A-League: Sydney v Wellington Phoenix
Played: 22, Wins: Sky Blues 11, Phoenix 10, Draws: 1
Phoenix 1-0 Sky Blues, December 22 2013
Past five matches:
Sky Blues: DLDWL
Out-of-form Wellington are somehow still in the finals race, but Sydney can officially end the Phoenix's chances on Sunday. The Sky Blues also desperately need a win as they cling onto sixth spot, largely thanks to Perth's shock win over the Newcastle Jets in round 25. Frank Farina's men are winless in three matches, but did manage to take a point from both premiers Brisbane Roar and fifth-placed Melbourne Victory. They look in fine form compared to the injury-hit Phoenix, who are without a win since February and need a bit of help if they are to secure an unlikely finals appearance.
The big issue:
Sky Blues – can Sydney deliver for Farina at home? The former Socceroos coach expects his team to make the finals and said finishing the season with two games in front of their home fans should help them seal a top-six spot. With seven wins from 12 home matches this season, the Sky Blues appear good enough to grant Farina his wish. A win is needed against the Phoenix or the pressure will be on come Perth's trip to Sydney in round 27.
Phoenix – can the Phoenix recapture the goalscoring form needed for them to have any chance of playing finals? Ernie Merrick's men are without a goal in their past two matches and rarely looked likely in a 1-0 loss to Adelaide. Stein Huysegems had a glorious chance just before half-time but it was otherwise a struggle at Westpac Stadium. A likely start for Carlos Hernandez should help, and they need to start attacking.
The game breaker:
Alessandro Del Piero – with so much talk around the veteran Italian's future, the 39-year-old has been unable to produce the match-winning form he is capable of. Del Piero has gone almost five-and-a-half hours without a goal – that effort a penalty against Newcastle in February. Much has been made of the Juventus great's fewer defensive responsibilities, but his set-piece ability and class still make him capable of deciding matches.
Prediction: Sky Blues 3-1 Phoenix
Draws are rare between these two teams, with just one of their 22 previous meetings ending in a share of the spoils. The Phoenix have lost on eight of their 11 trips to Allianz Stadium and this is likely to be number nine. Sydney are far from the most fluent team and will likely be happy to hit on the counter-attack. Merrick is still without the likes of Paul Ifill, Leo Bertos and Louis Fenton, and absences have made it tough for his side. With Sasa Ognenovski and Nikola Petkovic leading their defence, Sydney should have enough firepower through the likes of Del Piero and Richard Garcia to get the job done.