Friday, September 01, 2006

A-League, round two preview

Back to matters on the field

A-LEAGUE version 2 is only into its second week and what a turbulent one it’s been with the news on John O’Neill, the reported tiff between Kevin Muscat and Alessandro, Sydney FC receiving a fine and suspended points deduction for a back-office breach and now that news that Dwight Yorke has played his last game in the league. Almost forgetten is the fact there are four games on this weekend, so here’s a reminder.

Newcastle Jets v Queensland Roar; if the Newcastle Jets are to make an impact this season, their home record will be the key. Last season their form at Energy Australia was poor, losing seven of their 12 home games in front of some disappointing crowds. The opening game of the A-League, a loss to Adelaide, set the tone. Tonight they must get a better start at home, but it won’t be easy breaking down one of the most miserly defences going around. The Roar rearguard appears to have been boosted by the addition of Liam Reddy, Sasa Ognenovski and Andrew Packer, and last week there was little work for the keeper, who is back to face his old club and former coach. Joining him is Ante Milicic, who was part of an adventurous three man front line in a must win game against Perth, and while the Roar attack didn’t always flow, in the end it was too dynamic for Perth, particularly when Dario Vidosic came on. It will be interesting to see if Miron Bleiberg adopts the same attacking shape tomorrow, or goes against his philosophy and opts for a more conservative approach on the road, where a point would be a great way to consolidate last week’s three. With German Marcus Wedau injured, it is likely that Massimo Murdocca might start in central midfield or Matt McKay might be moved infield from the left. There is little doubt that Newcastle’s Nick Theodorakopoulos will attack. Last week, on the road to New Zealand, he started with three up front and only two recognised defenders, but his best plans were affected by an aggressive Knights midfield and an atrocious pitch. He will be hoping his home surface is better, but that would suit both teams, proponents of the passing game. In the couple of games I’ve seen of Newcastle this season, Nick Carle has played fairly deep, close to Stuart Musalik, more as an instigator of attacks. He has been good without being great, and getting him closer to goal could be the key to unlocking the striking talents of Vaughan Coveny, Joel Griffiths and Mark Bridge. Both teams are fit, so don’t be surprised to see this one excite all the way to the end. Prediction, 1-1.

New Zealand Knights v Adelaide United; the hosts proved what many expected last week, that they’ll be much more competitive under Paul Nevin. But they also showed they lack the genuine playmaker around the box to cause teams consistent problems. Dani Rodrigues is said to be that man, but is still sidelined, so the Knights appear to be relying more on the competitive central midfield trio of Richard Johnson, Jonas Salley and Scot Gemmill to keep them in games and create the odd half-chance that may be converted. Their best bet might be to try and expose Adelaide’s fullbacks, and if Jonti Richter can trouble Aaron Goulding, they might find an avenue to goal. Adelaide will be stung by last week’s performance and result and one doubts John Kosmina will keep Angelo Costanzo and Fernanado Rech on the bench this time. The increased depth in his squad gives Kosmina a few more selection headaches this year, and there appears little doubt there will be changes, both in shape and personnel. The poor North Harbour surface won’t hurt Adelaide too much as they also like it physical, but they will need to improve their defensive work. The back four was exposed all over the place last week, and Costanzo, positioned in front of them, could help solve that. With Rech and Shengqing Qu back in partnership, and Dodd keen to make up for a poor game against Melbourne, expect Adelaide to create more chances than the hosts. Prediction, 1-2.

Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC; the blockbuster, but will the notoriously poor Telstra Dome surface allow the players to perform at their best? If not, it would be a let down and a major opportunity lost. Both teams have been rocked by off field drama this week, Sydney fined for a back-office breach, followed by the loss of marquee man ‘All-night Dwight’, while Melbourne had their own issues to sort after an over-reaction from their skipper which convinced Ernie Merrick to replace Brazilian wing-back Alessandro at the break. It proves there are still doubts about the Victory boss and somewhat undermines his grip on the team. A player of Alessandro’s ability should be encouraged to attack and reek havoc, with others doing the dirty work behind him, not forced to conform to a more disciplined defensive role. The Melbourne starting 11 last week already featured six defensive minded players, so what was the point of another one? Indeed, the Victory, with Alessandro pinning Alagich back, controlled the first period, while they were largely on their heels in the second as Alagich started to venture forward. If Merrick sees the value in giving Alessandro license to roam forward, using Daniel Piorkowski to cover the space behind, then Melbourne has hope. If not, they are doomed. Merrick needs to pull the right moves against a Sydney side that will be without two of its dynamic front five, Yorke and Alex Brosque. So it will be interesting to see what Terry Butcher does to the starting 11, with Terry McFlynn or Ufuk Talay likely to replace Yorke, and Robbie Middleby or Jeremy Brockie likely to come in for Brosque. Expect Mark Milligan to be placed on Fred, which will place more pressure on Muscat and Grant Brebner to create something. On a slippery surface, it mightn’t always be pretty, but there is enough class in both sides to create some chances. Prediction, 1-1.

Perth Glory v Central Coast Mariners; after a short pre-season, Perth ran out of legs away to Queensland and will do well to keep up with the physical and powerful Mariners, who looked sharp last week without ever really playing the flowing football of last season. The Glory will improve as the season goes on but in the meantime will miss the likes of Bobby Despotovski and Jason Petkovic, despite the encouraging Alex Vrteski performance. Central Coast, particularly Adam Kwasnik, was wasteful against Sydney, and with both teams yet to pick up a point, the pressure is on to produce a result. Even without Andre Gumprecht, the visitors should have just enough class to get through this one. Prediction, 0-1.


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