Preview: Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United
This is the biggest rivalry of the A-League, and football fans are set for a fantastic battle on Saturday to decide who is the best team in the competition.
Date: Saturday, February 28 Kick-off: 7:30pm AEDT Venue: Telstra Dome, Melbourne TV and Radio: Live and exclusive broadcast on FOX Sports 1 and Sky Sport 2. Also broadcasted on SEN 1116AM, SBS Radio, ABC Victoria & South Australia Radio and FRESH FM. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster on 136 100, online or any Ticketmaster outlet.
Head-to-head 17 Hyundai A-League meetings: Adelaide - 5 wins, Melbourne - 9 wins, Draws - 3
Previous meeting Melbourne Victory 4, Adelaide United 0, Telstra Dome, Major-Semi second leg, February 2009
Finals meetings: Melbourne Victory 4, Adelaide United 0, Telstra Dome, Major-Semi second leg,2008/09 Adelaide United 0, Melbourne Victory 2, Hindmarsh Stadium, Major-Semi first leg, 2008/09 Melbourne Victory 6, Adelaide United 0, Telstra Dome, Grand Final, 2006/07 Melbourne Victory 2, Adelaide United 0, Telstra Dome, Major Semi-Final - Leg 2, 2006/07 Adelaide United 0, Melbourne Victory 0, Hindmarsh Stadium, Major Semi-Final - Leg 1, 2006/07
Past Five Games Melbourne Round 19: Perth Glory 3. Melbourne Victory 1, Members Equity Stadium Round 20: Melbourne Victory 3, Central Coast Mariners 0, Telstra Dome Round 21: Melbourne Victory 2, Wellington Phoenix 0, Telstra Dome Major-Semi (Leg 1): Adelaide United 0, Melbourne Victory 2, Hindmarsh Stadium Major Semi (Leg 2): Melbourne Victory 4, Adelaide United 0, Telstra Dome
Adelaide: Round 20: Wellington Phoenix 1, Adelaide United 1, Westpac Stadium Round 21: Central Coast Mariners 0, Adelaide United 1, Bluetongue Stadium Major-Semi (Leg 1): Adelaide United 0, Melbourne Victory 2, Hindmarsh Stadium Major Semi (Leg 2): Melbourne Victory 4, Adelaide United 0, Telstra Dome Preliminary Final: Adelaide United 1, Queensland Roar 0, Hindmarsh Stadium
Possible Line ups:
Key-match ups: Carlos Hernandez v Paul Reid/Jonas Salley - Adelaide went for two screening midfielders last week and if Aurelio Vidmar decides to go with a similar line-up this time around then it could mean a tough night for Melbourne's dynamic attacking midfielder. Hernandez was no doubt Melbourne's man of the match in the 4-0 demolition in the second leg of the Major Semi-Final. Put simply, Adelaide gave Hernandez far too much space allowing him to turn and control the play. Reid has had the job in most of their clashes this year, but Salley, who is energetic and aggressive, could be given a job on the Costa Rican.
Danny Allsopp v Sasa Ognenovski - The A-League's most imposing defender takes on one of its most imposing strikers in this match. Allsopp got the points hands down in the first leg of the Major Semi-Final, while in the second leg, Ognenvoski was done few favours be a porous defensive midfield. The likelihood of Adelaide sitting deep and defending could mean that Melbourne might have to resort to the aerial route and if that happens, Ognenovski should have no trouble picking off the high balls. However, should the Reds allow Melbourne's midfielders to run at them, then both Allsopp and Archie Thompson could be set for big nights.
Rody Vargas v Cristiano - This pair have some history stemming from the match at Hindmarsh Stadium earlier in the year, where they both were pinged for penalties for fouls against each other. The usually-unruffled Vargas was none-too-impressed by the Brazilian's theatrics that night. Cristiano is likely to be a lone forward presence and that's a tough gig up against both Vargas and Kevin Muscat. However, as eight goals this year testify, Cristiano is a dangerous goal poacher. It's a 90-minute job keeping him out of the game and Vargas and co will need to be disciplined.
Analysis: This is the biggest rivalry of the A-League, and football fans are set for a fantastic battle on Saturday to decide who is the best team in the competition. While it may seem a little unfair on Melbourne, which has won all five encounters between the teams this season, to have its supremacy at stake, this is what Grand Finals are all about, who is the best team on the biggest day of the year.
Anyone who saw the way Victory completely took apart Adelaide just 14 days ago would find it hard to fathom how the Reds can turn it around. Usually so disciplined and strong, Aurelio Vidmar's men looked a rabble, struggling to contain an ebullient Melbourne midfield which cut them to shreds. There was not one player who could hold their head high and while the manner of Vidmar's post-match outburst could have been faulted, its message could not have been.
It's amazing how much can happen in a week of football. Vidmar's tirade served as a turning point for the playing group who decided they were not going to let their coach take the blame for the team's lack of strength when it counted. The Preliminary Final win over Queensland was not pretty, but it smacked of true character and grit, the qualities which had defined this team throughout the season until the semi-finals.
There was also that little spark of inspiration with the daring of Fabian Barbiero getting Adelaide the goal it needed to progress to the decider.
But now they must return to the scene of the crime, or to be quite frank, crimes. Telstra Dome was not only the site of the 4-0 second-leg humiliation 14 days before this encounter but was also the place where the Reds were hammered 6-0 in a Grand final two years ago. Captain Travis Dodd is the only member of that squad who is back for this match, perhaps a reminder to his team-mates that a similar failure could lead to a similar sweeping out at season's end.
Adelaide has won just one in seven at Telstra Dome and has won just one of its past 12 against Melbourne. The five encounters between these two teams this season have featured two 1-0 results, a 3-2, a 2-0 and a 4-0. That's an overall difference of 11 goals to two in favour of the home side. Melbourne is also on a seven-match home winning streak and a 14-match run of scoring a goal in every game.
That last stat makes it particularly hard for Adelaide to expect to be able to effectively 'park the bus' and prevent Melbourne from scoring. Melbourne scored early in both the semi-final legs, striking when the tempo of the game dropped to get the edge.
Adelaide will need to maintain an absolute intensity throughout this game, ensuring that its defence is water tight, while using the likes of Travis Dodd, Barbiero and Cristiano to hit Melbourne on the break.
Dodd, Barbiero and Lucas Pantelis are all not afraid of a long-range strike and Melbourne's defence will need to ensure they don't get too much space or Michael Theoklitos might feel like he is at a rifle range. The key to this will be the mobility and discipline of the midfield.
Melbourne has insisted in the build-up that if it plays its best then it will come away with the title. But that's assuming Adelaide will allow it to play at its best. Patience will be crucial in the build-up to attacking plays and Hernandez is unlikely to be given much peace.
The key to frustrating Melbourne is to make it push wide in attack and if Adelaide keeps it compact in defence, that may be the only way for Melbourne to go. If the play is pushed out on the flanks, then Thompson and Allsopp get separated, and they lose contact with the midfield.
Making Victory go around rather than through the defence is not as easy as it seems. Thompson is one of the quickest and most skilful players in the competition and will punish most teams when given open space. Allsopp's industrious approach and goal sense have yielded him 13 goals this year, most from close range. He relies on Thompson and Hernandez to get him in the game.
Melbourne's defence has been fantastic since the Victory came from two goals down to defeat Sydney just after Christmas. Apart from the aberration of a 3-2 loss in Perth, Melbourne has conceded just one goal in that time.
Perhaps the most-underrated aspect of the Melbourne side is the midfield, which has come together this season to be one of the most dynamic in the competition. For Adelaide to get a foothold on the game, it needs to close down the space of Nick Ward, Billy Celeski and Tom Pondeljak.
Both teams have offered few clues to selection in naming extended squads which have included plenty but have omitted none. Melbourne has a full list to pick from and has included Michael Thwaite, Leigh Broxham and Nathan Elasi. It would be a surprise if Ernie Merrick opted to change anything on the field or on the bench from the previous match.
Vidmar has forged a reputation for unpredictability at the selection table during this finals series, but may decide to stick with last week's winning line-up. The inclusion of Salley worked last week and would seem an effective ploy for this match as well. Cassio returns from suspension and could come in, while Diego, Robert Younis, Angelo Costanzo and Michael Valkanis have all been named but are unlikely to get a gig.
Melbourne Victory Squad: 1.Michael THEOKLITOS (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (Captain), 3.Michael THWAITE, 5.Sebastian RYALL, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 9.Danny ALLSOPP, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.NEY FABIANO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 14.Billy CELESKI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Jose Luis LOPEZ, 18.Leigh BROXHAM, 19.Evan BERGER, 20.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 22.Nick WARD *Three to be omitted.
In. Michael THWAITE (promoted), Nathan ELASI (promoted), Leigh BROXHAM (promoted). Out. Nil. Unavailable. Nil.
Adelaide United Squad: 20.Eugene GALEKOVIC (gk), 2.Robert CORNTHWAITE, 3.ALEMAO, 4.Angelo COSTANZO, 5. Michael VALKANIS, 6. CASSIO, 7.Lucas PANTELIS, 9.Paul AGOSTINO, 10.CRISTIANO, 13.Travis DODD (c.), 14.Scott JAMIESON, 15.Jonas SALLEY, 16.Daniel MULLEN, 18.Fabian BARBIERO, 19.Sasa OGNENOVSKI, 22.DIEGO, 24.Paul REID, 25.Robert YOUNIS, 27.Michael MARRONE, 28.Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 30.Mark BIRIGHITTI (gk) * 5 to be omitted
In. CASSIO (returns from suspension), DIEGO (promoted), Robert YOUNIS (promoted), Michael VALKANIS (promoted), Angelo COSTANZO. Out: Nil.
Unavailable: Kristian SARKIES (ankle - 1 week), Daniel BELTRAME (gk) (knee - season), Jason SPAGNUOLO (long term injury).