Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Brisbane Roar

Central Coast Mariners and Brisbane Roar will meet in Round 5 of the 2013-14 A-League season at Bluetongue Stadium on Sunday November 10 at 5.00pm AEDT.

Central Coast Mariners and Brisbane Roar will meet in Round 5 of the 2013-14 A-League season at Bluetongue Stadium on Sunday November 10 at 5.00pm AEDT.

Head-to-head: Played: 36 - Wins: Central Coast 8, Brisbane 7, Draws: 11

Previous encounter: Central Coast 1-0 Brisbane, March 17, 2013

Form: Past five matches (including pre-season): Central Coast: DWDDL Brisbane: WLWWW

The Game:

This is one of the biggest games of the round, along with the clash between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory, and more significant to the potential outcome of the title. Of the teams contesting the 'Big Blue' in the Harbour City, only Victory should harbour realistic ambitions of winning silverware, but both Central Coast and Brisbane have every reason to consider themselves likely challengers at the sharp end of the campaign. The result of the Sunday showdown at Bluetongue will offer an indication of which team's championship candidacy is in better shape at this early stage.

Graham Arnold's Mariners have lacked consistency early in their title defence, but there has nevertheless been merit in several of their results. There was no shame in being held at home by beaten grand finalists Western Sydney, and twice coming from two goals down to draw on the road, against first Melbourne Heart and then Newcastle Jets, should not be discounted, although a team of Central Coast's pedigree and talent should not have found themselves trailing by that margin in the first place against such questionable opposition. There is certainly plenty of room for improvement in a line-up which is much-changed from last season, and don't bet against them turning on the style without notice at some point in the coming weeks.

Brisbane meanwhile have convincingly passed most of the tests they have encountered so far in 2013-14, other than a narrow 1-0 defeat away to Melbourne Victory. On Sunday they were out of sorts and under pressure at home to Melbourne Heart, but weathered the first-half storm before pouncing to brush aside their opponents in the second half. Mike Mulvey is set to learn a lot about just how good his team is when they make the trip to Gosford.

The big issue:

Possession - Who will win control in midfield? The Mariners are equally comfortable playing with or without the ball, while the Roar, boasting a midfield packed with technically-minded players and led by Thomas Broich, will hope to dictate terms, even away from home against the reigning champions. If the Mariners choose to let the visitors play, can they keep them in non-threatening areas before springing a deadly counter-attack? Or will Arnold send his players out to beat the Roar at their own passing-focused game, leaving Mulvey's defence exposed to the likes of Marcos Flores and Mitchell Duke?

The game breaker:

Thomas Broich - When the German maestro is on song, the Roar are never out of a game. While there is plenty of talent around him, Broich is the ultimate barometer for determining Brisbane's chances of success or failure. The Mariners' combative central midfielders, Nick Montgomery and John Hutchinson, will look to shut the 32-year-old down. If they succeed in doing so, and without the X-factor of the injured Besart Berisha, the Roar could struggle.