Ernie Merrick says Wellington Phoenix are planning a hot reception for Western Sydney Wanderers when the newly crowned AFC Champions League winners return to A-League action on Friday.The Wanderers, due to land to a rapturous welcome-home party at Sydney airport on Monday evening, will rack up more air miles when they head back out to tackle the New Zealand outfit at Westpac Stadium on Friday.
Lying in wait will be a Phoenix side wounded by a 2-0 loss to Melbourne Victory and unwilling to offer Australia's returning heroes an easy ride.
"You've got to congratulate Tony Popovic, what a magnificent job he's done," Merrick said.
"And his players have just done a great job. They are the best team in the whole of Asia now. It's a credit to them, we'll certainly acknowledge that on Friday but we'll be out to beat them."
Having played on the eve of the Melbourne Cup horse racing holiday in Victoria, the Phoenix have just four days before that duel with the Wanderers, although Merrick claimed he has no issue with his preparation time being limited.
"I'm quite happy with a short turnaround after losing," he said.
"The shorter the turnaround the better.
"When you want to be in the playoffs, you've got to play all the best teams with their best squads out, if you want to play someone with two players injured, two suspended, then you're not in the right frame of mind to be in the playoffs. Hopefully they'll be up for it.
"We'll certainly be up for it and we've proven in the last couple of games we can score goals and attack teams home and away. We've got a team that will be in the playoffs this year."
As for the Phoenix's conquerors at AAMI Park, Merrick singled out his former side as the ones to watch from among the early title challengers in 2014-15.
"Victory are a very, very strong team," he said.
"Probably I would say, on paper, the best team in the league. They've got terrific depth.
When asked if he believes Kevin Muscat's team are the championship favourites, Merrick said: "I think so, yes. No doubt in my mind. We played Sydney pre-season, they're a strong team. The Roar seems to be off the pace a little bit. Adelaide are playing really well under Josep Gombau, but for me, Victory's the team."