Preview: Adelaide United v Sydney FC
Played 28: Wins: Adelaide 12, Sydney 12, Draws: 4
Sydney 0-3 Adelaide, February 8, 2014
Past five matches:
Sydney FC: DWLWW
This clash brings together the sixth-placed Reds and Sydney FC in fifth in a fixture that will go a long way to deciding each side's finals fate. With Newcastle and Wellington within striking distance of the top six, a win in this game would almost secure a spot in the play-offs but lose and things will really heat up. It means both coaches will have their teams primed for this one. Adelaide appear to be faltering at just the wrong time, managing just one win from their last four games, although they have a formidable record in front of their home fans. Coach Josep Gombau will be hoping winger Fabio Ferreira can shrug off the mild concussion he suffered in last weekend's draw with Western Sydney to be fit to play. If the Portuguese flyer is ruled out, Jeronimo Neumann is his most likely replacement on the right flank.
While the Reds have been on the slide of late, Sydney has lost just once in their last five matches. They managed a 1-1 draw with championship favourites Brisbane last time out, although the Roar played almost an hour with 10-men. In a boost for the Sky Blues, skipper Alessandro Del Piero should be right to return after missing last weekend with a hamstring strain. The two sides have an identical head-to-head record (12 wins apiece) although the Reds crushed Sydney 3-0 when they met just last month.
The big issue:
Adelaide – The Reds' mini form slump means they have gone from everyone's outsiders for the title to looking over their shoulder for a top six spot. With that comes a certain amount of pressure and it will be interesting to see how they deal with that against a Sydney side that seems to thrive when the blowtorch is applied. They created a host of chances against the Wanderers but were very wasteful in front of goal, something that must improve if they are to pick up enough points to make the finals.
Sydney – The Sky Blues were incredibly slow in their passing and transition against the Roar, which made it easy for the 10-men to handle. Sydney will need to improve their speed of play and ball movement, especially in the front third or they risk becoming too predictable and easy to defend. Frank Farina's side struggled to contain Adelaide's pace in wide areas last time they met. If they have failed to improve in those areas, it could be a tough trip for them.
The game breaker:
Sergio Cirio – The Spaniard was superb in the last clash between the two sides and his pace and eye for goal could be a huge factor in this one as well. Cirio, who is currently keeping Socceroos hopeful Michael Zullo out of the side, provides great balance to the Reds' play on the left flank. The 29-year-old's combination with Argentine Marcelo Carrusca has been devastating in patches this season and if they can click on Friday night, Sydney's back four will have their hands full.
Prediction: Adelaide 2-1 Sydney
The Sky Blues were brave to come away with a draw the last time they were in the City of Churches and their recent form suggests they will fancy their chances of coming away with a vital three points. The (expected) return of Del Piero is also a huge boost, especially with striker Ranko Despotovic unlikely to be available until the finals. But Adelaide are a different side at Coopers Stadium and know how important victory is, especially with the Jets and Phoenix closing in. It promises to be a tight affair but the Reds' superior pace and creativity tips the scales slightly in their favour.