Hyundai A-League preview: Victory v Mariners
Eleven days after their epic Christmas Derby triumph at AAMI Park, Melbourne Victory conclude this festive round 12 with a Wednesday night fixture against the unpredictable Central Coast.
Victory are ticking along nicely - and still on a high after an intense, high-octane Derby win over City on December 17.
Unbeaten in five (and undefeated in their last nine against Central Coast) Victory were second on the ladder going into this round, and are looking confident, strong down back and dangerous in attack.
In short, it’s the Victory we know well.
No more flying under the radar as the Big V chase down league-leaders Sydney FC.
But coach Kevin Muscat will need to ensure complacency doesn’t creep in, with the perennially under-estimated Mariners (in ninth going into this round) just the type of side to take advantage of any lack of intensity.
And with an 11-day break since Victory's last game, will rustiness be a factor? Or will the break of sorts have reinvigorated the Big V even more?
If the home side are on-song - and Berisha, Rojas, Troisi and Co have their shooting boots on - it's hard not to tip a Victory win.
But the Mariners haven’t won against Victory in Melbourne since 2009 and with just one clean sheet this season, on current form it’d be a huge upset if they came away with the three points.
ROUTE TO GOAL
Victory press high and with a relatively brittle Mariners defence, Muscat’s men know mistakes will creep in at some point if they can maintain that pressing intensity.
Victory also know Okon's men will try to play out from the back, so how Central Coast negotiate that press will be key.
If the Coast opt to try blunt the press and go long, Victory's deeper lying midfielders will be waiting to win that second ball and feed the forwards.
Victory lead the league in the shot conversion rate (22%) and with in-form attacking midfielder James Troisi working his magic centrally in behind Fahid Ben Khalfalla and Besart Berisha – who has five goals in his last three outings - plus Rojas drifting from side to side, it’s a mighty task to contain them once they win the ball back.
What’s more, Victory have two excellent impact players in Maxi Beister and Jai Ingham, who are getting better and better as the season goes on and provide an excellent alternative when they play.
Creating chances isn’t an issue for Victory, and with their in-form strikers, finishing isn’t a problem either.
For the visitors, they rely heavily on Roy O’Donovan, who with five goals is their most effective goal-scoring option with almost half of his team’s goals this season.
The visitors will have to work their socks off out of possession, but show composure and try to boss possession and use what they have effectively - not an easy task against Victory.
They have pacey weapons such as former Victory man Connor Pain and Fabio Ferreira to supply O’Donovan.
What happens down the flanks may just be key. If keeper Izzo can find their quick forwards they can run from deep positions.
Victory’s full backs also like to push on so Paul Okon will hope fast transitions from turnovers in wide areas allow their wingers to get in behind to create good scoring opportunities for O'Donovan.
The Irishman loves the big stage and there should be a big holiday crowd for this one.
WHO’S BEEN IN THE SPOTLIGHT THIS WEEK?
Besart Berisha. The Victory talisman top the all-time goal-scorers charts this round, though the 90-goal man now has All-White great Shane Smeltz (on 89 goals) for company after he signed with Wellington Phoenix.
FORM LINES (last five league games)
Victory 3-2 Mariners