Preview: Western Sydney Wanderers v Adelaide United

The Wanderers have had the pressure put on them to make it three in a row, but Adelaide want to put the pressure on the front-running Mariners.

Date: Friday, December 21, 2012 Kick-off: 7pm AEDT Venue: Parramatta Stadium, Sydney

Head-to-head: Played: 1 Wins: Western Sydney 0, Adelaide 1, Draws: 0

Previous encounter: Adelaide 1-0 Western Sydney, October 12, 2012

Form: Past five matches: Wanderers: WLLWW Adelaide: WWLWW

The Game: The Wanderers have surprised many with their rise up the A-League ladder in recent weeks but get a serious test of their finals credentials against the in-form Reds. Both sides come into the match buoyed by back-to-back wins, with the Wanderers beating local rivals Sydney FC 2-0 last weekend while the Reds were too strong for Wellington.

There was nothing between the sides in the first clash this season with a Jeronimo Neumann goal settling the issue and this encounter should be just as tight.

Tony Popovic has the benefit of having all his key players available for selection. Socceroos midfielder Aaron Mooy started last weekend's Sydney derby on the bench but could force his way into the starting side, with either Mateo Poljak or Iacopo La Rocca making way.

The Reds are also at full strength and are likely to stick with the same squad that edged the Phoenix. Striker Bruce Djite has been rewarded for his strong recent form with a new two-year deal this week and will be eager to start getting in on the goal-scoring exploits of his teammates.

The big issue: Wanderers - The conundrum for Popovic this week is whether he sticks with the side that was so impressive against the Sky Blues, or tempts fate by changing a winning side to include Mooy.

There's no doubt the youngster has been among the Wanderers' best this season before his trip away with the Socceroos but the combination of La Rocca and Poljak did the job in his absence and may be favoured in an attempt to stop the Reds' midfield stars Marcelo Carrusca and Dario Vidosic. There are pros and cons for whatever Popovic decides to do but he will need to make the right call if they are to stop the Adelaide juggernaut.

Reds - It seems the only thing that can get in the Reds' way at the moment is complacency. All their key players are fit and in-form, with so many goal-scoring threats all over the park, which has helped open up an eight-point gap from the Reds in second spot to third-placed Melbourne Victory. They will come to Parramatta Stadium full of confidence but can't afford to underestimate the home side or just expect their stars to get them over the line.

The game breaker: Shinji Ono - The classy midfielder had his best game for the Wanderers against Sydney last weekend, involved in everything good the Wanderers did.

By his own admission, Ono had a slow start to life in the A-League but signs in recent weeks suggest the former Japanese international is ready to take the competition by storm.

His link play between the midfield and striker Joey Gibbs is vital to the side's chances of unlocking the stingy Reds defence. In great news for the club and fans, Ono expressed his desire this week to turn his stay in Western Sydney into a long-term deal. Memo to the Wanderers board: Sign him now.

Prediction: Wanderers 1-1 Adelaide This game marks the beginning of a busy festive schedule for all teams with four matches in just over two weeks. Given the tight nature of the league, a run of wins or string of defeats can see any side move far up the ladder or free-fall right down it. What all that means is plenty of matches that should be tight, tense and extremely hard-fought, with this one no exception. Both sides' strong recent form will ensure each fancy their chances of coming out with all three points but the well-organised and structured defences of both might just cancel each other out.