Preview: Sydney FC v Newcastle Jets

With both sides slumping to disappointing opening-round defeats, this clash has already taken on some added significance, aside from the Del Piero-Heskey factor.

Date: Saturday October 13, 2012 Kick-off: 5.30pm AEDT, 5.30pm local Venue: Allianz Stadium

Head-to-head: Played 23: Wins: Sydney 13, Newcastle 4, Draws: 6

Previous encounter: Sydney 3-2 Newcastle, March 25 2012

Form: Past five matches: Sydney FC: WLDLL Newcastle: WDDWL

The Game: A record regular season crowd for Sydney FC is expected for this one with Italian star Alessandro Del Piero to make his home debut up against former England international Emile Heskey.

The Sky Blues got the better of the Jets on the final day of last season to beat them to a finals spot and this clash should be just as dramatic. There should also be plenty of desperation after both clubs slumped to disappointing opening-round defeats.

Sydney will be forced into one change with young midfielder Terry Antonis ruled out due to concussion. But the Sky Blues' disjointed performance in the loss to Wellington is likely to see coach Ian Crook tinker with his line-up, with Ali Abbas, Yairo Yau and Sebastian Ryall all a chance to force their way into the starting side.

The Jets will have a change in goal after Mark Birighitti was sent off in the 2-0 defeat to Adelaide. Ben Kennedy will come in as his replacement.

The big issue: Sydney - Keeping the ball. Crook spent all off-season trying to get his side ready to play a largely possession-based game but the Sky Blues struggled to pull it off against Wellington last weekend.

Sydney lacked any continuity in their play, continually turning over the ball in defence and midfield with both Phoenix goals coming from their own mistakes. If the Sky Blues are to get Del Piero into the game and create more going forward, they will need to take care of the ball.

Newcastle - Start better. The home fans hadn't even got through their first song about new signing Heskey when the Jets found themselves down 1-0 last weekend against Adelaide.

The A-League is becoming too hard and every team is extremely well-organised to be giving anyone a head start. Gary van Egmond's side were forced to play catch-up immediately and while they looked impressive in patches, the Reds were able to hold them at bay to come away with a win.

Sydney's confidence will still be a little fragile after their poor showing in Wellington and the Jets shouldn't let them off the hook by starting sluggishly at Allianz Stadium.

The game breaker: Ali Abbas - He may have started on the bench against the Phoenix but Sydney's poor showing is likely to see the Iraqi international unleashed from the start against the Jets. And Abbas will have a point to prove against his former club.

Given his form during the pre-season, it was a surprise Crook left him out in Wellington and it was clear the Sky Blues missed his creativity and composure on the ball.

At 26, Abbas should be reaching the peak of his powers and he has been in the A-League long enough now to know what it's all about. This may well be the season he breaks out and shows just how much talent he has.

His combination with Del Piero has a lot of potential and it may just be the difference between the sides on Saturday night.

Prediction: Sydney 2-1 Newcastle With both sides slumping to disappointing opening-round defeats, this clash has already taken on some added significance, aside from the Del Piero-Heskey factor.

It may still be very early in the campaign but given how much each club has outlaid on marquee talent, the pressure will start to build if the losses mount up. What that probably means is a game full of tension and players eager not to make mistakes and put their side under the pump.

Sydney had a real problem with their home form last season and Crook will be desperate for that to change this campaign. A crowd in excess of 35,000 is expected and may just help the Sky Blues' cause. For that reason and with Del Piero likely to be better for his first hit-out last weekend, Sydney should get over the line - but only just.