With direct rivals Adelaide United and Perth Glory in action on Friday and Saturday respectively, Melbourne Victory will know what they need to do when Wellington Phoenix come to town on Sunday, as the race for the Premiership comes into sharp focus.
Whatever happens to their opponents, three points - to keep pace or grab top spot outright - will be the order of the day.
Sunday, 1 March 2015
AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-Off: 5:00 PM (Local) (5:00 PM AEDT)
Melbourne Victory squad: 1.Nathan COE (GK), 2.Jason GERIA, 4.Nick ANSELL, 5.Mark MILLIGAN (c), 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7.Gui FINKLER, 8.Besart BERISHA, 9.Kosta BARBAROUSES, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 13.Andrew NABBOUT, 14.Fahid BEN KHALFALLAH, 15.Daniel GEORGIEVSKI, 16.Rashid MAHAZI, 17.Matthieu DELPIERRE, 20.Lawrence THOMAS (GK), 21.Carl VALERI, 22.Jesse MAKAROUNAS, 24.Scott GALLOWAY **two to be omitted***
Ins: 15.Daniel GEORGIEVSKI (promoted), 17.Matthieu DELPIERRE (returns from injury), 22.Jesse MAKAROUNAS (promoted)
Outs: 23.Adrian LEIJER (overseas)
Wellington Phoenix squad: 1.Glen MOSS (GK), 2.Manny MUSCAT, 3.Joel GRIFFITHS, 4.Roly BONEVACIA, 5.Michael BOXALL, 7.Kenny CUNNINGHAM, 8.Alex RODRIGUEZ, 9.Nathan BURNS, 10.Michael McGLINCHEY, 13.Albert RIERA, 15.Jason HICKS, 17.Vince LIA, 18.Ben SIGMUND, 19.Tom DOYLE, 20.Lewis ITALIANO (GK), 21.Roy KRISHNA, 22.Andrew DURANTE (c) ***one to be omitted***
Ins: 3.Joel GRIFFITHS (new signing)
Unavailable: 16.Louis FENTON (concussion – 1 week), 23.Matthew Ridenton (knee – 4 weeks)
TV Broadcast: Live and exclusive coverage on FOX SPORTS 505 from 5.00pm (AEDT) and Sky Sport 1 (New Zealand)
Radio Broadcast: Online/ABC Radio Mobile phone app.
Referee: Jarred Gillett
Assistant Referee 1: David Walsh
Assistant Referee 2: George Lakrindis
Fourth Official: Jonathan Barriero
This is a fixture Melbourne Victory have become very accustomed to winning. In 12 home matches against Wellington, the Big V have won nine, drawn three and never lost.
There's little to suggest it will be any different in the final match of Round 19. Former Victory boss Ernie Merrick has assembled one of the strongest squads in the Phoenix's history, but they've been distinctly out of sorts since the Hyundai A-League resumed after the Asian Cup.
Michael McGlinchey, Nathan Burns and Roy Krishna have all struggled to match the same levels of attacking intensity they had achieved in the first half of the campaign.
Perhaps the introduction of veteran Joel Griffiths, signed on a free transfer after leaving the Newcastle Jets, can add a new element to the Nix attack.
As for Victory, fullback Daniel Georgievski and central defender Matthieu Delpierre, the latter out since October, will be welcome inclusions to a side that has conceded six goals in their last three matches.
Adrian Leijer is unavailable as he undergoes a medical at Chinese Super League side Chongqing Lifan, so we can expect Delpierre or Broxham to slot into central defence alongside Nick Ansell.
- Melbourne Victory have won nine of their last 10 matches against Wellington Phoenix.
- The Nix's only win over Victory in that spell was a 5-0 triumph last January, their second biggest winning margin in A-League history.
- The last five games contested between these two have seen 22 goals scored (4.4 per game on average).
ROUTE TO GOAL
It's easy to predict who Kevin Muscat will opt for in attack, but that doesn't necessarily help you to stop them.
Kosta Barbarouses and Fahid Ben Khalfallah are likely to start on the right and left wing respectively, with Guilherme Finkler in the hole behind Besart Berisha.
The four forwards linked up to create some excellent goals in the entertaining draw with Sydney earlier this month and will pose a major challenge for Wellington's defence.
Merrick will be hoping his fleet-footed front-line can shake off their goal drought at AAMI Park.
Roly Bonevacia may need to get further forward to help out the likes of Burns and Krishna, while perhaps Kenny Cunningham, who has fallen down the pecking order since being a key player last season, can offer an alternative in the final third?
WHO'S BEEN IN THE SPOTLIGHT THIS WEEK?
Long-serving Victory defender Leijer is unavailable for the Phoenix clash after leaving Australia to undergo a medical at Chongqing Lifan, pending the completion of a transfer to the Chinese Super League club.
While characterised by some as accident-prone and a disciplinary risk, the former Fulham defender deserves credit for his lengthy service in a navy blue and white shirt.
The last two seasons in particular have seen a marked improvement in consistency from the 28-year-old and he will leave the Big V backl-ine short of a body during the run-in to the finals.
Melbourne Victory: DWDWL
Victory's Round 18 match away to Brisbane Roar last Friday night was postponed due Cyclone Marcia, meaning Kevin Muscat's men haven't been in action since drawing 3-3 with Sydney FC on February 14. Before that they defeated Melbourne City FC 3-0, drew 3-3 away to Perth Glory and beat Western Sydney 2-1 on the road.
Wellington Phoenix: DDLLW
The Nix haven't won in their last four outings, drawing 2-2 with the Newcastle Jets and 0-0 with City in their last two games, both of those coming at home. Prior to that they lost 2-0 away to Western Sydney and 3-2 at Brisbane Roar. You have to go back to a 3-0 home win over the Roar on January 4 for their most recent victory.
DID YOU KNOW?
Besart Berisha has netted in four of his previous five Hyundai A-League matches against Wellington.
Melbourne Victory 2-1 Wellington Phoenix
We expect the visitors to prove a tough nut to crack at AAMI Park this weekend, but are backing the home side to get the job done. Some supporters will hope the departure of Leijer and introduction of either Leigh Broxham or Matthieu Delpierre to the backline offers some new-found solidity, while we know there's nothing wrong with Kevin Muscat's side in the final third.