Adelaide United take on the competition leading Brisbane Roar on Saturday night in a match that could be shaped more by the players not on the pitch, than by those on it. The spate of injuries that United are dealing with has come at a horrible time for them, with Bruce Djite and Sergio Cirio each set to be out of action for a few games at least.
The injuries are mounting up for Adelaide, with Fabio Ferreira ruled out of Saturday’s game, as well as playmaker Marcelo Carrusca still recovering from his bruised knee, and his inclusion will be decided on game day. Makeshift Centre back Osama Malik is suspended for the match, giving coach Josep Gombau another selection headache.
United have already been very active in the January transfer window, bringing in former Jet Ryan Griffiths and shipping out Anthony Golec to the Chinese Super League. This movement was added to by the somewhat strange termination of Jordan Elsey’s loan spell in Hong Kong with Kitchee SC, who will likely be named among the substitutes this week.
Nigel Boogard will partner Jon McKain in the centre of defence, but this pairing is especially susceptible to pace, and Brisbane will be confident that their quick ball movement can cause United problems.
There is also very little in the way of midfield reinforcements beyond the likely starting trio of Steven Lustica, Isaías and Carrusca. Jake Barker-Daish is on international duty at the AFC under-22 championships in Oman, and Jacob Melling is unavailable until at least next month (perhaps longer) with a knee problem.
This means Cameron Watson is one of only two fit central midfielders that the Reds have outside of the starting three. He may yet be one of the starters as Carrusca’s bruised knee meant he was held out of the final part of Thursday’s training session. The other midfielder is National Youth League player Nathan Konstandopoulos, who has been drafted into the senior squad to provide cover.
This lack of depth and proven options in midfield is a worry for United because this game will no doubt be a midfield battle. These two sides have the highest average possession percentages in the league this season- the Roar with 59.1% and the reds with 57.8%.
The key player for Brisbane is Thomas Broich. The German schemer has played every minute for the Roar this season and makes his side tick, leading the league in both assists and chances created. He is the fulcrum of their attacking play, cutting in from the left to find angles for his penetrating passes.
One player attempting to get on the end of those incisive passes will be striker Besart Berisha. His return from injury poses more problems for United’s already shaky defence. He was the difference when the sides met in round in round nine, grabbing a brace to guide the Roar to a 2-1 win at Coopers Stadium.
The loss of Djite is somewhat helped by the return of Jeronimo Neumann from suspension, and he will likely form a front three with new signing Griffiths on the left and speedster Awer Mabil wide right, but again other options are limited. Winger Ryan Kitto is also away on under-22 duty and Anthony Costa is unlikely to start. Left back Cassio’s continued absence means former Roar standout Michael Zullo can’t be pushed further forward either.
Griffiths’ conditioning and stamina will be put to the test after not playing for two months, as he will have the job of tracking back and helping Zullo deal with the threat posed by Brisbane’s Ivan Franjic.
It’s four games without defeat now for the Reds, but they face their biggest test yet at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night. The inform Roar will be looking to maintain and possibly extend their seven point lead at the top of the ladder, as well as putting on a show for the home fans.
Brisbane have responded spectacularly to their 2-0 home defeat to the Jets by thumping Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory in successive weeks, scoring eight goals in the process. But this is their first home game since that loss to Newcastle and the Roar will be looking to reassert their dominance on home soil.
Four points adrift of the top six and with a raft of injuries, the Reds are up against it heading into this weekend’s game. They have shown improvement since the two sides last met, but they will need to be on another level to match the swashbuckling Roar.