Adelaide United play host to Sydney FC on Friday night in a clash that could be labelled ‘must-win’ for the Reds. United sit five points adrift of sixth placed Sydney heading into the match and a win would take them within striking distance of the top six and finals football.
The Reds have won back to back home games and will be looking to make Coopers Stadium a tougher place to come than it was earlier in the season. This could be aided by the fact that Sydney are not renowned for their away form and have won just one of their last fourteen away matches which was against an uninspired Melbourne Heart.
A loud and passionate crowd of over ten thousand was present on Sunday to see United win a physical game with the Newcastle Jets, 1-0. An even larger crowd is expected on Friday with the promise of Alessandro Del Piero’s first appearance in Adelaide.
The Reds can expect another physical battle against a Sydney side who possess the player with the most fouls in the competition this season, Nicky Carle with 34 to his name.
Osama Malik has recovered from his ankle injury which forced him off against the Jets last week and Daniel Bowles returns to the squad for the first time since round two.
However the news is not all good for Adelaide as Jeronimo Neumann’s fifth yellow card of the season sees him suspended, and playmaker Marcelo Carrusca will miss out with a contusion picked up during a thumping challenge from the Jets’ Taylor Regan. Carrusca’s ability to recycle possession is key to United’s gameplan and it will be interesting to see how they cope without their Argentinean creator.
Adelaide need a replacement for Carrusca and the inform Isaías could step into his creative shoes. Jake Barker-Daish’s good showing from the bench last round puts him in contention too. There is also the possibility of Sergio Cirio moving into midfield and Awer Mabil starting on the wing, although that would be a slightly left field selection from Gombau as he has yet to start Mabil.
In what is likely to be a straight swap for Jeronimo, Fabio Ferreira returns from an adductor injury that kept him sidelined for the past two matches. His pace and skill should pose problems for a Sydney FC defence which has conceded in three consecutive games, including shipping five goals against Brisbane Roar on Boxing Day.
Sydney’s defensive struggles will be highlighted further by Seb Ryall’s midweek leg injury. The former Melbourne Victory defender who has been a mainstay at the back for the Sky Blues this season is replaced in the squad by Matt Jurman. United have improved in all areas recently, showcasing more solidity at the back against the Jets. Alessandro Del Piero’s skill and passing ability could pose them problems though. The Italian maestro has five goals and three assists to his name so far this season, but also has fitness issues. He has been substituted off at or before half time on four occasions, and is carrying a niggling back injury. Despite the fitness issues, he is still producing and has the fifth best minutes-per-goal ratio in the league.
The two other danger men for Adelaide to keep an eye on are Ranko Despotovic and Richard Garcia. Both forwards have three goals to their name after taking a little time to settle at Sydney. All their goals have come in home matches at Allianz Stadium so the Reds will hope this streak of not scoring on the road continues.
The Sky Blues have lost their last two matches and United must look to capitalise upon Sydney’s poor form by getting on the front foot early. Bruce Djite looks fit, hungry and purposeful and was the hero last Sunday, grabbing the only goal. He also completed 90 minutes for the first time this season to show he is on his way back to full fitness. With Jeronimo suspended Djite is the only striker with A-League experience that United have. National Youth League forward Anthony Costa is again in line to make his debut after being an unused substitute last week.
The game on Friday night presents Adelaide with a side that they could well be competing with to secure finals football come the end of the regular season. The month of January is not kind to the Reds, as they travel to Brisbane next round, before facing both Western Sydney and then Melbourne Heart at home. It’s crucial for United that they continue to build momentum in this make or break month.
It might be a new year, but Adelaide United need to continue to play the way they have done for the last month. No doubt Gombau’s New Year’s resolution was to deliver a finals appearance for the United fans.