Hyundai A-League season preview: Wellington Phoenix

The Nix want to take it to the next level (#NixLevel). To do that, Ernie Merrick’s men will need to improve on a ninth place finish last season.

We’ve been impressed with the club’s rebuild after a difficult 2015/16 season. The front five looks to have goals and creativity in them, and overall this squad melds experience with up-and-comers from New Zealand’s system and the NPL ranks. Despite losing key players Riera, Muscat and Sigmund, gun duo Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler swapped Victory for the Kiwi capital to much fanfare. Slightly less glitzy but equally important was well-credentialed Italian defender Marco Rossi's arrival. An impressive run of wins in the pre-season adds to the feeling that the squad is stronger overall.

 The burning questions

  • How much havoc will Barbarouses and Finkler wreak?
  • How many of these up and comers can step up and stamp their authority on the season?

Wellington Phoenix's Gui Finkler, Hamish Watson and Kosta Barbarouses celebrate a goal in the FFA Cup.

Lessons learnt from last season

Make home advantage count. Last season's L7/D2/W4 – including losing their last four in Wellington - equates to a modest 14 home points from a possible 39. That needs to improve if New Zealand's only professional football club are to make the Finals Series. 

Road ahead

A tricky opening month starts at home to Manny Muscat's Melbourne City (though Tim Cahill is likely to be on national team duty), followed by the long flight to Perth, then back to Wellington for Sydney FC and off to Victory the following week. There are no long stretches on the road or at home and Phoenix finish their regular season in Brisbane against Roar. 

Expected strengths

McGlinchey; Bonevacia; Barbarouses; Finkler and fresh from the Olympics in Brazil, Roy Krishna: that’s some front five. On their day they could be hard to handle.

Roy Krishna

Potential weakness

Defensive depth. May need some experienced cover if either Rossi or Durante are out. Losing Sigmund and Muscat is a gaping hole to fill.

Tactical approach

It’ll be an attacking game plan from Merrick. That’s his style and he has the troops for that approach. At home it could be a 4-3-3, with Watson the central striker up top, Krishna and Barbarouses as the second strikers wide, Finkler (10), Bonevacia or McGlinchey (8) and Lia the holder. This could morph into a 4-4-2 with Krishna and Watson up front and Finkler at the tip of the diamond. Away from home, Phoenix could set up to counter-attack with the pace of Krishna and Barbarouses. 

Breakout star

Matthew Ridenton. He’s had a taste, now the 20-year-old midfielder is ready to stamp his authority on the squad if given the chance.

Best-case scenario

A return to the Finals Series.