A-League: Perth Glory v Melbourne Victory
Played: 31 – Glory 11, Victory 13, Draws 7
Glory 1-1 Victory, January 31, 2014
Past five matches:
The Victory were surprisingly ruthless in grinding out a 3-1 win at home to the Mariners last Friday, before being held to a 2-2 draw at home to Jeonbuk Motors in the AFC Champions League on Wednesday. Kevin Muscat opted to leave forward Archie Thompson and centre-back Pablo Contreras - domestic and international marquees respectively - out of the ACL squad, while James Troisi came off the bench late in the game at Etihad Stadium. Expect any or all of those three and also Brazilian Guilherme Finkler, not eligible for Asian competition, to come back into contention for the Perth game. Connor Pain impressed against the Mariners and then only played the second half against Jeonbuk, so he too could be involved from the start in this one.
Perth meanwhile were looking on course to end their long win drought as they led 1-0 going into the final stages of their match away to Wellington Phoenix on Sunday, before conceding with five minutes to go to have to settle for a share of the spoils. That draw at least ended a run of four successive defeats, but it now appears too late for the Western Australian side to have a say in the finals. Kenny Lowe's team find themselves bottom of the table, eight points behind sixth-placed Central Coast with just 15 points left to play for in the regular season.
The big issue:
Glory – The formula of what has gone wrong for Perth is very simple, and has been for much of the season: Too many goals being conceded at one end, and not enough scored at the other. During their now eight-match winless run, the Glory have let in 14 goals and netted just six times, failing to score more than once per game during that sequence. Mid-season arrival Darvydas Sernas has only managed one goal in five appearances to date, while midfield reinforcements Royston Griffiths and Nebojsa Marinkovic are yet to afford Perth the control of possession they need to stem the tide. Matters will not be helped by the departure of goalkeeper Danny Vukovic, whose impressive efforts between the sticks saw him whisked away to Japan by Vegalta Sendai coach Graham Arnold.
Victory – Consistency of performance has proved elusive for Victory all season, and their search for a complete 90-minute display will not be helped by rotation between A-League and ACL matches. There were six changes from the previous starting XI for the game against Jeonbuk and a similar number can be expected at nib Stadium this weekend. Muscat has a delicate balancing act on his hands - with second spot still up for grabs, Victory must keep picking up points on the home front, while also giving a good account of themselves on the regional stage. But when push comes to shove, we all know which competition will be prioritised.
The game breaker:
Guilherme Finkler. Omitting Finkler from Victory's ACL squad could yet prove a masterstroke. The Brazilian forward is due to be fresh and determined to prove his worth each weekend in the A-League, and has impressed against the likes of Adelaide and the Mariners in recent weeks. With Perth Glory error prone at the back, expect the creative forward to act as the focal point for Victory's attacks. If 'Gui' has a good game, the team in navy blue and white have every chance of earning maximum points in this one.
Prediction: Perth Glory 1-2 Melbourne Victory
Just because the Glory have found themselves goal-shy of late, that's no reason to think they can't cause Victory problems, so we expect the home side to at least get on the scoresheet. That being said, the visitors will bring plenty of fire power with them out west, and if they click, it should prove too much for Lowe's men to live with. Motivation should also be taken into consideration. The Glory have little but pride left to play for, while Victory have the carrot of a potential top-two finish dangling in front of them, and can't afford to let Western Sydney regain their composure.