Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Sydney FC

Both these sides look likely to be around come finals time and as a result it's hard to pick a clear winner in this one.

Date: Saturday, November 3, 2012 Kick-off: 7.45pm AEDT Venue: Bluetongue Stadium, Central Coast

Head-to-head: Played 22: Wins: Central Coast 7, Sydney FC 8, Draws: 7

Previous encounter: Central Coast 1-1 Sydney FC, March 3, 2012

Form: Past five matches: Central Coast: DWLW Sydney FC: LLWW

The Game: There is never too much between these two sides and this clash promises to be just as tight. They both head to Bluetongue Stadium in reasonable form and buoyed by recent victories.

Central Coast boss Graham Arnold, who was close to joining the Sky Blues in the off-season, has had the luxury this season of having a fairly settled squad which should be the case again this weekend.

The only position that he may look to change is in attack, with youngster Bernie Ibini pushing hard for a start at the expense of Daniel McBreen.

In contrast it's been changes almost every week for Sky Blues coach Ian Crook as his players have been hit by injuries and loss of form in the opening month.

Defence has been the biggest concern but Pascal Bosschaart and Fabio are expected to be close to a return. Crook may also look to change things up in attack with Kruno Lovrek struggling to strike up a thriving partnership with Alessandro Del Piero. Panamanian Yairo Yau and youngsters Dimitri Petratos and Joel Chianese are all options to come into the starting side for the Sky Blues.

The big issue: Central Coast - It's been very much business as usual for the Mariners at the start of this campaign but Arnold will no doubt want more from his front men if they are to go one step further at the end of the season.

Their play has been structured and fluent but the finishing touch has often been lacking. Youngster Mitchell Duke started the season as the first-choice striker with McBreen given the nod over the last fortnight with limited success.

Ibini is Arnold's other option and he has the tools to be a prolific scorer but has yet to show that on a regular basis. Whoever gets the job as the lone striker needs to find his scoring boots if the Mariners are to challenge at the end of the season.

Sydney - Given how influential Del Piero has been for the Sky Blues this season, Crook will need to be mindful of how he manages the workload of the Italian.

Del Piero, who turns 38 this month, looked clearly jaded in the win over the Glory and admitted afterwards he almost missed the game with hamstring trouble. If Del Piero continues to struggle with muscle problems and is becoming increasingly tired, the Sydney coaching staff may need to rest him at some stage during the season.

The game breaker: Tom Rogic - He might be the youngest player on the pitch on Saturday night but Rogic will be crucial to whether or not his side will come out on top.

The 19-year-old has come in for some special attention from opposition defences this season and Sydney's central defenders and midfielders will need to keep him shackled if they are to stem the Mariners threat.

While Arnold's side have so far struggled to find the back of the net this season, Rogic doesn't need much space to create a chance and he will relish the opportunity to unlock a Sky Blues defence that has looked shaky over the opening four rounds.

Prediction: Mariners 1-1 Sydney Both these sides look likely to be around come finals time and as a result it's hard to pick a clear winner in this one. As usual the Mariners haven't received many headlines so far this season but have quietly gone about their business and sit in outright third spot.

Even with the departure of skipper Alex Wilkinson, their defence is proving as hard as ever to break down, with their only defeat coming in controversial circumstances against the Jets a fortnight ago.

While Sydney come into this clash with back-to-back wins, it's hard to know if they have turned the corner given they weren't exactly at their best in beating Perth last weekend.

With the likes of Bosschaart, Culina, Griffiths and Chianese still to come back into their side, there's no doubt the Sky Blues will get better but that is still a few weeks away. But with Del Piero firing and their defence and midfield looking stronger every game, they should come away from the Central Coast with a point.