In what has become a traditional fixture, Wellington Phoenix travel to Melbourne to take on the Victory at AAMI Park on Monday. Both teams will be looking to keep up the exciting form that has found both placed in the top four after three rounds.
The Victory and the Phoenix are sitting 2nd and 4th on the table respectively, with the Melbourne based side just one point ahead of the Phoenix. The Victory attack was hugely impressive in the Derby last week, putting five goals past Melbourne City in a 5-2 win, featuring a hat-trick for Besart Berisha. The Phoenix were also impressive in attack, with a 4-1 victory against the Newcastle Jets.
The Victory have been dominant over the Phoenix since the Nix joined the A-League in 2007, especially in Melbourne. The Phoenix have never beaten the Victory in Melbourne, and had never won a game at all inside Victoria until a 1-0 win over the Heart (now City) last season.
The Victory have also been scoring goals for fun against the Phoenix lately, scoring three goals in six of the last eight games between the two sides.
The Phoenix will be buoyed by a 5-0 win against the Victory back in January though, although the Victory won the last game between the two 4-1.
The ins & outs
This is where the Victory could come unstuck – they could have up to 5 starting players out of this game following their loss to Perth in the FFA Cup midweek.
Adrian Leijer and Daniel Georgievski were both shown red cards, meaning they will be suspended for this match, while Archie Thompson travelled to Perth, but was excluded from the matchday squad due to illness.
Besart Berisha and Matthieu Delpierre both needed to be substituted off due to injury, with Berisha’s groin causing him issues and Delpierre picking up a hamstring injury. All three have been included in the squad for Round four named by Kevin Muscat, however two players will be omitted from the squad, so Victory will be hoping that they will all be fit to play.
There are no injuries or suspensions affecting the Phoenix ahead of this match, with Roy Krishna and Matt Ridenton promoted to the matchday squad by Ernie Merrick.
Ridenton is likely to remain in Wellington though, and play in the very first Phoenix Reserves match against Team Wellington in the ASB Premiership, New Zealand’s national league.
The 90 minutes
Due to the aforementioned injuries and suspensions, Victory are going to have issues putting together a stable defensive line. One of Mark Milligan or Leigh Broxham will need to be moved into a centre-back role, but Kevin Muscat could decide to shift both players back, although this would be less likely.
If Berisha or Thompson are ruled out of the match, then Fahid Ben Khalfallah will reprise his starting role from the midweek game against Perth.
Ernie Merrick’s named the same starting XI for the Phoenix’s first three games this season, and keeping it the same for a fourth week in a row would be a new record for the club.
However, the way the sides shaped up at training sessions this week suggest that Tom Doyle will be dropped to the bench, with Manny Muscat moved to left back and Louis Fenton into right back.
Merrick’s reasoning for this is likely to be directly related to Kosta Barbarouses’ presence on the right flank for the Victory, with Merrick opting for a more experienced player to counter a rampant Barbarouses than the young Doyle.
The Victory have scored three goals within the first 30 minutes of the corresponding fixtures in the past two seasons (during Monday night before the Melbourne Cup), so the Phoenix will need to prevent that from happening a third time in three years to have any chance of picking up any points from their trip to Melbourne.
Goals, goals, goals
These sides are the top two sides in the league for goals scored, mainly thanks to dominant wins in round three.
With an attacking lineup of Thompson, Berisha, Barbarouses and Gui Finkler, the Phoenix defenders will need to hold strong to stop the Victory attack. Roly Bonevacia will likely have to do more defensive work than was required of him in the match against the Jets, and Albert Riera will need to be at his stunning best.
The Phoenix have their own strike-force though, with Nathan Burns and Michael McGlinchey both scoring three goals in three games so far this season. With Nathan Coe prone to leaving his net open for the opposition, like he did for Melbourne City’s second goal in the Derby, the Phoenix will need to look to extend the goalscoring form of Burns and McGlinchey to exploit the goalkeepers’ deficiencies.
Despite the attacking focus Kevin Muscat’s Victory always play with, the Phoenix will not be able to sit back and defend for 90 minutes to grind out a result. Phoenix sides under both Ricki Herbert and Merrick have both tried and failed to do this, a point which Albert Riera is quick to point out.
“We know they have really good players up front,” Riera said of the Victory.
“But it’s important to have confidence and to go everywhere and try to win. We can’t go there and defend, that’s the way they like it.
“So we want to try and do our best and play as we do at home.”
The Phoenix will need to play at their absolute best to break the Melbourne hoodoo that has plagued them since 2007, however the injuries and suspensions that the Victory are facing will give them some confidence to pick up their first ever away win against the Victory.