Stats preview: The secret to Popovic's success as Glory prepare to party
New light has been shed on the recipe for Tony Popovic's excellent Hyundai A-League record as Perth Glory close in on the Premiers Plate.
The standout side of the 2018/19 Season could secure the silverware as early as Sunday and the statistical bedrock of Popovic's sustained success has come into fascinating focus.
Glory's nearest competitors, Sydney FC, are seeking to ensure the champagne stays on ice for another week. Only a win will do for the Sky Blues, but it will take a mighty twist for Western Sydney Wanderers to derail their derby dominance.
Central Coast Mariners are in need of an even bigger upset at AAMI Park, while there is revenge to be had for Brisbane Roar elsewhere in Round 25.
Glory greatness built on Popa's age-old principles
Perth need to better Sydney FC's result in the derby to be crowned Premiers this weekend and, should that eventuate, it will serve as a vindication of their canny coach's investment in experience.
Having become the third oldest set of players to take the field in an Australian national league game during last weekend's 3-0 win over Central Coast Mariners, Popovic's battle-hardened troops – with an average age of 30.6 years across all matches this term – are on course to be the oldest side of any season.
The table-topping Sydney FC outfit of 2017/18 hold the current record, but recent success is hardly the only inspiring factor behind Popovic's faith in veterans like Liam Reddy (37), Dino Djulbic (36), Diego Castro (36) and Neil Kilkenny (33).
Indeed, as stats guru Andrew Howe uncovered (see above), each of the former Western Sydney Wanderers' mentor's three previous top-two finishes in the Hyundai A-League were achieved with teams ranking either first or second among the oldest in the competition that season.
His two worst returns – ninth in 2014/15 and sixth in 2016/17 – occurred while in charge of the seventh oldest sides in those respective campaigns.
MATCH PREVIEW: Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets
It all adds up to a fascinating clash of philosophies against Newcastle Jets, with Ernie Merrick promising to "stick with trying out the youngsters" through the remaining three rounds.
Newcastle must win at HBF Park, which they have only done three times in 20 attempts, to have any lingering hope of sneaking into the Finals Series.
Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets, Sunday 7:00pm (AEST)
Sky Blues eye triple treat in Sydney Derby
Sydney FC know three points are almost essential to delay Perth's title party and there is strong reason to suggest they will net exactly that on Saturday night.
The Sky Blues have won four straight against fierce rivals Western Sydney and are unbeaten against them in the Hyundai A-League since February 2017.
MATCH PREVIEW: Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC
Markus Babbel's men lost 3-2 away to Newcastle last time out and this weekend's venue holds some demons.
Vedran Janjetovic's dismissal precipitated a disappointing defeat in the last derby in December, as the Wanderers conceded three goals for the second straight clash with Sydney FC at ANZ Stadium.
Brandon O'Neill, who has scored two times in this fixture, is set to make his 100th top-flight appearance.
Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC, Saturday 7:50pm (AEST)
Adelaide vulnerable in intense fight for fourth
Just one point separates Melbourne City and Adelaide United ahead of their Saturday evening showdown at AAMI Park.
The winner of this encounter will be well placed to make a play for fourth, and history suggests it is likely to be Warren Joyce's side.
City are undefeated in their last 10 at home, have not lost any of the previous six against Adelaide and have conceded just two times in the past 543 minutes of football played in this fixture.
MATCH PREVIEW: Melbourne City v Adelaide United
There is extra motivation for the hosts to maintain that mean defensive streak as ex-Reds goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic needs three clean sheets over the final three regular season games to match Danny Vukovic's all-time Hyundai A-League record of 85.
Adelaide pulled level on points with fourth-placed Wellington Phoenix in Round 24 by beating the Kiwi outfit 3-1, but the two-goal hero of that triumph, Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, is suspended after receiving a red card moments before half-time.
His absence places extra pressure on Craig Goodwin, whose wait to reach double-figures for the season has extended to six games.
Melbourne City v Adelaide United, Saturday 5:35pm (AEST)
Roar aim to avenge Aloisi
Brisbane Roar meet Wellington Phoenix for the first time since John Aloisi's humiliating final match in charge.
Aloisi resigned in the wake of a 4-1 hiding by the 'Nix at Westpac Stadium, but little has changed for Brisbane in the three-and-a-half months that have followed.
They lost by the same scoreline away to City last weekend, a fourth defeat in a row that left the club mired in ninth.
MATCH PREVIEW: Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix
Could a morale booster be on the way at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night?
The clubs' last two encounters in Queensland have ended in goalless draws, but Wellington's failure on the road to Adelaide was their eighth game in a row without a clean sheet.
That will be top of coach Mark Rudan's agenda as Phoenix look to boost their bid for fourth.
Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix, Friday 7:50pm (AEST)
Muscat in command against Central Coast
There is one club against whom Kevin Muscat has never lost in the Hyundai A-League: Central Coast Mariners.
The Melbourne Victory boss boasts an incredible record against the Gosford side, winning 13 of 17 matches and drawing the other four.
Victory have not lost to the Mariners for six years, making this the ideal opportunity to rebound from their last-gasp Big Blue defeat last weekend, as well as their midweek Asian Champions League humbling by Guangzhou Evergrande.
MATCH PREVIEW: Melbourne Victory v Central Coast Mariners
Alen Stajcic will hope to shake up the established order, but eight successive losses at AAMI Park against this weekend's opponents, during which they have conceded an average of three goals per game, makes for daunting reading.
Getting a grip on James Troisi shapes as a good starting point; the Victory playmaker has scored in both meetings between the teams this term, though he has gone goalless since their last encounter eight games ago.
Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix, Sunday 5:00pm (AEST)