ACL Preview: Melbourne Victory v Guangzhou
Played: 1, Wins: Victory 0, Guangzhou 1, Draws: 0
Guangzhou 4-2 Victory, 26 February 2014
Past five matches (in all competitions):
Victory go into this game third in Group G, level on four points with bottom side Yokohama F Marinos and three points back from Evergrande and Jeonbuk Motors, who are first and second respectively. A draw or a loss for the A-League side coupled with a Jeonbuk defeat in Japan would still leave Kevin Mucat's team with a slim chance of progressing, but only if results then went heavily in their favour on the final matchday - namely a comfortable Victory win away to Jeonbuk and a heavy Evergrande triumph over Yokohama.
To have more control over their destiny Victory must aim for maximum points, no small task against the competition's holders, who are also the reigning Chinese Super League champions. Muscat's men impressed greatly in beating Wellington Phoenix 4-1 away from home on Sunday, but that was against exhausted, injury-hit opponents with nothing to play for. Evergrande by comparison, since losing 1-0 away to Jeonbuk on matchday four, have won two CSL matches in succession, 4-2 at home to Dalian Aerbin and 5-2 away to Tianjin Teda.
The big issue:
Victory – Having returned from New Zealand only days ago and with a crucial elimination final against Sydney FC coming up on Friday, Muscat is going to have to rotate his squad for the Evergrande game. Jimmy Jeggo, Jesse Makarounas and Connor Pain all came off the bench in Wellington and could start on Tuesday night, while Pablo Contreras and Tom Rogic may return from injuries.
Guangzhou – The visitors will want avoid a repeat of the sluggish start they made in the first meeting between these teams two months ago. A rampant Victory came out firing and led 2-0 at Tianhe Stadium, before the introduction of Liao Lisheng for Muriqui at the break changed the game and saw Marcello Lippi's team run out convincing 4-2 winners. There is no doubt Evergrande, Asian football's preeminent financial powerhouse, are the stronger team on paper, but they need to be switched on from kick-off this time around.
The game breaker:
We'll find out at Monday afternoon's press conferences if Italian star Alessandro Diamanti has travelled with Evergrande for the game in Melbourne. If the former Bologna man is present, he will be the number one threat to Victory's hopes of taking anything from the game. Lured east at considerable cost, the ex-West Ham United forward bagged a brace in the 4-2 comeback during the teams' first meeting. Brazilian Elkeson is another man Victory need to try and keep quiet.
Prediction: Victory 1-3 Guangzhou
As much as they'd like to do both, Victory don't have the depth to put out a full strength team in both domestic and regional competition. The showdown with Sydney later this week will take priority over their Asian adventure, and the second-tier players Muscat will be forced to use on Tuesday are unlikely to be a match for their big-spending opponents. The hosts are sure to battle gamely, but we expect the Chinese side to go home with the spoils.