A-League: Adelaide United v Central Coast
Played 28 - Wins: Adelaide 7, Mariners 14, Draws: 7
Adelaide 4 - 0 Mariners, December 14, 2013
Past five matches
After watching the Mariners go down 3-1 at home to Melbourne Victory on Saturday, Phil Moss admitted Central Coast, much-changed from the outfit that won the title under Graham Arnold, are no longer the 'championship team' but merely the 'championship club'. Arnold's former assistant has a tough job on his hands integrating a clutch of reinforcements as the Gosford side attempt to muster a respectable defence of their crown.
They are unlikely to have an easy time of it on Friday night away to an Adelaide team who thumped them 4-0 at Coopers Stadium in December, and who have only lost once since then to march into fifth on the table. Now just three points behind third-placed Central Coast following a 3-0 win away to Sydney FC on Saturday, Josep Gombau's side are flying high and could yet mount a realistic challenge for silverware.
The big issue:
Adelaide - The Reds are in a great place as a team at the moment and their primary focus should be to continue executing the basics well. The defence is settled, adhering to Gombau's desired tactics far better than they did earlier in the campaign and could yet be boosted by the inclusion of recent arrival Michael Marrone from kick-off.
Further forward things are looking even rosier. Cirio and Jeronimo couldn't even get in the starting XI away to Sydney, while hot-shot youngster Awer Mabil, who remained on the bench at Allianz Stadium, is a dangerous impact player. If they keep getting it right more often than not during the remaining weeks of the season, Adelaide have every chance of doing damage in the finals.
Mariners - The nature of Central Coast's loss at home to Melbourne Victory demonstrated just how much work Moss has in front of him to produce a competitive Mariners team. The title holders were by no means awful against the Victory, and can feel aggrieved after not having a clear penalty awarded in their favour. But there is no denying the raw materials at the disposal of Moss are not as impressive as the polished unit Arnold guided to silverware last season. Will the best this new Central Coast team has to offer prove good enough when it counts?
The game breaker:
Marcelo Carrusca - Former Mariner Tom Rogic proved too good for his old side last weekend, dominating in possession and dictating terms with his passing range and ability to control the tempo of the game. Carrusca, technically gifted and just as comfortable playing between the lines of midfield and defence, can do the same this weekend. The Mariners' backline is not as mobile with Eddy Bosnar replacing Trent Sainsbury, while John Hutchinson and Nick Montgomery, if both play, will have a job on their hands trying to contain Adelaide's mobile forward line, never mind attempting to influence their own team's play positively.
Prediction: Adelaide 2-0 Central Coast.
Don't expect a repeat of the Reds' thumping 4-0 win over the Mariners last year, but the hosts are equipped to take advantage of the champions' turmoil and register a relatively comfortable victory this weekend. Moss does potentially have an ace up his sleeve in the form of new arrival Kim Seung-Yong. But the Korean playmaker may not quite be ready to start a full game, and it remains to be seen how quickly he will adapt to the competition.