Adelaide face the Heart at Coopers Stadium in the knowledge that a win will take them fourth on the ladder, at least until Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC meet on Sunday. United come into Saturday’s match on the back of a six game unbeaten run, keeping four clean sheets in the process. They have shown an increased ability to close out games in the last two weeks, which will have been a priority for coach Josep Gombau given their habits earlier in the campaign.
The Reds’ turn around in form has many tipping them for a tilt at the championship, but the squad and fans need to stay grounded. The focus for Gombau and his squad is to secure their top six place before they look too far ahead. Eugene Galekovic echoed these sentiments this week:
“There’s a long way to go – 12 games to go – and the aim now is to keep the form up and keep getting results. Our goal at this stage is to stay in the top six. If we can do that, then in a month’s time we can maybe say ‘OK, let’s go for the top four, or the top two’. But we’ve got to keep getting results to make any of that a possibility.”
A win against the Heart will go a long way towards doing just that, as the teams below United have been hugely inconsistent of late.
Bruce Djite put his body on the line for United on last Sunday against the Wanderers, reduced to limping around the pitch in the final 15 or so minutes. He is expected to start on Saturday though, and he has been in good form recently.
Winger Awer Mabil is fast becoming a fan favourite, and he has steadily showcased an increased maturity the more he plays as well as the flair that the Adelaide faithful love. Mabil was brought on just past the half hour mark as Michael Zullo went down with a hamstring strain.
It was another unfortunate blow for the Reds, and yet another soft tissue injury. Zullo will miss this week’s game, and is also doubtful for United’s trip to Wellington next week.
Sergio Cirio also misses out, he too has a hamstring injury. However, it is anticipated that Cirio will travel to New Zealand next week. Cassio and Jacob Melling remain longer term absentees with hamstring and knee injuries respectively.
Leaving the treatment room are Fabio Ferreira and Daniel Bowles, who both return to the squad this week. Fullback Bowles’ return is especially helpful, with Zullo’s injury meaning the naturally right-sided Tarek Elrich will continue to deputise at left back.
Ferreira is expected to be named amongst the substitutes with either Awer Mabil or Ryan Griffiths starting on the left flank, partnering Jeronimo and Djite in the front three. National Youth League striker Anthony Costa is also included in the squad.
The Olyroos U-22 AFC Championship campaign ended in defeat to Saudi Arabia midweek, but Gombau has chosen to rest his players involved. John Hall, Ryan Kitto and Jake Barker-Daish are all excluded from the squad this week, although Barker-Daish is the only first team regular.
Marcelo Carrusca made his return from injury against the Wanderers, and he didn’t miss a beat. The Argentine playmaker was full of flair and grabbed a controversial goal after only four minutes. The ball had gone out of play over the byline but was touched back by Djite, allowing Carrusca to power home into the roof of the net.
The assistant referee’s view was obstructed by Djite and Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic, and not being able to make a ruling given the lack of certainty, the goal was awarded. Whilst this was all that separated the sides on the scoresheet, the Reds were the better side for the majority of the match and deserved the points.
Heart travel to Coopers Stadium fresh from snapping the equal-longest winless streak in league history, no doubt lifting a huge weight off the squads’ shoulders. The Heart have also been involved in one of the biggest developments for some time in Australia football, with the owners of Manchester City taking control of the club. Big changes are anticipated across the whole club, but any adjustments are likely to be made after the season has drawn to a close.
The Heart’s first win of the season and the hope that the club could be about to make giant strides forward will give players and fans alike a new sense of belief.
Another positive is the debut of marquee man Orlando Engelaar, who made a cameo appearance from the bench. The league’s tallest player played just over half an hour against the Jets last Friday but is expected to start this week. His power and strength in midfield is expected to be central to how the Heart deal with Carrusca’s presence.
Contrary to United, John van’t Schip has chosen to include his U-22 charges, with David Vrankovic and Stefan Mauk included in the squad, along with defenders Jeremy Walker and Sam Mitchinson. Patrick Gerhardt and David Williams are unavailable as both have ankle injuries.
Adelaide will be looking to continue their form and create a fortress at Coopers Stadium, having picked up ten points from their last twelve available at home. The aim will be to not only make it a difficult place to go, but to ensure that United have as much of an advantage as possible if they can claim a home final by finish in the top four.
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