Preview: Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United
Played 32: Wins: Victory 16, Adelaide 10, Draws 6
Victory 3-0 Adelaide, November 23, 2013
Past five matches:
Melbourne Victory may have just snuck through to the Asian Champions League group stage but confidence will be high. The big V overturned a half-time deficit to edge Thai giants Muangthong United 2-1 at Simonds Stadium on Saturday night. Victory will now feature in the group stages of Asia's premier club competition for a fourth time in their short history, lining up alongside Marcello Lippi's Chinese powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande, J-League runners-up Yokohama F. Marinos and Korean outfit Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Saturday's successful night in Geelong ensured back-to-back wins for Victory in all competitions.
Brazilian playmaker and often super-sub this season, Gui Finkler, is expected to return to the squad after being left out for the Asian Champions League qualifier.
His return may be a welcome addition for Victory, who will face a stern test against one of the competition's in-form teams. Adelaide have only lost one match since their 2-1 loss at home to league-leading Brisbane in December, collecting 21 points from 30 to jump up to third on the table, ahead of Victory on goal difference. Former Chelsea man Fabio Ferreira has been a key figure behind Adelaide's resurgence, netting four goals in six games.
The big issue:
Victory – Pablo Contreras. The veteran Chilean defender, capped 67 times by the national team, has fast become a liability at the heart of Victory's defence. Only cross-town rivals Heart (30) have conceded more goals than Kevin Muscat's men, who have shipped a whopping 29 in just 19 games. And Contreras, Victory's marquee man, has played a big part as the club's defensive frailties continue to be exposed. The 35-year-old was fortunate not to give away a penalty against reigning champions Central Coast in Gosford just over a week ago after lunging in recklessly. He was at it again in Geelong midweek and Muscat will be hoping the former Olympiacos defender has his head screwed on right against the high-flying Reds.
Adelaide – Can the Reds finally get the better of Victory in Melbourne? Josep Gombau's troops are unbeaten in three matches against the dual A-League champions but it is in Melbourne where their problems lie. Victory ran out 3-0 winners in the pair's most recent encounter at Etihad Stadium earlier this season. That result extended their winless streak against Victory in Melbourne to four games, with their last triumph coming in the form of a 4-1 thumping back in 2011. Indonesian international Sergio van Dijk was the star of the show that day, bagging a brace as Victory ended the game with 10 men following Muscat's dismissal.
The game breaker:
James Troisi – The 25-year-old is back firing on all cylinders. After eight games without a goal, Troisi finally found the back of the net at Bluetongue Stadium, scoring twice to take his A-League season tally to nine goals, making him the competition's leading scorer alongside Stein Huysegems, Adam Taggart and David Williams. The former Newcastle United youngster backed up that performance with a scintillating display in Geelong. Troisi buzzed around the pitch throughout the 90 minutes, scoring the all-important equaliser. If he wasn't on Ange Postecoglou's radar already, he is now. And it would be no surprise if he was to add to his nine international caps at this year's World Cup.
Prediction: Victory 2-2 Adelaide
Adelaide have rocketed into contention after a run of strong results, which has been down to an improved defensive effort. The Reds have kept six clean sheets from their past 10 matches. Victory were completely annihilated by Sydney FC in their last A-League home match. Defeat to Adelaide would mean back-to-back A-League home defeats for the first time since November 2005. It could go either way on Saturday but it is hard to look past a draw between two of the competition's most entertaining teams.