Preview: Melbourne v Central Coast
The season-opener at Etihad Stadium pits two of last year's top four teams against one another.
Date: Thursday August 6 Kick-off: 8:00pm AEST Venue: Telstra Dome, Melbourne TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 3 and Sky Sport 3. Hyundai A-League club broadcast partner is 774 ABC Melbourne, Coast FM (Gosford) 96.3FM. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketmaster.com
Head-to-head 12 A-League meetings: Melbourne Victory - 6 wins, Central Coast - 3 wins, Draws - 3
Previous meeting Melbourne Victory 3, Central Coast Mariners 0, Telstra Dome, Round 20, January 2009
Pre-Season: (Matches against A-League opposition or touring teams) Melbourne June 27: Wellington Phoenix 1 Melbourne victory 1, Queenstown Events Centre, Queenstown July 11: Melbourne Victory 0, Fulham 3, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne July 26: Melbourne Victory 2, Adelaide United 1, Launceston
Central Coast: June 7: North Queensland Fury 0 Central Coast 1, Jardine Park, Rockhampton July 6: Sydney FC 0, Central Coast Mariners 0, Leichhardt Oval, Leichhardt July 18: Gold Coast 2, Central Coast 2, Skilled Park, Robina July 25: Central Coast 0, Wellington Phoenix 0, Appex Oval, Dubbo
Analysis The season-opener at Etihad Stadium pits two of last year's top four teams against one another. Melbourne opens its championship defence against the always consistent Mariners in a battle which has often produced entertaining results.
Melbourne has kept the bulk of its championship-winning squad together over the off-season, with only goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos and defender Sebastian Ryall leaving the club of the XI who started in the Grand Final. The general consensus is that Melbourne will be close to the benchmark again, given it has retained key players such as Kevin Muscat, Carlos Hernandez and Archie Thompson. While all those players are a year older, they have all had strong pre-seasons and the club insists that all three are as fit as they've been in their time with the Victory.
Billy Celeski is the only first-choice player who won't start in this game as he is still recovering from pre-season hip surgery and will be possibly used off the bench. Leigh Broxham will take his place after a strong pre-season. Former Phoenix stopper Glen Moss has won the goalkeeping battle and will start ahead of Mitch Langerak.
The Mariners also have a full squad to choose from. Their pre-season was somewhat interrupted by a disappointing Asian Champions League campaign. Still winless in competitive matches in 2009, Lawrie McKinna's men hardly set the world on fire in the pre-season. However, the Mariners have a habit of creeping up on teams and McKinna has made some canny signings in the off-season.
Experienced defender Chris Doig comes in, while Shane Huke and Adam Kwasnik have had the Champions League campaign to sit in with the squad. Kwasnik, who played three seasons with the Mariners before joining the Phoenix last season, could be a very important addition given that Central Coast's strike force was criticised for being a bit one-dimensional last season. Michael McGlinchey and Nicky Travis will be useful additions in that department as well.
While McKinna may not have stolen many headlines with his off-season recruiting, the Mariners still boast class players like Dean Heffernan and Nik Mrdja, while Ahmed Elrich is back to full fitness after his knee reconstruction.
It will be a fascinating opener to the season which will give us a good idea where both these teams are at this season. Central Coast hasn't beaten Melbourne since November 2007 but their clashes have a habit of producing goals and you'd expect a similar situation here in the perfect conditions under the Etihad Stadium roof.
Melbourne Victory Squad: 1.Mitch LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 9.Danny ALLSOPP, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.NEY FABIANO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 14.Billy CELESKI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 19.Evan BERGER, 20.Glenn MOSS (gk), 22.Nick WARD Unavailable: nil
Central Coast Mariners Squad: 1.Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 4. Pedj BOJIC, 5. Brad PORTER, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 8. Dean HEFFERNAN, 11. Dylan MACALLISTER, 14. Michael McGLINCHEY, 16. Nigel BOOGAARD, 17. Chris DOIG, 18. Alex WILKINSON (c), 19. Matt SIMON, 20. Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 21. Ahmad ELRICH, 22. Nicky TRAVIS, 23. Adam KWASNIK. Unavailable: nil