the Wanderers in December but they head north following a crafty 2-1 victory in Brisbane. Wellington were advantaged by the Asian Champions League draw with Brisbane having played on three times in the last month during the week and on the weekend but that is not the case for Perth who have had the whole week to focus on this game.
Big game for: Season sweeps. On a weekend one Perth sporting club (the NBL’s Wildcats) look set fair to be crowned champions with a sweep of the Illawarra Hawks the Glory are looking for a season sweep of their own having already beaten the Nix 2-0 and 2-1 in Western Australia this campaign.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The Wellington defence working together, in whatever form it takes. With Marco Rossi’s hamstrings curtailing his involvement in Brisbane and Jacob Tratt suspended it’s likely another re-jigged defence for the Kiwi outfit.
Western Sydney Wanderers v Adelaide United, Saturday – Spotless Stadium
Match-day selection, even allowing for their Asian Champions League campaign, seems to be a lottery for the Wanderers but they are facing a side which has had a range of personnel upheaval in the off-season and during the season. For what it’s worth Adelaide were reasonable in falling to defeat in China 2-1 during the week with the ‘best’ of the three defeats suffered by Australian sides in the continent’s top club competition. Brendon Santalab’s double, including a late goal, saw the Wanderers home 2-1 the last time these two sides met.
Big game for: Despite getting humbled 5-1 by Shanghai East Asia the Wanderers have somewhat of a double advantage here playing at home against Adelaide who have a day shorter turnaround after Wednesday night’s game in Nanjing.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A real public apology. Is it really an apology if you only release it to media outlets but don’t publish it on your own website or social media channels. It took the Wanderers three statements to eventually apologise to Graham Arnold for the Sydney Derby antics of the RBB. Simply unacceptable. Meanwhile, Sydney FC are taking a proactive approach to inclusion this weekend.
Central Coast Mariners v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Sunday – Central Coast Stadium
This fixture doesn’t hold great recent memories for the home side after the visitors won 2-1 last month in Melbourne but a highly entertaining 2-2 on New Year’s Eve in Gosford, which the Mariners arguably should have won given Roy O’Donovan had chances to put the home side 3-1 up late in the second stanza, means they are not out if it. This gives Paul Okon’s side more than enough hope but they need to stop Tim Cahill. The Socceroo veteran has three goals in two games against the yellow and navy.
Big game for: Blake Powell. The Mariners attacker is available again after injury and the former Sydney FC and Wellington forward could provide good impact here.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The return of the corner flag-defending ball-kid. Has someone nominated him for Young Australian of the Year in 2018 yet?
Newcastle Jets v Brisbane Roar, Sunday – McDonald Jones Stadium
Having netted seven times against Brisbane in the two victories they have registered against them this term Mark Jones’ side must be confident of a win given John Aloisi’s side have spent the last month or so playing games in China and Korea plus four A-League matches since 3 February. Former Roar man Devante Clut scored in the previous game in Newcastle when the Jets triumphed 4-0 in a huge shock early in the A-League season in Jones’ third competitive game in charge.
Big game for: Joey Katebian. The 21 year-old attacker played a key role off the bench in helping Brisbane bridge the gap against Wellington so could be in line for a start here to take the pressure/workload of his teammates.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Some response. After a deflating 6-0 loss in Korea on Tuesday evening against Ulsan Hyundai it’s really hard to know how the Roar will respond here but they are facing the prospect of a season sweep with the Jets having knocked up 3-2 and 4-0 wins against the Queensland side this season.
The betting bit – One serious one not
Last week we should have paid attention to the draw stat from the #F3Derby option which we askew in this column because it’s fun to cheer for a winner in the contest sense so we go for Melbourne City ($3:50) into more corner flag chaos in Gosford on Sunday.
Profit: – $82:30 (ten units per investment)
This preview first appeared on From the sideline of sport